The 2011 Revolution in Egypt in US Print Media

Bachelor Thesis, 2011

65 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1.1. The 2011 Egyptian revolution
1.2. The papers
1.3. Methodology

2. Analysis
2.1. Editorial
2.1.1. The Wall Street Journal
2.1.2. New York Times
2.1.3. San Francisco Chronicle
2.1.4. The Washington Times
2.1.5. Conclusion
2.2. News story
2.2.1. The Wall Street Journal
2.2.2. New York Times
2.2.3. San Francisco Chronicle
2.2.4. The Washington Times
2.2.5. Conclusion
2.3. Letter to the Editor
2.3.1. The Wall Street Journal
2.3.2. New York Times
2.3.3. San Francisco Chronicle
2.3.4. The Washington Times
2.3.5. Conclusion

3. Conclusion

4. Works Cited
4.1. Primary sources
4.2. Secondary sources

1. Introduction

“Lotus Revolution” (Egypt State Information Service[1] ), “18-Day Revolution” (Armbruster 2011), “Nile Revolution” (Murdock February 8, 2011), “Facebook Revolution” (Herrera February 12, 2011) - what happened in Egypt at the beginning of 2011 was given many different titles. Some even call it “the most unexpected development in modern Egyptian history” (Sharp 2011b: 2). After 18 days of protests in Cairo and other cities all over Egypt, the Egyptian people made their President Hosni Mubarak resign. He had been ruling the country for almost 30 years and his people wanted to get rid of him and his regime. That was their goal and that is what they achieved.

Of course there were international reactions to the uprisings from all over the world. “Numerous press reports [...] have recounted feelings of popular empowerment and pride inspired by the exploits of Egypt’s young protesters” (Sharp 2011b: 5). During the revolution, European leaders urged “Egypt’s transition to a new government” at the beginning of February (Murdock February 4), while China blocked the word “Egypt” from a twitter-like micro blogging website, according to Associated Press (quoted by Al Jazeera 2011).Further, when considering recent developments in Libya and Syria, other Middle Eastern countries seem to be inspired by the revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt. After Mubarak had stood down on February 11, the reactions were even stronger - “Today, we are all Egyptians”, stated Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and David Cameron suggested “We should teach the Egyptian revolution in our schools” (ESIS 2011).

However, the United States seem to keep a particularly eager eye on the most populous country of the Middle East. Souad Mekhennet, New York Times and ZDF correspondent, states in an interview with the German medium magazine that “curiously, the American media reacted much faster than the European” when it comes to reporting about the Egyptian revolution (Milz 2011: 20). Moreover, she adds that the large US media outlets’ reporting on the topic is “much more continuous and broader” (ibid.), giving a lot more background information on the region. This special attention is most likely due to the fact that for the United States, Egypt is a highly important actor when it comes to foreign policy in the region. Egypt is, behind Israel, the second- largest recipient of military aid from the US (cf. Armbruster 2011: 48), receiving an annual amount of $1.3 billion (Sharp 2011b: preface). To the United States, this form of support “has long been framed as an investment in regional stability [...], sustaining the March 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty” (ibid.). With the fall of Mubarak the United States saw this stability crumbling. Ever since the “Greater Middle East Initiative” was introduced by George W. Bush in 2005, the United States has been trying to export democracy to other Arab countries, including Egypt (Armbruster 2011: 48). However, when the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party, managed to reach a relatively high percentage of votes in Egyptian elections, the US backed off again because “they preferred Mubarak over the feared Brotherhood” (ibid). Hosni Mubarak was long considered a stalwart ally to the US and during the revolution, when Mubarak’s reign was close to over, it was uncertain which system and which people would follow the President. The United States feared that Egypt might become an anti- American Islamic state, ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood (cf. Sharp 2009: 12). On the other hand, democracy is a concept that has always been promoted by the United States and it would have felt wrong to them not to support it in Egypt when people are demonstrating for it. For these reasons, the United States government was facing a dilemma when confronted with the uprisings in Egypt. Should they support Mubarak or the people in the streets? This was one of the most discussed aspects in various news reports at that time and will be the main focus of this analysis.

