Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

September 20, 2004

Scholar Analyzes Religious Influence, Political Impact of Bush Administration's
Strategic Communications in New Book, Sept. 30 Lecture at Whitworth College

George W. Bush successfully influenced media coverage and public opinion to advance his national security policy agenda by merging religion and politics like no other president in modern U.S. history, according to University of Washington communication scholar David Domke.

Domke analyzed hundreds of Bush administration speeches, news reports and public opinion polls between the September 11 terrorist attacks and the end of major combat in Iraq for a new book, "God Willing? Political Fundamentalism in the White House, the 'War on Terror' and an Echoing Press," just released by Pluto Press (London and Ann Arbor). He will present his findings and the implications for American politics in a lecture at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 30, in Weyerhaeuser Hall at Whitworth College. Whitworth's School of Global Commerce and Management is sponsoring a reception and book-signing at 6:30 p.m. in Weyerhaeuser Hall. Both events are free.

In his lecture, "Freedom and Fundamentalism: Politics, Religion and the Press in a Post-9/11 World," Domke will describe how the Bush administration championed its policies to combat terror and the lead-up to war in Iraq by skillfully communicating a religiously conservative worldview in nationalistic terms that resonated with the news media and public following the September 11 attacks.

"President Bush and his administration have adapted a religiously conservative worldview, via strategic language choices and communication approaches, into a policy agenda that feels political rather than religious and, therefore, has been received more favorably by the news media and the public," Domke says. "U.S. presidents since George Washington have been talking about religion, but what George W. Bush has done is altogether different and has significant implications for American civil discourse."

For his book, Domke and his research team carefully analyzed the language and themes of 15 national addresses and 220 other public communications by Bush during the 20 months between Sept. 11, 2001, and the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1, 2003. In addition, he analyzed more than 100 public statements by Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Next, Domke reviewed news and editorial coverage in 20 leading and geographically diverse newspapers as well as on the evening newscasts of ABC, CBS and NBC. He focused on how the news media covered the Bush administration's agenda related to combating terrorism, passage of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and congressional and United Nations resolutions on Iraq.

This analysis revealed that news media consistently echoed the words and ideas of the president and other administration leaders and thereby framed public discourse along the administration's terms, according to Domke. For example, he says, only two of more than 300 editorials responding to the president's national addresses criticized the administration's description of the campaign against terrorism as an epic struggle of good vs. evil. None questioned his explicit declarations of God's will, the research shows.

"With so many around the globe expressing a different view during these 20 months, the press failed its readers by echoing the administration's fundamentalist messages, without including alternative or critical perspectives, within these editorials," Domke says.

Through a rigorous content analysis of the Bush Administration's public communications and the resulting news coverage, Domke identified four common themes reflecting what he describes as a new "political fundamentalism" in American politics:

  • Binary, or simplistic, conceptions of the political landscape, such as good vs. evil and "Either you are either with us or you are with the terrorists."
  • Calls for immediate action on administration policies as a necessary part of the nation's "calling" and "mission" against terrorism.
  • Declarations about the will of God for America and for the spread of U.S. conceptions of freedom and liberty.
  • Claims that dissent from the administration is unpatriotic and a threat to the nation.

"Instead of opening up discourse as one would expect to see in a democratic society, the administration's political fundamentalism and the echoing press effectively closed off meaningful conversation -- domestically and internationally -- about the meaning of the terrorist attacks and the appropriate response," Domke says. "I believe the United States, and democratic societies in general, are better served when the public and the news media demand a more wide-ranging dialogue on major issues and the actions of government."

Domke is an associate professor of communication and adjunct professor of political science at the University of Washington. A former journalist who received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, Domke examines the interactions of political leaders and the press in shaping public discourse and public opinion.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The college enrolls 2,400 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.

Contacts:

Greg Orwig, director of communication, Whitworth College, (509) 777-4580 or gorwig@whitworth.edu.

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