Sociology Mind
2012. Vol.2, No.1, 67-74
Published Online January 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 67
Newspapers Coverage of Spain and the United States:
A Comparative Analysis*
Antonio V. Menéndez Alarc ó n
Department of Sociology, Butler University, Indianapolis, USA
Received August 14th, 2011; re vised September 18th, 2011; accepted October 19th, 2011
This article assesses the content of foreign news coverage in the United States and Spain. It draws on
content analysis of two US and two Spanish newspapers over a 28-month period, during 2005-2007 and
in 2009. The results show that the content of these newspapers tends to be more negative when covering
politics. However, there was a major change in the type of coverage in the Spanish newspapers from the
period 2005-2007 to 2009. Coverage of US politics in 2009 was much more positive than in the previous
period studied. These findings suggest that newspapers contribute to an overall unfavorable representation
of these countries for their respective populations. Also, when covering international news, newspapers
are less independent from their government agendas than they claim; supporting critical research findings
that mainstream media is vulnerable to “news management” by the government.
Keywords: Social Representation; International News; Agenda Setting; Spain; United States
Social science research over the last 50 years has established
that the media are major agents in the codification and trans-
mission of cultural scripts. An array of studies demonstrates the
importance of the media in agenda setting and creating images
of society, as the works of Gerbner (1969), Altheide and Snow
(1979), Cook et al. (1983), Hall (2002) Scheufele, and Tewks-
bury (2007), and McCombs (2010) reveal. These studies show
that the way the media report a story influences the perceptions
of the audience as well as the importance of the issue. Further-
more, as Lang and Lang (2002) and Lundby (2009) suggest, the
media fashion a symbolic environment through which a new
version of social reality is created. This process remains mostly
invisible to the audience because it appears to be natural. The
seemingly autonomous position of the media projects the illu-
sion that its content is factual and objective. If the public be-
lieved that the media represented the interests of business or
government they would be less inclined to accept any informa-
tion at face value (Alexander, 1986; Weaver, 2007). According
to Gamson et al. (2002), people try to understand events and
issues based on their personal experiences, interpersonal con-
tacts, and media discourses. Although media compete with
these other sources (i.e., personal contacts and experiences),
their influence may be particularly significant when the issue is
nationally or internationally salient, and beyond the personal
experience or knowledge of most people.
Research suggests that the representations of the populations
of foreign countries result mostly from information and images
provided by the media. For instance, the study by Semetko et al.
(1992), drawing on content analysis of US network news and
wire service coverage of nine European countries, shows the
connection between the coverage of foreign countries and pub-
lic opinion about these countries, as does Nadel’s (1997) and
Alam (2007) research on how the Western media represents the
Middle East, and the works of Bang (2007) Torgovnick (1990),
Springer (1991), Heung (1997) and Leung and Huang (2007)
on portrayals of the cultures of Africa, South and Central
America, and East Asia in newspapers and other media. Fur-
thermore, according to these studies, the portrayals of these
areas by Western media tend to reproduce stereotypes in which
the West appears as a comparatively ideal society, whereas
other regions are plagued by shortcomings. Other studies on the
impact of UStelevision shows in foreign countries (e.g., Tan &
Suarchavarat, 1988; Willnat, He, & Hao, 1996; Saito, 1996),
have found that exposure to US shows are associated with
stereotypical perceptions of the United States’s population as
materialistic, individualistic, aggressive, and cruel.
These stereotypical portrayals have important consequences
for intergroup or international relations. Indeed, in addition to
the affect of media content at the level of the society as a whole,
which has been illustrated by sociologists such as Stuart Hall
(2002), the media can also influence the face-to-face interac-
tions of members from different societies. As research in the
1980s and 1990s has shown, beliefs about the character of na-
tionals from other societies can produce a cognitive process that
influence what is looked at and interpreted in the behavior of
members of foreign nations, even in individual interactions (see
Darley & Gross, 1983; Devine, 1994; Dovidio, Evans, & Tyler,
1986; Ford, Stangor, & Duan, 1994; Gilbert & Hixon, 1991;
Saleem, 2007).