One problem when looking at the Western way of reporting such events is that stereotypes and prejudices can often get in the way of suitable and just reporting. Ulrich Kienzle, an expert when it comes to reporting from and about the Middle East (?), recalls in the German medium magazin that the revolution at first seems “typically Egyptian” to him (Kienzle 2011: 25). “I thought the demonstrators would smash everything for two or three days, venting their anger, and then back down again. As always” (ibid.). However, that was not the case and many Western journalists, Middle East experts and politicians were taken by surprise by the fact that the protests just did not stop. “Very often, clichés are stronger than reality - also among correspondents”, says Kiezle. Not being able to maintain the journalistic objectivity actually required when reporting on such an event, is not an uncommon problem. Michael Schudson starts his book Discovering the news with the sentence “American Journalism has been regularly criticized for failing to be ‘objective’” (1987: 3). However, the question is whether it is even possible to produce a news text which is completely objective. “Letting the news speak for themselves also produces news reports which are evaluative and judgmental” (Harrison 2008: 39). This is based on the fact that journalists are almost free to decide which news coming from which source are going to be in the text and which are not. Therefore, the selection alone of what is considered newsworthy, contributes to a newspaper article never being completely objective.

Nonetheless, this paper is more concerned with the political bias US newspapers are said to have and carry through their news reporting. Many papers are said to lean towards the liberal or conservative side and this is reflected in their reporting. This paper investigates whether this also holds true for US coverage on the Egyptian revolution of 2011. How did the US print media depict the 2011 revolution in Egypt? Are there any differences in reporting within the media landscape? This papers aims at answering these questions by looking at four newspapers from the United States and their news coverage throughout the 18 days of the revolution in Egypt[2]. Of course, these problems with biased media outlets are not only to be found in the United States. As Danuta Reah states about the press in the United Kingdom, “[t]he problem of bias in the press is not a matter of who, or of what system, is supported. The problem is that the bias exists [...]” (2002: preface). Even so, as the relationship between the United States and Egypt is particularly tense due to the reasons explained above, this research aims at looking at US print media rather than any other country’s press.

The medium chosen for this analysis are newspapers. Although the number of people who read a newspaper on a daily basis has decreased strongly in the last years due to the development of Internet news platforms, tablet PCs and smartphones, newspapers are, indeed, not an extinct species. Especially when it comes to features, profiles, or just extensive news reports, newspapers are still highly respected by people looking for news and information (Linden 2010:12). According to Linden, the Internet often serves as a direct news informant, delivering the most important information fast, direct and impersonal, while newspapers have enough room to produce background stories (ibid.). Danuta Reah even takes it a step further, stating that newspapers “present the reader with aspects of the news, and present it often in a way that intends to guide the ideological stance of the reader” (Reah 2002: 50). Of course it would also be interesting to investigate different broadcasting stations delivering news about the revolution in Egypt. However, newspaper articles are easier to access from any country in the world. In addition to that, one can expect to find a greater variability of reporting in newspapers than e.g. on TV, due to the fact that print journalists can work and research undercover more easily, while TV journalists often have to rely on wire reports or pictures from other stations. That would probably have led to the problem of a lot of TV stations showing the same pictures about the revolution, which would have made a comparison rather difficult.

The following chapter gives an overview of the 2011 revolution in Egypt. It is important to understand the background and the development of this ‘homegrown’ revolution. Therefore, the reasons for the Egyptian people to demonstrate against their country’s regime are outlined and followed by a relatively detailed chronology of events.

