Bravery and Cowardice: News Media Gendering of the Iraq War
They lauded American soldiers for their bravery and strength. They characterized President George W. Bush's Iraq War policy as resolute, confident, and aggressive. And they depicted Saddam Hussein as appearing weak and behaving passively when troops discovered his spider-hole hiding place. "They" are the United States news media, and they play a prominent role in producing Americans' knowledge about the Iraq War. In covering the war, the media do not simply communicate the "facts" observed by field reporters or provided by official sources. Rather, they shape our understanding of and attitudes toward the war — and often in gendered terms, as the descriptions above attest. In their effort to make sense of new information and events, for example, journalists frequently draw upon enduring cultural narratives. These narratives, such as the Cinderella story, are often infused with societal assumptions about gender. Gender guides not only what journalists deem newsworthy, but also how they characterize or visually depict news events. Gender influences, for example, how journalists characterize "us" and "them", the strength and bravery of the armed forces and the weakness and cowardice of the enemy. Yet, scholars in the humanities have overlooked the role of gender in the news media's war coverage. This oversight is somewhat surprising, since both the news media and gender function so prominently in our knowledge and understanding of the world. This paper closely examines the words and images of print and television news coverage of the Iraq War to determine how gender informs — and is informed by — this coverage. More specifically, it investigates how journalists draw upon gendered discourse to help tell the stories of war and to make sense of the events, agents, and relationships involved in the war. In doing so, the paper investigates the role of objectivity and subjectivity in war coverage.
Keywords: Gender, News Media, Iraq War
Jennifer Young Abbott
Assistant Professor, Speech Department, Wabash College