Sophia Gallagher: Media Narratives on US Intervention

As I continue working on my research, I’ve been thinking about what the connections are between coverage of Panama and Venezuela, specifically how the Panama invasion set the stage for many further U.S. military actions. When I began the project, I already had in mind some of the ways in which these two moments in U.S. foreign policy were related, but I found it especially interesting how the invasion of Panama has been generally either not remembered at all, or held up as an example of military action gone right, citing the low death toll (it should be noted that various human rights organizations dispute the official civilian death toll given by the U.S.) and success of the operation. Beyond this connection, another consistency I’ve noticed in both reporting on the invasion of Panama and current reporting on Venezuela is the tendency for news to appear to offer two differing opinions, that in actuality end with the same conclusion supporting intervention of some kind. For instance, a page from the Washington Post, printed December of 1989, has two separate articles on the Panama invasion, one titled “Good Neighbor Policy” and one titled “A War That Never Should Have Happened.” While the first article overtly supports the invasion of Panama, the second at first criticizes the military action but nevertheless concludes that “it could not be helped,” and “there was no other way.” Although it appears that readers are being offered multiple viewpoints on the invasion, the difference in opinion ranges only from ‘outright support of military intervention’ to ‘critical support for military intervention.’ Both articles employ similar rhetoric and invoke familiar terminology on defending democracy, American goodwill, and the necessity to confront ‘tyranny’. This illusion of choice in what narratives are present in reporting illustrates a larger trend I’ve noticed in media coverage of intervention. Readers are able to get a small range of differing opinions on what form of intervention is necessary, while the more foundational question, “Is any form of intervention necessary at all?” is never raised. In my research so far, little reporting on Venezuela or Panama brings into question larger notions of American exceptionalism or addresses the results of intervention, and in fact most criticism works to uphold American cultural hegemony overall, giving credibility to interventionism by showing that it is open to criticism. 

As I continue my research, I have come across some technical difficulties in gaining access to archives, both digital and in person. While some newspaper and magazine online archives are available for anyone with a subscription, others are behind paywalls that are out the bounds of the resources and time I have to work on my paper. Other physical archives are not accessible for researchers. I visited the Fox News building recently, and although I was not able to gain access to their archives of TV coverage, being there in person made me think about what it means when archives and information are not readily available. 

Archives at Fox News