Title page for ETD etd-05282004-132928

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Bannerman, Jodi Kathleen
URN etd-05282004-132928
Title Did White House Reporters Defer to the President after September 11?
Degree Master of Mass Communication (M.M.C.)
Department Mass Communication
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Ralph Izard Committee Chair
John Hamilton Committee Member
Tim Cook Committee Member
  • deference
  • question
  • press conference
  • press briefing
  • agenda
  • president
  • press
  • adversarial relations
Date of Defense 2004-05-06
Availability unrestricted
This study's primary focus is to determine if the White House press corps acted more deferential to President Bush and his agenda after September 11, 2001, and if so, to see how long the period of decreased adversarial relations lasted. This purpose is accomplished through a content analysis of 37 White House press briefings, conducted by then White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, examining press-briefing questions three months before, on, directly following, and three months after September 11 according to four dimensions of adversarial relations: initiative, directness, assertiveness, and hostility. Ten question design features comprise the criteria to measure each dimension, and ultimately, to measure the degree to which the press acted more deferential or adversarial toward Fleischer after the September 11 attacks.

Overall, the study's results show the White House press corps asked similar questions before and after September 11. Though deferent questions soared to the sample's highest levels on September 11, the press corps not only maintained its pre-September deferential/ adversarial relations with Fleischer in the weeks following September 11, but it became even more adversarial. By December 2001, deference increased and adversarial relations decreased, but not by more than 10 percent of what they were before September 11. This group of press members, in touch with the highest-ranking political officials and newsmakers, initiated more direct, assertive, and hostile questions following the momentous domestic shakeup of September 11, 2001.

Contrary to many reports, this study found the press to be more aggressive than normal in their questioning in the two-three weeks following the attacks. This information begs bigger questions, which may serve for continuing areas of study: If members of the White House Press Corps were asking more adversarial questions following September 11, why didn't their increased adversarial tone make it into the headlines of national newspapers, broadcasts, and magazines? Is there a correlation between questions the media ask sources and what gets into the news? Does the press question's agenda have any bearing on the news agenda?

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