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Public agenda and U.S. politics

By Qasim Raza

The group of Iranian students attacked the United States embassy in Tehran and more than 60 United States nationals were made hostages on 04th November, 1979. The incident was the reaction to Jimmy Carter’s decision of providing shelter to deportee Raza Shah of Iran, who was present at that time in United States for the treatment of cancer. Those hostages were released by Iran after deadlock of 444 days, when President Ronald Reagan delivered his inaugural speech.

The hostage crisis is believed to be the main reason of Jimmy Carter’s defeat. The opinion polls before some days of Presidential Elections between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan reflected very close competition. But, exactly two days before the Election, media broke the news that hostages in Iran might be released. Later on, it turned out that they were not. Impact of this news raised more propagation in public, and which also overshadowed the main public agendas. That news produced more curiosity among the public about the hostage crisis.[1]

Before the news about hostage crisis the public of United States categorize their agendas in the following sequence:

  1. Inflation
  2. Crime
  3. Unemployment
  4. Pollution
  5. Hostage Crisis

But, after the news of hostage crisis the sequence of public agenda changed with the following categorization:

  1. Hostage Crisis
  2. Inflation
  3. Crime
  4. Unemployment
  5. Pollution

Media news created perception among masses that Jimmy Carter’s administration has failed to tackle the hostage crisis, and it was / is also believed that the same crisis resulted in the victory of Ronald Reagan as President of United States. Although there were also unverified charges on Regan’s campaign officials that they have conducted secret deal with an Iranian cleric to stop the release of hostages until after the elections. Mr. Gary Sick stated in New York Times that secret deal regarding hostages was started on July 1980 at Madrid hotel between William J. Casey and Iranian Cleric.

Media considered the hostage crisis as mania, which changed the general public perception of the people of United States. Walter Cronkite was a famous news anchor, he used to aware public on daily basis about the real time and days of the captivity of hostages at the end of the broadcast on the CBS network. Jimmy Carter tried all resources to communicate with Iran. Carter’s early secret approach to contact Ayatollah Khomeini wasted, because it was disclosed to the US media. After that, Carter delivered a negotiated hand written letter to Ayatollah Khomeini with the help of William Miller and Attorney General Ramsey Clark to release the hostages and promote the bilateral relations. Kohmeni rejected the proposal and prohibited the Iranian authorities to speak to the US authorities.

Daily dramatized and prompt coverage of the hostage crisis on the national media of  United States created more difficulties for the administration of Jimmy Carter. Hence, it can be analyzed that media has ability to place an agenda, which is on the third or fourth priority into first number in the eyes of public. Media also has the capability to divert the focus of public from the basic agendas towards the desires of unknowns. In this pertinent scenario, policy agenda became media agenda, which was successfully transformed into public agenda.

Murder of Jamal Khashoggi and its implication on the future of the United States as policy agenda, media agenda and public agenda would now be discussed. Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi Embassy of Istanbul on 2nd October, 2018. He was a famous journalist and used to criticize Saudi Arabian policies. He had good relations with Saudi Royal Family and also worked as an adviser for the Saudi government. Last year, he lost the favor of Saudis and got into exile in the United States. He criticized Crown Suleiman Prince through articles from United States, in a monthly column in Washington Post.

Before 3 days to disappear, Jamal Khashoggi quoted that:

“The people being arrested are not even being dissidents; they just have an independent mind”

He criticized the Saudi crackdown on different scholars and predicted no place for democracy under the rule of Muhammad bin Suleiman. According to some schools of thought, Jamal Khashoggi was murdered because he was going to break the news of unproved chemical attack by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Mr. Khashoggi’s close friend exposed that Khashoggi was near to get the documentary proof of the chemical attack by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

He revealed that:

“I met him a week before his death. He was unhappy and he was worried” said the Middle Eastern academic, who did not wish to be named.

“When I asked him why he was worried, he didn’t really want to reply, but eventually he told me he was getting proof that Saudi Arabia had used chemical weapons.” He said he hoped he be getting documentary evidence.

“All I can tell you is that the next thing I heard, he was missing.”

The main concern of Mr. Khashoggi was phosphorus. Earlier, it was claimed that Saudi Arabia had used US supplied white phosphorous as weapon against civilians and opponents in Yemen.

“If Khashoggi did, in fact, have proof that Saudi Arabia was deliberately misusing phosphorous for this purpose, it would be highly embarrassing for the regime and provides the nearest motive yet as to why Riyadh may have acted when they did against him.”

The CIAhas reported on 17th November 2018 that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman strategized the lethal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. This report directly contradicts the Saudi government’s claim that Muhammad Bin Suleiman was not involved in the murder, not to mention the US president’s inclination to believe Riyadh. The State Department also responded Saturday afternoon, distancing itself from the CIA’s reported assessment.

History testifies the fact that midterm elections of United States frequently change the dynamics of power between congress and white house, and which has resultantly insisted the US administration to alter their strategy for foreign policy. For example, the Democrats’ sweeping victory in congressional vote in 2006, forced the Bush administration to modify its approach in Iraq and to appease Iran regime. After that, the revival of Republicans in US midterm elections of 2010 compelled President Obama to back military intervention in Libya, which, later on, resulted in “the worst mistake” of his presidency. The US midterm elections of 2018 are going to place several consequences for US foreign policy especially for Middle-East, doesn’t matter what are results.

The timing of the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi really matters, because he was murdered some weeks before the midterm elections of United States. There is a perception of close relationship among Donald Trump, His Son in law Jared Khushner and Saudia Royal Family.The media campaign by neoliberals for seeking justice for Jamal Khashoggi in the context of Donald Trump having allegedly strong relations with Saudi Arabia is also viewed as character assassination movement to tackle conservative political base of Donald trump and this campaign has also showed its effects on the results of midterm elections of United States.

The complicated political scenario in USA, vicious contemporary issues of the world and war of words between the trump administration and the media could repeat the episode of Jimmy Carter of 1980s election. If one policy failure and the extreme media coverage on that issue can topple the Jimmy Carter’s administration, then in the 2018 in a globalised world, where social media is also very active, it seems very difficult for the Trump administration to survive, especially in upcoming General elections of USA.

The trump administrations have to take strong and true measures for the Jamal Khashoggi issue, otherwise it’s position for upcoming General elections could be as weak as Jimmy Crater’s in 1980, because media emphasize on Jamal Khashoggi murders has just started and it could become severe public agenda from media agenda.

Point to Remember: Jimmy Carter’s administration never provoked the media directly and they faced the defeat due to media trail of one issue in 1980, on the other side Trump administration is provoking US media aggressively on several issues especially Jamal Khashoggi murder, now the question is that how the US media would wish the Trump administration on Khashoggi’s issue and other such matters.

References:

[1] Brosius, H.B., and H. M. Kepplinger (1990). The agenda-setting function of television news. Communication Research 17: 183-211.

Qasim Raza holds a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from the National University of Modern Languages (NUML) Islamabad. Currently, he is an M. Phil scholar at Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU), Islamabad. His area of research includes human rights, media theories, nuclear safety and security, Arms Control & Disarmament and global contemporary affairs.

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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