Yemenity2010's Blog

Manufactured Destiny – Chapter 1 (English Edition)

Posted in Blog Entry in English, Tema: Politik by yemenity2010 on 03/09/2012

 

Yes, we can!”. Joe the Plumber. The hard-boiled hockey mom from Alaska. The shadow of George W. Bush – several phrases, phenomena and fascinating case studies from the world of American politics also became part of the Swedish news cycle during the campaign of 2008. Why? And is it still worth paying attention to today?

The race is on again. The American people have started the process to elect their next president and the outcome will probably have an impact on us, the rest of the world, as well. It usually does. And for some reason I figured I would publish an abridged and edited version of a paper I wrote in 2009, translated (except for the Executive Summary which was written in English to begin with) and do so in portions, now and then in the coming months while the present presidential campain in the US unfolds. I started out with the Executive Summary. Here’s the beginning of the rest…

The leaders of the USA, Britain and Spain had gathered and spent some time socializing, when suddenly they were interrupted by a message from the radio.

Breaking news! The United States if America is no longer the great world superpower!

George W. Bush turned to his visitors, visibly upset:

What’s that idiot talking about? Who dares question our position in the world?

His colleagues Blair and Aznar assured him that none of their respective nations aspired to take over the title, but instead faithfully stood by the side of the US. Then, secretary of state Colin Powell entered the room with the answer:

The new superpower, Mr President, is… the public opinion.

The story is fictitious and was told by the Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago at a manifestation in Madrid 2003. Here it’s quoted from a book by radio journalist José Ignacio López Vigil.

Public opinion. It does possess power. But are we all part of it, or is it limited to a few players on the big board? It could mean the population in general, or the most knowledgeable, educated and committed factions within it. The ones who has the stamina to keep up with everything happening on the public arena. It could also signify those who deliver and choose the facts and decide what will be published on the same arena. We can call them mass media. I took a microcosmic sample from what was published in a few – hence allegedly influential – Swedish news outlets, and their coverage of an election in a country far away geographically, but culturally often considered similar. And whose actions and decisions affect us whether we want to or not.

Destined to Rule?

Manifest Destiny: ”an ordering of human history regarded as inevitable and obviously apparent that leads a people or race to expand to geographic limits held to be natural or to extend sovereignty over a usu. indefinite area” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 1961)

America has its own myths. One of them, which most Americans might not even be aware of themselves, is known as Manifest Destiny. It was probably more widespread and openly debated during the mid-19th century and it contends, simply put, that the pioneers colonizing the continent and taking control of it, were not governed or guided just by pure luck or benevolent circumstances. They were meant to do it. They were chosen. The concept is considered to have had an impact (along with the so-called Monroe doctrine of 1823) when the United States declared even the Southern part of the hemisphere as its area of concern; which meant that interventions (including military ones) in South and Central America could be justified if it was considered aligned with US interests. If you keep in mind that the idea of being especially chosen still exists, at least in the American collective unconscious, much of they do as a nation actually become easier to understand.

Who then is fit to become ”Leader of the free world” according to the world’s mightiest nation’s own requirements; what exactly constitutes ”presidential material”?

It’s for someone who grabs it and holds on to it! For someone who thinks the gods conspired to bring him to this place, that destiny demands of him this service. If you don’t have that drive, that hubris, how are gonna make the decisions that stump every other person? How the hell are you gonna hold that kind of power in your hands? 

(White House communications officer Toby Ziegler, a colourful character played by Richard Schiff in the long-running series ”The West Wing”)

Is it destiny, then, deciding the whole outcome? Probably not the explanation for everything. Election campaigns mean hard work for many people; they are planned and packaged by politicians and professional consultants eager to win the hearts and minds of the people. So what’s the role that mass media has to play in that context and how does it work, specifically for Swedish media on the other side of the Atlantic; in a culture we tend to feel a certain connection with, although it does differ from ours in many ways?

Three Powerful Papers?

I have investigated the coverage of the US presidential election 2008 in the printed editions of three Swedish newspapers, during the weeks leading up to election day, November 4th, 2008. They are also three of the biggest and most influential papers, and representing three different media conglomerates in the increasingly centralized Nordic media landscape. Dagens Nyheter (Daily News) belongs to Bonniers; Aftonbladet (Evening Paper) is a bread winner of the Norwegian-run Schibsted corporation, while Göteborgs-Posten (Gothenburg Post) is the centerpiece of the West Swedish media empire Stampen.

So, can these news outlets be considered free, impartial and balanced in its coverage of the political realities, to the degree we have a right to expect? One perspective here is that the customer-funded and commercial-free corporations Sveriges Radio (Swedish Radio) and Sveriges Television (Swedish Television) exist with explicit missions to provide the audience with a balanced perspective, while newspapers and commercial media in general depend on getting the attention from as large an audience as possible and simultaneously strive to gain a reputation as being impartial, credible and fair. In this case, I had to make a priority and chose to focus on the commercial newspaper coverage of the the campaign.

Some of the questions I tried to answer:

• Is there in the material I dealt with even an attempt from the media outlets to be completely fair and balanced?

• Do Swedish Journalists act differently and assume another attitude while reporting from a foreign election than they would do in Sweden?

• Is there a focus primarily on the political issues or on the strategic ‘games’ in the campaign?

• Does the political journalism of today as a whole play a part in strengthening or weakening democracy?

To Be Continued…

Sources and reference material used in this chapter:

Asp, Kent: ”Rättvisa nyhetsmedier – partiskheten under 2006 års valrörelse” (arbetsrapport, Göteborgs universitet 2006)

Asp, Kent: ”Fairness, Informativeness and Scrutiny – The Role of News Media in Democracy” (Nordicom Review 2007)

López Vigil, José Ignacio: Ciudadana Radio – el poder del periodismo de intermediación (Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, 2004)

Perkins, John: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Plume/Penguin Group, USA 2004, 2006)

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary – Unabridged (Könemann/Merriam-Webster, USA 1961, 1993)

The West Wing – Season 7: Episodes ”The Ticket”, ”The Mommy Problem” and ”Undecideds” (DVD, Warner Brothers 2006)

 

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