2005-2011

Does Perception Matter in International Relations?: Trends in US and Korean Media Coverage of the Alliance, 1992-2004

Researchers

Portrait of Gi-Wook Shin
Principal Investigator
Senior Fellow
  • Professor, Sociology

For much of the U.S.-ROK alliance's fifty-year history, it was considered one of the most successful political-military relationships forged out of the Cold War era. More recently, however, experts have expressed concerns about the durability of the alliance, given changing views in both Seoul and Washington on the nature of the threat posed by North Korea. The two allies' disparate approaches to DPRK policy became evident in the wake of the 2001 summit between the newly inaugurated President Bush and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung. A series of subsequent events - including the 2002 eruption of anti-American sentiment in the South Korean streets and coordination difficulties within the context of six-party talks on North Korea's denuclearization - have further exposed the serious challenges faced by the alliance.

Against this backdrop, we assess how American news interest in the Korean peninsula is distributed between South Korea and North Korea, as well as across general issue areas such as security and more specific subject categories such as North Korea's nuclear program. We also assess the tone of this coverage, including how tone has changed in accordance with the overlap of various White House and Blue House administrations. We evaluate ROK news along similar terms, also analyzing the news "frames" employed by Korean newspapers, which maintain more distinct ideological orientations than their American counterparts.

Our sample includes all major Korea-related articles published in three authoritative U.S. newspapers - the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal - between 1992 and 2004. For comparison, we examine alliance coverage in two South Korean newspapers that represent conventional conservative and liberal viewpoints, respectively, the Chosun Ilbo and the Hankyoreh Shinmoon (1992-2003). Our findings on degree of news attention and variations in tone serve as an empirical gauge of the allies' relationship.

This project culminated in a 2007 conference which resulted in an  edited volume, First Draft of Korea: The US Media and Perceptions of the Last Cold War Frontier, with chapters by influential American journalists. It covers topics such as Korean democratization, anti-Americanism, and the rise of Korean nationalism; the challenges of covering North Korea; the North Korean nuclear crises; and public diplomacy and Korean Peninsula. Also a single-authored book manuscript stemming from the project, entitled One Alliance, Two Lenses: U.S.-Korea Relations in a New Era, was published in 2010.  Both of these books were translated into Korean as well.