In summary, all these studies reveal the media’s role in de-
fining the populations of other countries, as well as the proc-
esses through which the media shape audiences’ perceptions of
the societies represented (which confirms earlier theories, e.g.,
McQuail, 2010), even though the way people receive these
images are not identical or uniform, as Morley (1980), Living-
stone (1998), and Liebes and Katz (1994) have demonstrated.
*This study was financed in part by a research grant from the Program fo
Cultural Cooperation between Spains Ministry of Culture and United States
Other research on media coverage of international issues
suggests a connection between the political power agenda and
media content. In particular, Herman (1993) points out that the
foreign policy agenda and interests of the United States, for
example, will be reflected in the mainstream media.
Based on previous findings, the present research follows the
theoretical assumption that there is a connection between media
content and public opinion, and that media representations af-
fect audiences’ perceptions of foreign societies. Thus, this study
concentrates on message content. It seeks to describe the repre-
sentation of Spain and the United States by newspapers of both
countries, and explores the processes and factors that shape this
content. In short, this research examines how newspapers de-
fine the United States for the Spanish population, and how
Spain is defined for the US population. Furthermore, given
Herman’s (1993) theory about politics and international news
coverage, it is expected that the newspapers in each country
will reproduce news that emulate the views of their govern-
The study analyzed visibility (i.e., quantity of stories, and
topics addressed in the stories), and tone. Obviously, fewer
stories on Spain in US newspapers was expected. Conse-
quently, the most important contribution of this research is how
it reveals the topics covered and the tone employed, how the
countries are represented, what images are projected in the
pages of the newspapers, and to what extent the media contrib-
ute to reproduce stereotypes of both countries. This empirical
exploratory research is relevant for comprehending the role of
the media in the construction of social representations (e.g. De
Rosa, 1996; Risse, 2001), and offers elements that could con-
tribute to the theory of news production.
The empirical evidence of this research is provided by
content analysis of newspapers. In addition, interviews with
journalists working at the foreign desk helped to understand the
views and processes of news production. The content analysis
of newspapers was conducted on two of the outlets that were
considered among the most influential in each country, had a
national circulation, and included a substantial proportion of
international news. In Spain, I chose El País and El Mundo; in
the United States, The New York Times and The Washington
Post. For the purpose of my research a sample of the two of the
leading newspapers in each country was sufficient. Particularly
in the US, the two selected newspapers tend to offer the most
diverse coverage on international issues. This approach of
choosing a limited number of the most relevant newspapers is
very common in the filed of media research, as several publica-
tions cited here and as some research methodology experts
suggests (Wimmer & Dominick, 2010).
The study was conducted in two periods: September 1, 2005
to December 30, 2007, and January 1, 2009 to June 30, 2009. I
decided to skip the year 2008 in the analysis due to the long
electoral campaign in the United States, which would have
skewed the Spanish newspapers coverage of politics. A sample
of 338 online issues of each newspaper was subjected to the
analysis, using a composite sample. Fourteen issues were
chosen for each on the same date of publication each month. I
constructed two composite weeks for each month (i.e., I chose
at random one Monday, one Tuesday, etc.). This approach was
inspired by the composite-week sample technique developed by
Riffe, Aust, and Lacy (1993).
The content analysis included: 1) The number and length of
articles dealing with Spain and/or the United States (counting
how many articles, if any, were written on the subject and how
extensive was the coverage related to each country in terms of
the number of columns, words, and stories); and 2) the type of
coverage (i.e., tone) in terms of negative, neutral, or positive
content. Content was defined as any coverage that presented the
country or its inhabitants in a negative or positive light, such as
concentrating on the negative or positive impact of a particular
policy or action, or a negative or positive portrayal of each
country’s officials or institutions. “Neutral” refers to the co-
verage that we could not interpret as having specifically positive
or negative content. The unit of analysis was any article or
news mentioning Spain in the US outlets or the United States in
the Spanish outlets. As in my previous research, to reach an
acceptable level of reliability, especially regarding the tone,
three research assistants and I codified and contrasted findings
on the same unit of analysis. The team was made up of people
highly familiar with both societies and who complemented each
other. There was a native-born Spaniard, a person of Latin
American origin who lived in Spain for several years, and two
US citizens who had a good knowledge of Spain. All the
members of the team spoke both English and Spanish (at native
or close to native level). We used Cohen’s Kappa (1969)
formula to measure intercoder reliability (Reliability [Kappa] =
% observed—% expected/(N + M)—% expected). This formula
determined the reliability of nominal data by percentage of
agreement. Only the articles that produced intercoder reliability
above 80% were considered for analysis of the tone. The
collected data was interpreted and structured according to the
established objectives and categories mentioned above, quanti-
fied when possible, and summarized.
