Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2015

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

International Affairs

First Advisor

Thomas Zeiler

Second Advisor

Victoria Hunter

Third Advisor

Megan Shannon

Abstract

Existing research suggests that in most cases, foreign elites hold influence over the domestic media coverage of international crises only when they are considered to be hostile. This is unsurprising, as it is often their hostile rhetoric that drives the events of the crisis. Thus far, however, there has been no distinction made between the various types of rhetoric these hostile leaders engage in, or how different categories of statements might have different degrees of influence on domestic media coverage. For example, might these foreign leaders’ more benign public utterances, that do not change the status quo of a crisis, still have an impact on how salient the press views the issue? This study attempts to fill this gap. Specifically, I study the influence of the non-status-quo-changing statements of Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev on American media coverage of the Berlin Crisis of 1958-1960. This period was selected as a case study for the following reasons: (1) U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower displayed a strong reticence to publicly commit to a specific course of action, largely forgoing his role as president to guide policy discourse at the outset of the crisis, (2) Premier Khrushchev was viewed in the American media as being the ultimate voice in the formation of Soviet foreign policy, giving him outsized influence on the direction of the crisis, and (3) the historical memory of the Berlin blockade of 1948-1949 predisposed the American media to pay attention to the crisis and view it as urgent. An analysis of New York Times articles was conducted and suggests that Khrushchev’s non-status-quo-changing “propaganda” did have some influence on how salient the crisis was in the news; however, this influence was only seen during periods of high tension, suggesting that these effects are conditional on the media’s preexisting levels of interest.

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