A century of war: Analysis of the President, the images, and public opinion from the Spanish American War to the Persian Gulf War

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Pamela J. Shoemaker


War, President, Images, Public opinion, Spanish American War, Persian Gulf War

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Communication | International Relations | Journalism Studies | Mass Communication | Political Science | Rhetoric and Composition | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Over the last century, the United States has engaged itself in numerous conflicts--some of which have been large-scale world wars; others have been smaller in scope. But, this trend of U.S. involvement in other country's issues isn't a trend that will seem to subside. As Lippmann (1922) suggests, the news media provide audiences with pictures--literal and figurative--in our heads, giving audiences impressions of the world that are largely out of reach, out of sight, out of mind (Lippmann 1922, 29; McCombs and Estrada, 1997, 237). This study examines a century of war, but more specifically, this study examines the relationship between the President, the press, and the public during times of war over the last century. Furthermore, this study examines the visual images and the visual messages produced during six major conflicts of the last 100 years.

This project is divided into two studies: Study 1 tests traditional agenda-setting literature. Study 2 is a test of the photographic framing of war. The two studies together provide meaningful interpretations of textual and visual messages of war and the way those messages interact with Presidential rhetoric and public opinion. Using a combination of mass communication and visual sociology theories, this study's theoretical foundation is built on agenda-setting theory, framing theory, and visual sociology theory. In many of the hypotheses, it was predicted there would be associations between the President and the press, the President and the public, and the press and the public. A content analysis was used to examine textual and visual content, a content analysis was used to examine Presidential speeches, and secondary analysis of public opinion polls was used to assess measures of public opinion.

The findings support the notion that there is a transferal of issue agendas between these entities. The photographic portion of this study examined the way newsmagazines reported the war photographically. In this case, content categories were created to provide a means of categorizing images of war. The findings from this study indicate that war, over time, has been framed and characterized in particular ways.


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