Originally, I explored the possibility of comparing content of
the evening news on two television networks in each country
(in the United States, ABC and CBS; in Spain, TVE-2 and
Antena 3). However, after a pretext overview (two weeks in
September 2005; two weeks in November of the same year), I
found that the sparse coverage of Spain on US networks did not
allow for a meaningful content analysis, beyond observing the
lack of news on Spain on US television. This difference in
television coverage corresponds, obviously, to the traditional
role of superpower that the United States plays in the world
combined with the US network executives’ perceived lack of
interest among the US population in international news. Fur-
thermore, at the time, international news in the United States
was concentrating on news from the Middle East (i.e., wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan). The articles were classified in seven
categories: politics, business/economy, sports, art/architecture,
travel/recreation (including cinema, theater, etc.), and science/
As expected, there were many more stories in Spanish news-
papers about the United States than in US newspapers about
Spain (561 versus 238), reflecting the different status (by any
measure) that the countries have in the world. However, the
number of articles on Spain in US newspapers was higher than
anticipated (based on a previous overview of US newspapers
during the preparation of the research project in 2004). The fair
amount of news on Spain could have been influenced by con-
8 Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 69
frontations, during the period analyzed (particularly 2005-2006),
between the Spanish and the US government over the war in
Iraq. Nevertheless, the difference in coverage implies a major
imbalance of visibility between these countries’ representations
to their respective populations.
In most articles, there was a correspondence in tone between
the headline of the article and the body; however, there were a
considerable number of cases where the content of the body of
article differed from the tone of the headline. These cases are
presented in the tables because, as different studies on reading
habits have shown, a considerable proportion of readers (e.g.,
between 40% and 45% of newspapers readers in the United
States, depending on the study) will read headline copy but not
the rest. Therefore, in many cases, the headline would consti-
tute the main information. In the following section, the data and
tables are presented with brief explanations, followed by some
examples of the coverage’s content. Even though all the details
of the findings are included in the tables, the analysis will only
emphasize the most salient aspects. The author made the trans-
lations from the Spanish. To avoid unnecessary length, only
some key headlines and a few quotes are also shown in Spanish.
The quotes from the interviews with journalists were directly
translated to English. I present the findings first for each news-
paper, starting with US newspapers, and then I contrast the
results according to the nationality of the newspapers.
US Newspapers
The New York Times
The New York Times published a total of 139 articles on
Spain during the period studied. Politics was the main theme of
the articles, with 36% of the stories on politics (n = 49),
whereas 21% covered business/economics (n = 29), 13% were
on sports (n = 18), 16% on travel/recreation (n = 21), 9% were
on art/architecture (n = 2), and 5% on science/technology (n =
7). The average length of the articles on Spain was 622 words.
See Table 1 for the details on the number of articles.
As Table 1 shows, 25% (n = 34) of the articles presented
Spain or its people in a negative light in the headlines and the
body of the article, and a few more were also negative in the
headlines, whereas most of the articles (53%, n = 72) were
neutral in both body and headline, and 18% (n = 24) were posi-
tive in both headline and body. Although most of the coverage
from The New York Times was neutral, there was a considerable
proportion of negative representation, particularly when ad-
dressing politics and the Spanish government. For instance, in a
report about José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero on the new constitu-
tion for Catalonia, he was presented as unresponsive to his
party and the population at large. The article, “Spain’s Chief
Tries to Keep Risky Pledge to Catalonia”, emphasized the
many problems with this pledge and gave voice to the main
opposition party leaders’ criticism, without explaining clearly
what Zapatero’s pledge was. For instance, The New York Times
reported that “Eduardo Zaplana of the center-right Popular
Party said that the revised proposal still presented a risk to the
nation’s stability”. Later in the same article: “surrendering of
money and authority to the regions threatens to drive the Span-
ish government toward irrelevancy, Mr. Zapatero political op-
ponents contend” (February 6, 2006). Another example of a
negative coverage in politics included the use of words such as
“irresponsibility” to describe the good relations of Zapatero
with Chavez, using a rather negative title: “It’s Europe a la
carte as Zapatero Aids Chávez” (December 13, 2005).
