Senior policy-makers acknowledge that they often first learn of new trouble spots around the globe from cable channel news coverage. World leaders often direct messages to each other through these news channels. For example, enemies of the United States, such as Osama bin Laden often take advantage of the all-news channels to spread propaganda against the United States through videotaped statements. The Cable News Network (CNN), in particular, grew to have such an impact on politics and foreign policy that this phenomenon became known as the CNN effect. Although the CNN effect was first proposed several years ago, several aspects about the phenomenon remain controversial, including its definition and scholarly support of its true existence. This paper will discuss the origins of CNN effect, the proposed mechanism of the effect, and viewpoints of those who do and do not support its existence. Additionally, I will propose future consequences of the CNN effect. In the early 1980’s Ted Turner produced the Cable News Network, the first global news network more commonly known as CNN. CNN would soon become one of the first global news networks to broadcast news around the clock and around the world (Gilboa, 2005). However, it was not until the Gulf War in 1990 that CNN’s role in international relations became significant (Gilboa, 2005). During the Gulf War, CNN was the only network left on air after smart missiles destroyed the Iraqi communications network, which both the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) relied upon for media coverage. With ABC and NBC unable to broadcast coverage from Iraq, CNN was the only American television network broadcasting “real time television” from Iraq for the next two weeks (Bahador, 2007). Consequently, subscription to the relatively new CNN increased substantially and the network’s recognition and prestige surged as it became known for its rapid transmission of information from the scene of action (Bahador, 2007). The fact that CNN was the only network would have major implications on the networks recognition on politics and foreign policy. The first evidence of CNN’s influence on American politics and foreign policies occurred in the early 1990s. Specifically, in 1992, President George H. W. Bush watched CNN’s media coverage of Somalia, which presented images of starving children. Due to these graphic images, he felt obliged to send U.S. troops there to distribute food and establish security. Less than a year later on October 7, 1993, President Bill Clinton watched CNN’s televised images of Somali fighters dragging the desecrated body of an American soldier through the dirty streets of Mogadishu. He subsequently felt obliged to withdraw the troops (Hess & Kalb, 2003). This was just the beginning of CNN’s effect on American policies, which would come to be seen as the origins of the CNN effect.
So what exactly is the CNN effect? Because scholars have yet to agree on a single definition, several definitions have been provided. According to Seib (2002), the CNN effect “is presumed to illustrate the dynamic tension that exists between real-time television news and policymaking, with the news having the upper hand in terms of influence” (p. 27). Schorr (1998) broadly defined the CNN effect as “the way breaking news affects foreign policy decisions” (p.11). Yet another definition is provided by Saunders (2003), who defined it in regards to finances as “a tendency of spending patterns to change momentarily in the face of really gripping news” (p. B1). Nartsios (1996) provides a more specific definition of the CNN effect, describing it as “a connection between photographs of starving children on the evening news and more aggressive U.S. policy to combat starvation, even to the point of military intervention” (p. 152). Perhaps the best definition, used by Professor Steven...