1.1. The 2011 Egyptian revolution

Strictly speaking, the 2011 revolution in Egypt already started on June 7, 2010. That day, a young man named Khaled Said was heavily beaten up by policemen in Alexandria, resulting in numerous fractures of his face and skull that led to his death (Armbruster 2011: 17). “The events leading to Khaled’s killing originated when he supposedly posted a video of two police officers allegedly dividing the spoils of a drug bust” (Herrera February 12, 2011). That kind of citizen journalism was the only way for young Egyptians to react to their corrupt guardians of the law (ibid.). The state- ruled media outlets were highly corrupt and biased. After beating him to death, the Alexandrian police told everyone Khaled Said was a drug addict who died because he swallowed a pack of drugs. Although everyone knew that was a lie, the policemen never even had to justify themselves in court. “That’s the way things are in authoritarian Egypt” (Armbruster 2011: 17.).

However, Khaled Said and his tragic brutal death were not forgotten, especially not among the members of Egypt’s young Internet generation. The facebook group “We are all Khaled Said” started distributing pictures of Said’s smashed face and connected with other oppositional groups, such as “Kefaya”[3], the “April 6 movement”, the “Socialist Revolutionaries”, the “Muslim Brotherhood” (Egypt State Information Service 2011) and the “National Association for Change” founded by Nobel Peace Prize holder Mohammed El-Baradei (Armbruster 2011: 17) in order to plan a “Day of Rage[4], a march against ‘Torture, Corruption, Poverty and Unemployment’ for January 25, 2011” (Herrera February 12, 2011). The opposition groups did not chose this day by chance, for January 25 is also the day chosen by the Egyptian government to honor and celebrate Egyptian police (ibid.).

One could say that Khaled Said’s death was only the tip of the iceberg to the young Egyptians. They had numerous reasons to be enraged about the living conditions in their country. Approximately 20 percent of Egypt’s 80 million inhabitants live in poverty and “international estimates suggest that up to 40 percent of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day” (Sharp 2009: 21). The only people who were able to live in prosperity during the years of Mubarak’s reign were military generals and high-ranked officers. “In Egypt, it is an open secret that not all of [the military aid from the United States] was invested in the military budget” but went in their private pockets (Armbruster 2011: 36). In addition to living in poverty, about 30 percent of all Egyptians are illiterate, due to an underdeveloped education system (Armbruster 2011: 26). According to the 2004 Arab Human Development Report, submissiveness is drummed into the students’ brains. “There are hardly any possibilities for free thinking and criticism. All they do is learning things by heart” (ibid.). One reason for the violence and attacks of policemen is the so-called Emergency Law, which “was imposed during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and [...] has been continuously extended, every three years since 1981” (ESIS 2011). The law extends police powers, suspends constitutional rights and legalizes censorship (ibid.). Among other reasons, it was due to this law that “[international human rights organizations have [...] documented instances of torture, arbitrary detainment, and discrimination against women, homosexuals and Coptic Christians in Egypt” numerous times (Sharp 2009: 24). The Emergency Law is not an exception to the rule, as independent analysts claimed the Egyptian legal system to be “a labyrinth of codes and procedures that can be twisted to the state’s benefit when necessary” (Sharp 2009: 9). Moreover, Transparency International, a global organization fighting corruption, rates Egypt as being one of the most corrupt countries of the Middle East. On the global list, the country is ranked 115th out of 180 (Armbruster 2011: 25). Last but not least, the Parliamentary elections of 2010, resulting in the National Democratic Party (NDP, Mubarak’s party) winning 95 percent of the seats, also triggered “feelings of frustration and disillusionment amongst the public” (ESIS 2011). It further proves observations that “the Mubarak government has tightened its grip on power and cracked down on domestic opponents” over the course of the last years (Sharp 2009: 9).

For these reasons, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets on January 25, in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities all over Egypt (Armbruster 2011: 17). The demonstrations “came out in far greater numbers than initially envisioned” (Sharp 2011a: 2). The protesters were not only young and Internet-savvy Egyptians, but people of all age groups and professions - students who know they have no real future and will probably never get a well-paid job; engineers who have to work as part-time taxi drivers in order to earn enough money to get their families through the day; newspaper editors and reporters wanting to write and publish what they really and truly think; and simply Egyptians who are sick of bribing civil servants to get a certificate of any kind (Armbruster 2011: 25). “They all have one goal: Mubarak and his system have to go. Otherwise things cannot get better” (ibid: 18). The demonstrations on January 25 remained largely peaceful, however, “The official Middle East News Agency [reported] three protesters killed and 49 wounded in Cairo and Suez” (ESIS 2011).