Another article on migration presented Spain as having a bad
policy on immigration, which endangered lives because: “these
policies encourage Africans to try to enter Spain illegally” and
also asserted that other Europeans were angry at Spain’s per-
missive immigration policies, which allowed migrants to enter
Spanish territory, and then travel to other parts of Europe (No-
vember 5, 2005). The following article, “Basque Separatists
Call Off Cease-Fire in Spain” (June 6, 2007) is an example of
several articles on the Basque separati st moveme nt, which g ave
the impression of imminent danger and chaotic society, and
asserted in the body of the article that “Spain was bracing for
fresh attacks by the Basque separatist group ETA on Tuesday
after the group called off a 15-month-old cease-fire”, giving the
impression that attacks from the ETA were imminent.
Other articles on politics were not clearly negative in the title,
but gave a negative impression of the Spanish government in
the body by failing to explain the political circumstances and
context. For instance, an article published on Febr uary 24, 2009,
“Spain’s Justice Minister Resigns”, and included in the body:
“Mariano Fernández Bermejo’s resignation came amid an up-
roar over a trip he took with a judge who is investigating mem-
bers of the conservative opposition party”. Another example of
this neutral approach is reflected in an article published on
January 6, 2009, about tensions between the government of
Spain and the Roman Catholic Church. The title of the article
stated: “Spain is a Battleground for Church’s Future”, and went
on to explain that the Catholic Church sees Spain as a key
country in its effort to promote Catholicism in Europe.
There were also some negative articles on the Spanish
economy. For example, an article published on March 15, 2009,
attempted to show the consequences of the economic crisis for
the immigrants by emphasizing the problems between locals
and immigrants competing for jobs in a small Huelva’s town
Table 1.
The New York Times (av erage article length: 622 words).
Topic Positive (n) Neutral (n) Negative (n) Total
Headline Body Both Headline Body Both Headline Body Both
Politics 1 7 2 17 1 21 47
Sports 3 14 1 18
Business/Economic 1 2 5 14 4 7 29
Art/Architecture 2 9 11
Travel/Recreation 8 13 2 23
Technology/Science 5 4 1 7
All Topics 1 1 24 2 5 72 5 32 135
(in the south of Spain): “Fruit Picking Causes Strife in Andalu-
sia as Natives’ Job of Last Resort”. And the body of the article
presented some examples of Spanish people going back to work
in the farms:
A year ago, Mr. Gómez lost his construction job. Now he is
harvesting strawberries for $1100 a month on a farm outside
Lepe, in the Andalusian province of Huelva. As jobs disappear
across Andalusia, workers like Mr. Gómez are returning to the
fields they abandoned for construction sites, hotels and shops
during Spain’s decade-long economic boom. They are compe-
ting with the migrants who replaced them; fueling resentment
that immigrant representatives and farmers’ worry could be-
come explosive.
The article’s content gave the impression that there is strife
everywhere in Spain between immigrants and locals, and that it
is representative of the rest of the country. The article also re-
flected on what the writers considered the poor conditions of
immigrants in Spain. Data on these issues at the time did not
show a widespread confrontation between immigrants and lo-
cals, and the situation of immigrants was not uniform. In short,
the article failed to put the story in context.
Other articles, although presenting negative data (about the
high rates of unemployment, which is a considerable problem
in Spain) were mostly neutral in content; for example, in an
article published on February 4, 2009: “Spain’s Unemployment
Rose Sharply in January”. Spain was also depicted in several
articles in a rather positive light, presenting it as a country
where freedom is respected and revered. For example, in an
article about the cartoons of Mohammed published originally in
a Danish newspaper (which created a very negative response,
including violence and deaths, fr om Muslims in many countries)
and reprinted by Spanish newspapers, The New York Times
qualified the fact that Spanish newspapers reprinted these car-
toons as a courageous act of asserting freedom of speech.
