Revising the indexing hypothesis: Officials, media, and the Libya crisis

Scott L. Althaus, Jill A. Edy, Robert M. Entman, Patricia Phalen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study revises the indexing hypothesis by specifying its predictions and testing them on a single event, the U.S-Libya crisis of 1985–1986. We consider not only whether journalists use “official debate” to guide their coverage of important policy issues, but also how they might construct and interpret this debate. Detailed content analysis of the New York Times demonstrates that, while indexing is a valuable theory in assessing media treatment of foreign policy, it needs further refinement. Different interpretations of indexing, particularly a proportional versus a parametric standard, predict very different results. Journalism norms such as objectivity and event-centered reporting may support or counteract indexing. Journalists appear to seek out foreign sources to provide opinions contrary to the dominant policy position, and they marginalize some U.S elite voices while overemphasizing others. This may be a sign of media autonomy, or of the relative power of sources over both policy outcomes and public debate. The ability of some elites to introduce policy options and shape debate needs to be considered, as does the effect of the physical placement of arguments in the news text. These findings also suggest the need to reconsider what features constitute an independent press and effective public debate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)407-421
Number of pages15
JournalPolitical Communication
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1996


  • Foreign policy
  • Indexing
  • Journalism norms
  • Libya bombing, 1986
  • News bias
  • News sources
  • Press-government relations
  • Role of media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Revising the indexing hypothesis: Officials, media, and the Libya crisis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this