Presidential television in the Reagan era: Network coverage of Cuba's role in the Central American conflict, 1981-1984 (television)
Torres, Alcia Maria
Copyright (c) 1989 University of Texas
Abstract: This dissertation is a content analysis of the ABC, CBS and NBC evening network news coverage of the role of Cuba in the Central American conflict between 1981-1984. It is conducted within the framework of political communication theories of Presidential Television--the privileged access of the executive branch to television news in comparison to other branches of government. The study combines the methodology of content analysis with conceptual tools of semeiotics in examining the verbal and visual text of the messages. The dissertation looks at two aspects of the television message: the first Reagan administration’s design of media messages and media tactics, as well as, the role that the networks played in covering these official messages. A selection was made of approximately one-third of all reports aired between 1981-1984 that dealt with the role of Cuba in the Central American conflict and that used executive branch sources. The samples were chosen based on a census of all the network reports that mentioned Cuba during these four years as indicated in the Vanderbilt University publication Television News Index and Abstracts. The examination of the verbal and the visual text of these stories found that early in President Reagan’s first term the networks played a more active role in questioning the administration’s East/West theories about the conflict in Central America by seeking out alternative sources of information and allowing congressional opposition to the executive branch to present alternative positions on-the-air. By President Reagan’s third year, however, the networks seemed to have gradually bought into the administration’s assessment and played a more active role in supporting and promoting its theories. The trend toward greater visualization of the spoken text that is evident in the production of television news was found to frequently result in support for official positions. This was especially true when the Reagan administration’s media messages were based solely on allegations, not hard facts, which was often the case. To provide a point of reference for the reader, this study examined two cases during the Carter administration and pointed out marked differences in how the networks dealt with the Carter administration’s claims of Cuba’s threat to U.S. interests: the alleged Cuban involvement in the invasion of Zaire in 1977 and the Soviet combat brigade stationed in Cuba in 1979. The results of the study are not considered indicative of a simplified conspiracy theory of communication, but rather, they are examined within the framework of the nature of the particular medium of television news and the skillful use of Presidential Television to package and sell a Cold War perspective of events in Central America.