The Washington Post
In the period, our analysis found there were 103 news stories
about Spain. Twenty-seven percent of the articles had negative
implications in both the body and headline; 6% had negative
headlines, but were neutral in the body content; 47% were neu-
tral in both the headline and body; 11% were positive in both
body and headlines (see Table 2).
As in The New York Times, the largest proportion of articles
in this newspaper concerned the coverage of politics (37%, n =
38). Most of these addressed issues of Spain-US relations, and
the majority of articles on politics (53%, n = 20) carried a nega-
tive content in both the headlines and the body. We interpreted
that there were considerable negative inclinations in judging the
Spanish government policies and actions. For example, on
March 1, 2006, The Washington Post ran the artic le, “A Church-
State Schism in Spain: Socialist Leader Back Policies at Odds
with Catholic Doctrine”. This title has strong negative implica-
tions: The term “schism” is in itself already an exaggeration of
the debate that was taking place in Spain during that time; it
implies rupture, rift. The term “socialist” in the title also im-
plies a negative slant in the context of the United States; if the
author wanted to remain neutral he could have written “The
Government Backs Policies” instead of including a word that
has a negative connotation among US readers. This negative
title is also largely reflected in the body of the article. Indeed,
the most negative meaning of the word “schism” is emphasized:
“the battle between the Church and Zapatero’s government has
spread from parliament to streets, pulpit and confessional, cre-
ating some of the deepest political and social schisms in Spain
since it returned to democracy 28 years ago”. There were sev-
eral articles on politics with the same negative tone, as reflected
in a piece about immigration policies, Immigrants Turn Down
Incentive to Leave Spain; Plan for Jobless Called “Expulsion in
Disguise” published on February 1, 2009, and the body of the
article emphasized the disregard of the Spanish government for
the role that the immigrants played in the boom years of the
Spanish economy.
Eighteen percent of the articles (n = 18) were on business/
economics, with a similar proportion of negative (45%, n = 8)
and neutral content (39%, n = 7) in both the headline and the
body. Some of the negative articles addressed what they con-
sidered the wrong economic choices of the Spanish government.
Some of these could be considered neutral; for instance, an
article of May 10, 2009, “Good Times Unexpectedly End for
Many Workers in Spain: Construction Drove Much of the
Economy”, but many other articles faulted the Spanish decision
to provide subsidies for the development of windmills, solar
energy, and other alternative energy sources. There were two
articles about rural Spain and relocation of immigrants in Sep-
tember 2007 that had negative implications. Most of the other
articles on this topic basically gave neutral information on
business deals of Spanish companies in the international mar-
Twenty-two percent of the articles (n = 22) covered sports.
These were mostly neutral in the headlines and body content;
one article portrayed Spain in a positive manner, as a country
with many good athletes and with good chances to play a major
role in the 2006 Soccer World Cup. Eleven percent of the arti-
cles covered art/architecture in Spain and were either positive
Table 2.
The Washington Post (average length per article: 516 words).
Topic Positive (n) Neutral (n) Negative (n) Total
Headline Body Both Headline Body Both Headline Body Both
Politics 2 1 3 8 3 1 20 38
Sports 1 21 22
Business/Economics 3 4 3 8 18
Art/Architecture 2 4 2 3 11
Travel/Recreation 4 4 9 13
Technology/Science 1 1
All Topics 2 11 1 8 46 6 1 28 103
0 Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
or neutral in both the headlines and body; they represented
Spain as a country with great sites and beautiful architecture.
And finally, 13% (n = 13) of the articles addressed travel/rec-
reation in Spain. These articles were also neutral or positive.
Only one article in this newspaper addressed technology/sci-
Spanish Newspapers
El País
The coverage of the United States in El País was frequent,
and the portrayal of the United States was mostly either neutral
or negative. This paper published 277 stories on the United
States during that period: the majority (53%, n = 148) of those
stories covered politics. Business/economics followed with
14% (n = 39), travel/recreation with 12% (n = 34), 10% (n = 27)
addressed art/architecture, and 5% (n = 15) technology/science
(see Table 3).
