The continuous fighting in Syria had created a new form of terrorism in the Middle East, and a greater concern over al-Qaeda’s intimidating expansion under the guise of the Islamic State (IS) causing a threat to western interests and security. The front cover and its headline are direct analogies between Obama’s 2014 war, and that of his counterpart Bush’s 2003 war. The authors leave the readers unclear about the intended message, whereby some will interpret the image and headline as a criticism of both military campaigns, while other readers may be approve the vision of a forceful and powerful president as was his predecessor in their opinion. The article’s content on the other hand compel the reader to accept one assertion; which is the failure of Obama’s self preservation policy, and the positive shift he has made towards military engagement in the Middle East, which will ultimately bring back America’s role as a global superpower. This paper is a critical analysis of the various techniques used by the authors to appeal to these two contradictory audiences via their front cover, whereas they delivers only one argument that is in support of decisive military action.
A Critical Study of the Economist Article “Mission Relaunched”
Mission Relaunched was a front cover published article by the Economist on September 27, 2014. The article comes subsequent to Obama’s airstrike authorization against IS on Aug 7th and later on Sept 23rd in order to protect American interest and the threat made by the Islamic State (Liptak, 2014). In the cover Obama (Fig 1) is presented wearing the same jet fighter suit previously worn by his predecessor George W Bush in a shot taken on May 1st, 2003 (Media Matters, 2006) after a successful air raid in the Persian Gulf (Fig 2). The headline “Mission Relaunched” in the article is ironic as it further alludes to Bush’s “Mission accomplished” banner. The article’s intentional use of imagery and language in the headline and content aim to send critical interpretations of Obama’s earlier policies of political dialogue, and to emphasis that only military engagement can protect America’s interests and security. The article attracts the readers with an attention grabbing front cover that elicits strong emotions across all spectrums of this debate, yet the content leads the reader into a view in line with a militarized America.
As an old British publication, the Economist has been able to position itself as an internationally influential political and economic editorial that attracts the readership of the elite from across all spectrums and political affiliations including business, industry, and politics. James Fallows critiques the magazines’ editorial as one that pushes a “consistent line” which invariably supports free markets, privatization, and the ideology that “political leaders must be firm “(1991). The authors of the front cover were not reticent in using all forms of technical manipulations in order to emotionally attract their highly influential readers. The image was cropped from its previous background presenting a more powerful vision for the viewer. The President was also doctored to have lighter hair and skin tones; something that is more palatable to American audience who may still be at odds with an African American President (AP, 2012). Finally, the facial expressions were chosen to be that of firm and controlled anger, a sign similar to the highly successful leaders according to micro-expression experts (Edwards, 2013). From the onset, the image sets a synergistic appeal that defines to the reader the context (Obama’s war) of the article; it graphically pushes a well defined image that is set historically in the reader’s mind (Bush’s war), and finally produces the ultimate emotional lure. For conservative readers who were supportive of Bush’s policies, this image will produce their warranted vindication of a President that is portrayed as powerful and decisive. For progressives or liberals who are less than ready to accept military action and who were critical of Bush’s “macho” photo-op, it may be a direct criticism of a president who ran on the platform of pacifism yet, has found military engagement necessary in order to deal with impending threat. The article with such image thus makes an “astounding political and social force, invoking emotions through one universal language” (Klein, 2009).
Similarly, the headline’s use of sensationalized language aims to draw the parallel lines between both presidents. Relaunche means to start over or to initiate, and in military terms, one “launches” missiles towards a target. Both terms fit aptly in the context of the image and the article’s objectives. Obama’s airstrikes against IS are a re-launch of Bush’s war, and therefore a means to reinitiate America’s position as a global policeman, as well as an admission of his failure in his earlier policies. The use of both these “verbal and visual cues with these references makes an imperative –and sensational- statement” (Moeller, 1999) for the readers who will again differ in their opinion between supporter and critic.
The content of the article on the other hand does not leave the reader to his own interpretations. Instead it begins by drawing out America’s failures in recent years as a leader in “global security” and the President as liable for a “world that is spinning out of control” (Economist, 2014). With that premise established, the reader is drawn into a typical formulaic coverage in American media (Moeller, 1999). They used highly sensationalized language such as the “axis of evil, and networks of death”, analogies between both Obama and Bush’s wars in the regions, as well as the clear and simplified establishment of a protagonist: America, and an even more defined villain: the Islamic State. A typical reader of the Economist cannot but conclude that the ultimate goal to maintain his business’s interest or his handle on global security is through America’s direct and active participation. While the article admonishes Bush’s unplanned attack in Iraq, and accepts the need for bilateral diplomacy, it ultimately supports the idea that America’s “might” will deter the “world’s tyrants”. With that, the Economist packages the editorial in such a way that it draws in both supporters and critics of Bush and Obama using attention grabbing front cover and headline, and then lays out the only acceptable solution to the country’s economic slump as well as the world’s potential destruction: an American superpower that can stand against tyranny and uphold its economic and political interests around the world through military force.
Although the front cover and headline were highly effective in producing strong emotions from the viewers they left the readers hanging as to the direction the article’s authors might choose to take. Whereas it drew both conservative and progressive readers, the article itself is highly supportive of a militarized America. An alternative to this image and headline that may speak more aptly to the author’s ideology is one that features both presidents in identical suits, staring down at their target: an IS militant with an equally sensational headline: “America to the Rescue!”. The front cover and headline (fig 3) thus fall more in line with the authors’ view and will leave no doubt as to their objective.
Images and words have power! Once an image attracts a reader, and its related story is established, the article can manipulate the reader into believing the author’s form of reality. The Economist article “mission relaunched” is specifically targeting an American audience with the clear objective of rallying the troops behind a hesitant president. America has vested interest in being under control in the region, and the article makes it clear that they must regain their role as the global policeman. The image, headline and text push further the necessity for America to regain its position on the global arena and to use its fighting power in order to reclaim its superiority.
Associated Press (2012, Oct 27). Majority of Americans Harbor Prejudice against Blacks: Poll. Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/u-s-anti-black-attitudes-article-1.1193641
Edwards, V. V. (2013). Guide to reading Microexpressions. Science of People. Retrieved from http://www.scienceofpeople.com/2013/09/guide-reading-microexpressions/
Fallows, J (1991, Oct 16). The Economics of the Colonial Cringe,” about The Economist magazine. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/1991/10/
Klein, J (2010, Mar 18). The Power of Images in the Fight against AIDS. The World Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-klein/the-power-of-images-in-th_b_374344.html
Media Matters (2006, Apr 27). Mission Accomplished: A look back at the media’s fawning coverage of Bush’s premature declaration of victory in Iraq. Retrieved from http://mediamatters.org/research/2006/04/27/mission-accomplished-a-look-back-at-the-medias/135513
Moeller, S. (1999). Four habits of international news reporting. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University.
The Economist (2015). Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/21620191
Liptak, K (2014, Sept 23). How Obama came to launch strikes in Syria. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2014/09/23/politics/obama-syria-strikes-policy/