Despite the fact that Hosni Mubarak tried to stop the oppositional groups by greatly suspending Internet and text-messaging services (ibid.), demonstrations continued over the next few days and on Friday, January 28, the peacefulness of the demonstrations came to an end when “hundreds of thousands of protesters throughout the country clashed with riot police and central security forces” (Sharp 2011a: 2). In Cairo alone, an estimated 100,000 people filled the streets and Tahrir Square (ibid.). The Ministry of the Interior had given the security forces the order to get rid of the protesters at whatever cost. The police threw grenades of tear gas and beat the demonstrators with rubber clubs. There were even some snipers placed around Tahrir Square. “The demonstrators responded by throwing bricks and forming barricades, setting police cars and police stations on fire” (Armbruster 2011: 20). They plundered the National Democratic Party’s headquarters (ESIS 2011), never stepping aside from their initial demand - “We won’t leave Tahrir Square until Mubarak has stepped back” (Armbruster 2011: 21). While Egyptian officials reported only three deaths that day, Human Rights Watch announced 26 lives lost (Armbruster 2011: 21-23). Finally, the police, overwhelmed by the protesters’ resistance, surrendered and the army was deployed, warmly embraced by the protesters (Sharp 2011a: 3). After the chaos caused by the police, the army tried to secure the city again, placing tanks all around Tahrir Square (Armbruster 2011: 22). However, some “speculated that the withdrawal of police from urban areas was a deliberate policy by the government, a scare tactic intended to sow chaos in order to remind Egyptians that a strongman like Mubarak is needed (Sharp 2011a: 3). A hint to that accusation is provided by the fact that on January 28, thousands of prison inmates all over Egypt were freed by armed forces breaking into the prisons, setting free “Islamist extremists, many violent criminals, rapists and men sentenced for terrorism” (Armbruster 2011: 22). Freeing criminals to destabilize the protesters seems to be a very common tactic for dictators like Mubarak, as Saddam Hussein had done it before in 2002 and Muammar Gaddafi was about to do the same later in February 2011 (ibid: 23).

The next day, January 29, President Mubarak gave a speech, announcing he would dissolve his government and a little later he appointed Ahmed Suleiman, Chief of Intelligence, as his Vice President (ESIS 2011). He was the first vice president ever appointed during the reign of Mubarak (Sharp 2011a: 3). However, the demonstrators were not satisfied, for they did not want small concessions but a whole new system in their country. Indeed, “[t]he moves failed to calm public anger, and the weekend of January 29-30 witnessed looting, protests and near-total chaos” (ibid.). However, the army stated on January 31 that “it would not use force against Egyptians” and peaceful demonstrations (Sharp 2011a: 5). One day earlier, the international community had stepped in, with Britain, France and Germany issuing a joint statement, urging Mubarak to allow the “democratic transformation process” to happen, starting by allowing free elections (ESIS 2011). Also, “US President Barack Obama [told] Mubarak he should take concrete steps to honor his commitments to reform” (ibid.).