Thirty-five percent of the articles presented the United States
or its government in a negative light in the headlines and body;
6% were negative in the headlines but neutral in the body; 41%
were neutral in the headlines and body; 9% were positive in
both headline and body. Most of the negative news was on
politics. Some examples of negative content addressing politics
follow: “Bush impulsara el gasto de defensa a costa de recortar
programas sociales” [Bush will boost defense spending at the
expense of cutting social programs] (February 6, 2006); “Un
ex-jefe de la CIA acusa a Bush de manipular datos para justifi-
car la Guerra” [A former head of the CIA accuses Bush of ma-
nipulating data to justify the war] (February 11, 2006), relating
to declarations made by Paul R. Pillar. The article emphasizes
that the White House selected, according to their convenience,
the reports of the experts to justify the Iraq invasion. In another
article, referring to the US Congress’s report on the manage-
ment of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, they report: “El con-
greso denuncia 90 fallos en la gestion de la catastrofe del
Katrina” [The congress denounces 90 failures in the manage-
ment of the Katrina catastrophe] and “Un informe subraya el
fracaso del gobierno de Bush para preveer efectos del huracán”
[A report emphasizes the failure of the Bush government to
foresee the effects from the hurricane], and in the subtitle of the
article, “Respuesta lenta e ineficaz” [Slow and ineffective re-
sponse] (February 13, 2007).
As one can see in Table 3, the news covering the other as-
pects mentioned, tended to be largely neutral or positive. The
other Spanish newspaper included in our study followed a simi-
lar pattern.
El Mundo
The coverage of the United States in El Mundo was frequent
(almost four times per week on average), and a little greater
than its Spanish competitor, El País. This newspaper published
a total of 285 stories during the period studied. As in El País,
the single topic most covered was political issues. Forty-eight
percent (n = 137) of the stories were on politics, 13% (n = 36)
on business/economics, 11% (n = 31), on sports, 11% (n = 32)
on travel/recreation, 9% (n = 25) on science/technology, and
8% (n = 24) on art/architecture (see Table 4).
Thirty-four percent of the articles presented the United States
or its government in a negative light in the headlines and body;
5% were negative only in the headlines and neutral in the body;
43% were neutral in the headlines and body; 15% were positive
in both the headline and body. The majority of the articles with
negative content covered politics. The political articles men-
tioned the US administration mostly in a critical light. For in-
stance, the headline of an article on the New Orleans disaster
stated, “El ex-jefe de emergencias dice que Bush supo al llegar
Table 3.
El País (average length per article: 534 words).
Topic Positive (n) Neutral (n) Negative (n) Total
Headline Body Both Headline Body Both Headline Body Both
Politics 2 3 14 6 20 34 18 3 74 148
Sports 1 13 2 16
Business/Economic 1 4 2 4 21 1 10 39
Art/Architecture 1 4 2 19 1 2 27
Travel/Recreation 2 5 1 2 21 1 5 34
Technology/Science 6 6 3 15
All Topics 5 4 24 11 26 115 19 5 96 277
Table 4.
El Mundo (average length pe r article: 509 words).
Topic Positive (n) Neutral (n) Negative (n) Total
Headline Body Both Headline Body Both Headline Body Both
Politics 1 7 13 1 17 36 15 1 75 137
Sports 2 7 2 18 4 31
Business/Economics 2 6 2 22 6 36
Art/Architecture 1 2 5 2 1 15 1 24
Travel/Recreation 1 7 1 19 5 32
Technology/Science 5 1 13 1 6 25
All Topics 4 12 43 4 23 123 16 1 97 285
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 71
Katrina que los diques estaban rotos” [The ex-chief of emer-
gencies (FEMA) said that Bush knew that the dykes were bro-
ken, when Katrina arrived] (February 10, 2006). Also: “La casa
blanca en la punta de mira por su tardanza en informar del dis-
paro fortuito de Cheney de caza” [The White House is being
criticized because they lagged in informing about the Cheney
hunting shot] (February 15, 2006). In essence, I found the char-
acterization of the United States to be similar in El Mundo and
El País, with the only noteworthy differences residing in the
number of stories written in a slightly more negative bias in El
The coverage in both Spanish newspapers tended to be more
negative when covering the United States than the US news-
papers were when covering Spain, especially when addressing
politics. Indeed, considering the number of articles with politi-
cal content that had negative content in both the body and the
headline in both Spanish newspapers, 56% of the articles were
negative, whereas 48% of the US newspapers presented a nega-
tive coverage of Spanish politics. However, if we consider all
the stories published on the United States in the two Spanish
newspapers, only 34% have a negative content, the rest are
either neutral or positive, given an overall portrayal of the
United States less negative that if we were only analyzing poli-
tics. The same tendency is observed in the US newspapers’
overall coverage. Indeed, only 25% of the articles presented a
negative image of Spain.
