The literature on media independence shows that the public statements of government officials can simultaneously stimulate news coverage and regulate the discursive parameters of that coverage. This study investigates two sources of uncertainty in that literature which have limited the ability of researchers to draw firm conclusions about the nature of media independence: how critical the news actually is, and how journalists put the indexing norm into practice. I examine policy discourse appearing in evening news broadcasts during the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf crisis, and find that sources outside the institutions of American government produced far more discourse critical of American involvement in the Gulf crisis than was produced by the "official" debate among domestic political leaders. Moreover, changes in the amount of governmental criticism coming from official circles did not tend to produce parallel changes in the amount of critical news coverage. This suggests that criticism of government in evening news discourse was not triggered by or closely tied to patterns of gatekeeping among elected officials. Television news coverage did not merely toe the "line in the sand" drawn by the Bush administration. Instead, the evidence from this case suggests that journalists exercised considerable discretion in locating and airing oppositional voices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-414
Number of pages34
JournalPolitical Communication
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2003


  • Framing
  • Indexing hypothesis
  • Journalistic norms
  • News coverage
  • Persian Gulf crisis
  • Policy discourse
  • Press independence
  • Television news

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science


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