“On Tuesday, February 1, an estimated quarter of a million protesters turned out in downtown Cairo for the 8th consecutive day of public protest against the rule of Hosni Mubarak” (Sharp 2011a: 6). Many of them were practically living on Tahrir Square by now - setting up toilets, tents, and even keeping the square clean with brooms and by picking up garbage (Armbruster 2011: 31). However, the most striking thing is probably how the army acted around the protesters. “Children are playing on the tanks surrounding Tahrir Square, demonstrators and soldiers are sharing their drinking water. One could think the army has switched sides” describes Jörg Armbruster (2011: 32). When Hosni Mubarak delivered a speech later that day, promising he would not run for the next presidential term in the upcoming September elections, the crowd was enraged (ESIS 2011), chanting “leave” and “we are not leaving” (Sharp 2011a: 6). The next day, massive clashes took place again on Tahrir Square between Mubarak supporters and demonstrators. Jeremy M. Sharp describes it the following, “In what appeared to be an orchestrated show of force, a huge crowd of pro­Mubarak strongmen, some riding on horses and camels, stormed Tahrir Square [...] and attacked anti-government protesters with metal rods, stones and sticks. A storm of stones rained down on both sides of the battle, as participants tore metal sheeting from nearby construction sites and shops for protection” (2011a: 7).

Horses and camels are political symbols for Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (Armbruster 2011: 34), enriching the assumption that many of the pro-Mubarak fighters were government-instructed and paid men willing to use violence on the one hand and also some of the freed prison inmates on the other. Some others accused them of being policemen in plain clothes (cf. Sharp 2011a: 7). The Egyptian government heavily denied these charges (ESIS 2011). The army surrounding Tahrir Square did not do anything but watch the fights. “Supposedly they had the order of just waiting and watching how the battle was unfolding” (Armbruster 2011: 34). Finally, on February 3, the fights were over and the pro-Mubarak fighters stepped back. It was not until then that the military helped the protesters on Tahrir Square. “Apparently, the army did switch sides when it became clear that Mubarak’s recruited thugs would not be able to remove the demonstrators (ibid.: 36). The same day, Vice President Omar Suleiman tried to talk to the protesters, promising them Mubarak’s son wouldn’t candidate in the upcoming elections either (Sharp 2011a: 8). Hosni Mubarak himself “claimed that if he resigned now, chaos would ensue” (ibid.). However, that did not satisfy the protesters, they were determined to stay, at whatever cost. The next day, Human Rights Watch reported three hundred people dead since the beginning of the protests on January 25 (Armbruster 2011: 35).

In the following days, “[t]he regime [crumbled] under the pressure” (ESIS 2011). On February 6, state television reported that the government had decided to abolish the Emergency Law and “banks and law courts, closed since January 27, [opened]” (ibid.). However, protesters were still not content. Record numbers of people flooded Tahrir Square after “Wael Ghonim, a young Google executive who had been detained by authorities for 12 days” was released on February 9 (Sharp 2011a: 10). He, who revealed being the founder of the facebook group “We are all Khaled Said”, gave moving speeches on television, renewing the people’s anger on Tahrir Square (ibid.).

On February 10, a military general stepped onto Tahrir Square, telling the demonstrators that all of their demands would be fulfilled, President Mubarak would hold a speech later that day to tell them everything (Armbruster 2011: 44). However, when Mubarak announced that even though he would hand over his powers to Vice President Suleiman, he would not step back and leave Egypt until he was “buried in the ground” (Sharp 2011a: 10), “catcalls started going off on Tahrir Square” (Armbruster 2011: 45). The demonstrators were disappointed, angry and mad. Nevertheless, they remained calm and peaceful, claiming, “we will stay” (ibid.). They would have to wait one more day. On February 11, the demonstrators were marching towards the President’s Palace in Heliopolis, some of them were blocking the “headquarters of lies”, as they titled the Egyptian state television (ESIS 2011), when they learned Mubarak had left his palace with a helicopter (Armbruster 2011: 52). Around 5 p.m. “Vice President Suleiman announced that President Mubarak had resigned and the Supreme/Higher Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces had taken control of the country” (Sharp 2011a: 11).

After setting a historical basis in this chapter, the following section will now turn to the four newspapers considered in this analysis.

1.2. The papers

The papers chosen for the analysis are The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and The Washington Times. In the following section, the four papers are briefly presented and it is explained why they were considered suitable for the analysis at hand.