Furthermore, there was a considerable difference in the top-
ics covered. In the two Spanish newspapers, 50% of the news
focused on politics, whereas in the two US newspapers, poli-
tics constituted 36% of the topics covered. In short, the depic-
tion of the United States in the Spanish newspapers tended to
be more on the heavy information (e.g., politics or business),
whereas the US newspapers tend to offer more news, propor-
tionally, on the other aspects (mentioned above), such as travel-
ling in Spain, arts, architecture, etc.
As mentioned earlier, the study covered two periods with
different US administrations. When analyzing and comparing
the coverage according to the two periods included in our re-
search, there were slight differences in the US newspapers cov-
erage of Spain during the two periods: It was a little less nega-
tive through 2009; however, there were also fewer articles,
proportionally speaking (therefore, given the limited news dur-
ing that period we cannot be conclusive one way or another).
On the other hand, there was a clear difference in the tone of
the coverage in the Spanish newspapers between 2005 and
2007 and in 2009. We found a considerable change of tone in
these newspapers’ coverage of US politics during the first six
months of the presidency of Barak Obama versus the previous
period. Indeed, in 2009 there were very few clearly negative
articles. Most articles celebrated the actions of Obama in the
world. For example, on June 25, 2009, reporting on an Obama
speech, El Mundo ran an article titled, “Inteligente gesto de
Obama hacia los musulmanes” [Intelligent gesture of Obama
towards Muslims], and the rest of the article was also very
positive in the tone, celebrating the positive change from the
previous administration, and the way the Obama administration
was dealing with the Muslim world. Another example, an arti-
cle of March 18, 2009, referring to a meeting of Obama with
Latin American presidents in Port of Spain, was titled: “Obama
promete una alianza de iguales a América Latina” [Obama
pledges an alliance of equals with Latin America]. This positive
title is very much reflected in the body in which the article em-
phasized the enthusiastic response of the Latin American lead-
ers to Obama’s statements and about his intentions of moving
the relations with Cuba in a new direction. Perhaps, the most
negative coverage we found during this latest period was re-
flected in the following articles: On April 29, an article was
titled “Obama aún genera esperanza, pero también dudas”
[Obama still inspires hope, but also doubts], and goes on to
explain in the body that Obama has tried to end the uncomfort-
able legacy of his predecessor George W. Bush, closing the
prison in Guantanamo, eradicating torture from the interroga-
tion methods of the CIA, and has made overtures toward Cuba.
“However, his economic policy has been criticized from the left
and from the right. Conservatives accuse him of squandering
public resources with their multimillion injections of funds and,
on the other hand, people on the left of the Democratic Party
demand a major intervention in the markets”.
Very few articles portrayed the Obama presidency in a nega-
tive light. The following (published on June 2, 2009) is an ex-
ample of those few negative portrayals. It addresses Obama’s
policies in the Middle East: “The honeymoon of Obama with
the Arab world crumbles”, then the article explains that after
rebuilding the credit the United States lost in the Arab world, it
seems that his lack of actual pressure on Israel is undermining
his credibility in the Arab world. The article cites the state-
ments of Palestina Liberation Organization leader Saeb Erekat:
“People do not want to hear more words. They want actions”,
and further states that even pro-Western newspapers in the
Arab world criticize “Obama dialectic equilibriums”.
