THIRD PRIZE: Coherence in Crisis: Groupthink, the news media, and the Iraq War

Dan Fitzsimmons


This paper provides an analysis of the role of the news media on American military strategy in the 2003 Iraq War. It argues that American policy makers, displaying the symptoms of Irving Janis’ theory groupthink, had more autonomy in decision-making because of barriers setup by the group to ignore external sources of criticism and taking action to limit doubts within the group on the strategy being employed. As a result, the US executive had more freedom of action than is frequently perceived by scholars supporting the notion that news media organizations possess extensive agenda-setting power, commonly known as the “CNN effect.” The arguments of scholars supporting the agenda-setting power of media organizations are discussed and evaluated to determine if US military strategy was affected by the largely negative media presence in this conflict. This paper is unique because it shifts focus away from the field of foreign policy, and specifically the decision making process surrounding engagement and extraction from war zones, and instead focuses the news media’s role in influencing strategic direction of a war. It concludes that the negative tone of the news media did not have a significant effect on military strategy due to strong cohesiveness of American elites throughout the conflict, and the inability of news makers to force any noticeable changes to military activities.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.