Every author needs one — a clearly-stated reason for the existence of a paper, a theory, anything… a ‘so what’.
The ‘so what’ grounds the paper in the bedrock of relevance and proclaims to the reader ‘Yes, what I have to say is important and this is why you should listen.’
Last Sunday I worked with T. Olga (who has been indispensable throughout this project — I know I wouldn’t be where I am now without her) to determine and craft my own ‘so what’, copied below:
The Six-Days’ War (6DW) was covered by the NYT in a way that followed the narrative the U.S. government provided. This happened because of the chronological proximity of the 6DW to the war in Vietnam and key differences in the two events. The reason why the government frame of the 6DW was not contested was because, unlike the war in Vietnam, there was no direct involvement on the part of the U.S. It was framed as strictly a foreign affairs issue for the American public, and they had no immediate emotional investment to the people on the ground in that area — the strongest connection one could have claimed was a moderate nationalist identification with Jews or Arabs living in that region. There was no source of outrage at the actions the U.S. government took because for the American public in general, those actions had consequences that were abstract and not immediate. Therefore, there was no obvious reason for the public to demand the NYT to contest the government’s narrative of the 6DW and by extension to force the NYT into a more nuanced or even conflicted portrayal of these events.
In multiple papers I’ve read about media coverage of foreign conflict, the key factor for determining public outrage is a national death toll: casualties as a result of putting armed forces on the ground.
In Baum and Potter’s The Relationship Between Mass Media, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy: Toward a Theoretical Synthesis, they argue that an understanding of public opinion’s influence on foreign policy can be best obtained by using a dynamic model, which they liken to a market equilibrium. The key market good is information, and of the three actors in the market — the foreign policy leaders, the public, and the media — the leaders and the public both exert competing influence on what type of information is presented by the media on a given issue. More simply, the leaders and the public both work to control the frame of a foreign policy event.
Baum and Potter conclude that “the media tend to frame casualties in terms of local losses, flag draped caskets, and grieving American families” (29). Consequently, events overseas are made intensely personal when this happens, and the public pay much closer attention to events as they unfold than they otherwise would. There is a higher demand from the public for unbiased coverage of the events, which then increases their influence on the information presented by the media. This is an example of the equilibrium for qualitative information presented on a foreign policy issue being shifted, and a major support for my ‘so what’.
This is just a sample of the framework explored in this paper. My own model will be based on papers like these that attempt their own frameworks; I’ll create my own for this paper taking what makes sense from other theories and applying it specifically to the 6DW.
I’m at an exciting point in my independent: I can see the end of my research! I’m in the process of creating the actual words I’ll organize and structure into a final thesis-driven paper. Part 1 is very close to being finished.