The Wall Street Journal is a nationally published daily newspaper (excluding Sundays), printed in New York City. It is considered “one of the world’s most respected print newspaper[s]...” (Franklin 2008: 4) and has a circulation of 2,177,791[5], which makes it the biggest newspaper in the United States by circulation. However, one has to take into account that this figure includes about 414,000 paid subscribers for The Wall Street Journal’s electronic edition, “including its Web site and other systems like the Kindle” (Plambeck 2010). This is particularly important because “most newspapers do not charge for their Web sites and their online readership is not included in the circulation bureau’s calculation” (ibid.). The Wall Street Journal is famous for its extensive economy and stock market section, also reflected by the paper’s name. It “primarily covers US and international business, and financial news and issues” (Shepherd 2011: 114). This study will therefore also investigate whether this focus on economic topics somehow influenced the coverage of the revolution in Egypt. The paper is considered very influential both internationally and nationally and has won 33 Pulitzer Prizes to this date (ibid.).

In a 2005 report on media bias in the United States published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, The Wall Street Journal was found to be the most liberal of all news outlets that were measured in the study. Groseclose and Milyo developed a special score ranking from 0 to 100 with 0 being conservative and 100 being liberal. The Wall Street Journal reached a score of 85.1 (Groseclose, Milyo 2005: 1212). However, the two researchers seem surprised by these findings, noting that “this estimate [...] refers only to the news of The Wall Street Journal; we omitted all data that came from its editorial page. If we included data from the editorial page, surely it would appear more conservative” (ibid).

In addition to that, the study was carried out before Rupert Murdoch was able to “win control” (Franklin 2008: 4) over the Journal. Rupert Murdoch is widely known for other media outlets presenting a very conservative view, such as Fox News (cf. Groseclose, Milyo 2005) and is often accused of using his media outlets for distributing a conservative worldview. However, when confronted with the concerns regarding The Wall Street Journal, Murdoch responded in an editorial published on August 1, 2007, that he “intended to maintain the values and integrity of the Journal” (Shepherd 2011: 122). However, it will be interesting to see if the content analyzed in this paper hints at a more liberal or conservative slant and if so, which genres particularly reflect a certain bias. It will also be of interest to investigate if the editorial pages convey a different picture than the news stories, as suggested by the study carried out by Groseclose and Milyo.

The New York Times, with a circulation of 916,911 on weekdays, is on rank three of the US’s biggest newspapers. It has, however, the highest circulation on Sundays, selling more than 1.3 million copies. The paper’s nickname is “The Gray Lady” due to its longstanding position in the news business and because “it was one of the last newspapers to adopt color photography” (Shepherd 2011: 87). The paper was founded in 1851 and is therefore the oldest newspaper of all four used in this analysis. The New York Times received 104 Pulitzer Prizes, outdoing any other news organization (ibid.). The paper is said to have a political bias in their news reporting towards the Democratic Party. One example for that is the Bay of Pigs invasion in the 1960s, where the Times helped to downplay the disastrous story in cooperation with the Kennedy administration (cf. Schudson 1978: 172). The sentiment of the New York Times reporting in favor of the Democrats has survived until to today. Most scholars see this proven in politically charged times and not only in the editorial section but also in the news stories that are supposed to be politically objective. Neil Weinberg, for instance, editorial writer at Forbes, notes in an article in 2010 that “perhaps it’s pure coincidence that a little over a week before readers go to the polls to decide the fate of Congress, the liberal [New York] Times [leads] with stories that just happen to paint [its] owners’ political foes as buying the election”

Additionally, the study on media bias by Groseclose and Milyo also places the New York Times near the liberal end of the scale, giving it a score of 73.7 (2005: 1211). In 2004, a piece by the newspaper’s public editor at the time, Daniel Okrent, was published, in which he stated that the New York Times had a liberal bias when it comes to certain social issues like same-sex marriages. “He claimed that this bias reflected the paper’s cosmopolitanism, which arose naturally from its roots as a hometown paper of New York City” (Shepherd 2011: 95).

