Reporting the international system: Attention to foreign leaders in the US news media, 1950-2008

Brandon Gorman, Charles Seguin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Information on foreign affairs reaches Americans primarily through the news media, yet we know little about why some global actors receive more attention than others. We constructed a new data set describing media attention to, and US state actions and discourse about, foreign leaders from 1950 to 2008 to assess which leaders receive more attention and why. The results of our analyses suggest that media attention is disproportionately allotted to (1) leaders of the most powerful countries in the international system; (2) leaders of countries experiencing instability and violence; (3) leaders of countries that domestic political elites (Congress and the president) pay attention to, or where the US is currently fighting a war; and (4) leaders of countries whose connections to global networks signal positions of neutrality vis-à-vis the Cold War superpowers. We do not find any evidence that media attention diffuses through connections in the world polity. We conclude that media attention to foreign leaders is a reflection of the dynamics of geopolitical struggles and conflicts rather than global interconnectedness. Thus, in the context of attention to world leaders, news values favoring conflict and struggle resonate more than news values favoring connections and cooperation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)775-799
Number of pages25
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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