San Francisco Chronicle’s weekday circulation is 235,350, putting the paper on the list of the 25 biggest newspapers in the United States. Around the west coast, the paper is seen as an icon of the region. Even though it is primarily focused on the San Francisco Bay Area, it is “distributed throughout Northern and Central California” and also maintains a bureau in Washington, DC (Shepherd 2011: 99-101). However, due to the media crisis of the last years, the Chronicle’s readers have been increasingly disappointed by the loss of quality, which makes them reach for the New York Times more and more often (Lindner, Knop 2009). Just like the Times, the San Francisco Chronicle is considered politically liberal and is the largest newspaper in Northern California (ibid.). Its nickname is therefore “The Voice of the West” (Shepherd 2011: 99). It was very important that the analysis investigated at least one newspaper which is not based in the east of the United States in order to add some regional balance to the analysis.

The Washington Times’ circulation is very hard to determine since “[t]he paper stopped reporting to the Audit Bureau of Circulation in 2008” (Shapira 2010). At that point, the paper’s weekday circulation was 86,710. Times executives claim The Washington Times has a current circulation of 42,000 copies (ibid.). However, one can say that The Washington Times is the smallest paper by circulation considered in this paper. Additionally, it is also the youngest one. The paper was founded by Reverend Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church in 1982 and is often said to be “a mouthpiece for Moon’s religious movement [...] or, at best, a public relations outlet for conservative values and the Republican Party” (Ahrens 2002). In Groseclose and Milyo’s 2005 report on media bias in the United States, The Washington Times was ranked the most conservative news outlet out of 20 (cf. 2005: 15).

After presenting the newspapers, it becomes obvious that they vary in size, region, and, probably most importantly, in political affinities. Now it is interesting to find out if these differences influence the way of reporting of the papers. This paper attempts to find out whether the political slant the papers are often accused of having is reflected in the coverage on the Egyptian revolution of 2011. The following section provides an overview of how the material used for this analysis was researched and organized and how the analysis is pursued in the further course of the paper.

1.3. Methodology

Before starting to analyze the different articles, it was important to define the time frame to be covered in this thesis. As mentioned above, the revolution is technically rooted in June 2010 and cannot really be declared completed until the parliamentary elections in November have taken place and the country starts over with a new government (cf. Sharp 2011b: 3). This paper, however, is only concerned with the time frame from January 25, the “Day of Revolt” to February 11, the “Friday of Departure” (cf. Armbruster 2011). As this paper deals with print media, implying a time period of one day for the paper to be printed and published, the time frame chosen and analyzed is January 26 to February 12 2011[6].

The next step was to search for articles published within this time frame in the four papers chosen for the research. Using the search database LexisNexis, all articles in the four papers that include the word ‘Egypt’ were selected. The search was kept very vague in order to not miss any article that might be important for the matter. After that, the total of 615 findings were categorized according to their genres and content - this time the selection was conducted very strictly, so that only the articles really concerned with the revolution itself and therefore suitable for the analysis would remain.

The three genres picked for analysis are the editorial, the news story and the letter to the editor[7]. However, due to the fact that every newspaper has a different structure and might therefore place the news stories on different pages and in different sections of the paper, only the news stories appearing on the papers’ front pages during the 18-day time period were considered in the analysis, meaning all articles carrying an ‘A1’ in the section line. Some newspapers in the United States tend to start articles on one page and end them on another, maybe not even continuous page. Regardless of whether the complete article was printed on the front page or whether it just started on the first page and continued somewhere else in the paper, it was still included in the analysis. This in particular holds true for the articles taken from the New York Times since the articles printed on A1 are all very long and it seems unlikely that two, or sometimes three, complete stories would fit on one page as a whole. Front page stories are supposed to attract the reader’s attention and were considered newsworthy, relevant and appealing enough by the editors to represent the paper when it is on display.

Concerning the following analysis, many different factors have to be taken into account. One of them is the principle of selectivity. According to Timothy E. Cook, selectivity in news reporting can lead to bias when “day in and day out, certain kinds of political actors, political stories and political issues become more covered and more favorably reported than others” (1997: 87). In the present case, one can assume that the central topic - the Egyptian revolution - will be the same in every article. However, there are many different angles from which one can look at the revolution and it is examined whether some angles are preferred by specific newspapers. Following Cook’s thoughts on selectivity, it will also be interesting to see if some newspapers tend to always quote the same experts for their articles. If so, this might be an indication of one-sided reporting.

Another aspect to consider is the choice of words. Peter Linden states that “just the sound of a word alone can create and influence a reader’s feelings and can set free associations in the reader’s mind” (2008: 21). This choice of words also plays a significant role in the headline of a news story. Especially since this analysis deals with front page articles, the headline is not only supposed to sum up the story and grab the reader’s attention for the article, but it should also “attract the reader to the paper” (Reah 2002: 13). Some headlines, according to Allan Bell, also “focus on a secondary event or a detail” (1991: 189). In these cases, the headline puts another emphasis on the news story and can “re-weigh the news values” (ibid).

It is necessary to note, however, that not all aspects are thoroughly analyzed in every genre and every article. It has to be considered, for example, that the headline is probably not as important in the letter section as in the news articles and that the source of information plays a minor role in the editorials than in the news stories. The newspapers are looked at en bloc in each article and the analysis will show whether some kind of ‘red thread’ is recognizable in the different genres.

2. Analysis

In the following, the four newspapers picked for this thesis are analyzed based on their articles on the 2011 revolution in Egypt. Since the research is concerned with three different genres, first of all, the genres are briefly presented to give an overview of what is characteristic for the genres and why they are an important part of newspaper business and newspaper reporting. Previous studies and claims by scholars are presented and taken into account when analyzing the articles.

2.1. Editorial

Karin Wahl-Jorgensen stresses the importance of the editorial as follows:

“[t]he editorial and op-ed [...] pages are central to a newspaper’s identity. They are the only place in the paper where journalists are authorized to express opinion, often guided by the political leanings of the newspaper.” (2008: 70)

The main difference between a commentary and the editorial is that in a commentary the single personality of the author with all his or her feelings and thoughts on a special matter is represented. In an editorial, on the other hand, the writer basically represents the newspaper’s opinion on the matter. The journalist, as an individual, is not of high importance, which is also why editorials do not usually give the author’s name. Of course, one can never fully detach from one’s own thoughts but in the editorial, the writer is not representing himself as a person but serves as the newspaper’s voice. This is also the reason why the editorial was chosen over the commentary in this analysis at hand. The aim of the paper is to compare four different newspapers and not the journalists employed at these papers. Therefore, the editorial is the much more suitable choice.

Although there is this very important distinction to be made, an editorial is an opinion piece and follows the same guidelines and difficulties as any other commentary. Any form of opinion journalism is based on the factor of perspective. If one wants to comment on an event like the Egyptian revolution, one must not be too personally involved in the matter.


[1] Abbreviated ESIS from this point onwards

[2] A more thorough description of the methodology can be found in chapter 1.3.

[3] Translates to ‘enough’ (Armbruster 2011: 48)

[4] In numerous other sources, the Day of Rage is referred to as the Day of Revolt, which is why these two terms are used interchangeably in this paper.

[5] Unless not marked differently, all circulation numbers are taken from the Audit Bureau of Circulation 2011.

[6] Since all articles (including all editorials, news stories and letters to the editor) analyzed were published in the year 2011, the parenthetical citation gives the exact date of publication for reasons of better visibility.

[7] A short overview of the three genres and a more thorough explanation as to why they were picked for the analysis can be found in chapter 2.

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The 2011 Revolution in Egypt in US Print Media
University of Bonn  (Anglistik)
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revolution, egypt, print, media
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Annika Witzel (Author), 2011, The 2011 Revolution in Egypt in US Print Media, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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