In sum, as Table 5 shows, during 2009 most news about US
politics was either neutral or positive. To simplify the presenta-
tion of the data and given that the differences do not substan-
tially change the results, we include in this table only those
news stories on politics that we classified as having the same
tone in the headline and the body (i.e., negative tone in headline
and body, neutral in headline and body, etc.).
The process of producing international news implies making
a choice of what will make the news of the day. Normally, ac-
cording to journalists interviewed, this is generally decided
following traditional criteria, such as the likelihood of the in-
formation will have attracting readers, as well as the perceived
importance of the news. Indeed, in international news as well as
in national news, novelty, personalities, “things that we think
will shock, surprise the readers, something out of the ordinary,
are important criteria to determine the content of the newspa-
per” (journalist El País). For Spanish newspapers, the United
States “is always covered due to its role of superpower”, but,
during the period analyzed, especially because of the contro-
versial figure of the US president. As a journalist from El
Mundo declared in 2007: “We have always covered very much
the USA, but now we cover it much more. Bush is a rupture in
international affairs with the Clinton approach, Bush is more
conflictive, and he creates controversy in the world. As you
know, conflict attract readers, and Bush is perfect in terms of
creating conflict ”.
Table 5.
Comparative content.
2006-2007 (n) 2009 (n)
PositiveNeutralNegative Positive Neutral NegativeTotal
El Pais9 21 59 18 9 4 134
El Mundo6 23 48 14 9 3 103
2 Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Given that El Mundo had an editorial line of strong support
for the Popular Party, whose main leader, José María Aznar,
was an ally of Bush in the invasion of Iraq, it is surprising to
find such negative coverage of the Bush administration. The
head of the international department explains the reasons of this
type o f coverage:
Travel of the president of the US, elections in the US, in-
teractions with Europe or with Spain directly, are important
aspects to cover. Certainly, we have been very much interested
in Bush as a personality, due to his radical positions in world
affairs and the controversial declarations regarding Europe.
Even though our newspaper tends to be closer to the Popular
Party, who supported Bush in the Iraq war, at the international
level we look at things differently. In fact, our newspaper was
opposed to the Iraq war since the beginning…
This approach of covering the news was not openly con-
firmed by the US journalists, who claimed their independence
from political ideologies. However, our results seem to indicate
that political views are inherent in the US newspapers cover-
age of Spain.
The media-generated images of the world help us to con-
struct meaning about people and their society, and the lens
through which the US and the Spanish population receive these
images—filtered through the prism of those who have the
power to create them—affect how they see and interpret each
other’s society. As explained earlier, the fact that the Spanish
media covers the United States far more than the US media
covers Spain is due to a large part to the differential role these
countries play in the world, but also to the low interest on in-
ternational issues existing in the US population, as many sur-
veys have demonstrated over the years.
However, what is more interesting and revealing is the type
of content. The single, most covered theme in both countries is
politics, but the proportion of politics in the Spanish newspa-
pers is more than double of what it is in the US newspapers.
The US newspapers cover stories on issues such as tourism, arts,
architecture, or travel. The content in all the newspapers show a
tendency to stereotype both societies by presenting issues in a
single, unidirectional manner and failing to address complexi-
ties. The majority of the news on the United States in the Span-
ish media is either neutral or positive, with a considerable pro-
portion of negative news when addressing politics. However,
there is a significant difference between the period 2005-2007
and the six months analyzed during 2009. Indeed, the majority
of the news on politics covered by the Spanish newspapers in
2009 was neutral and the negative and positive coverage were
similar. Even though the period analyzed under the Obama
administration is shorter, the difference is such that we can
safely conclude that the negative coverage during the period
2005-2007 was to a large extent influenced by the negative
views of the Bush administration in Spain. Indeed, according to
several surveys the Spanish population by disapproved the Bush
administration’s unilateralist approach to world affairs, and were
against the war in Iraq. Furthermore, the Bush ad- ministration
engaged in direct public confrontations with the Spanish gov-
ernment with rather negative criticism of the party in power and
Spanish officials between 2004 and 2006. Journalist reflected
these stories in the Spanish newspapers, but espoused mostly
the Spanish government point of view.
To be sure, as is well known, the tendency to cover more
negative stories than positive is due to the assumption among
journalists and newspapers owners that the news needs to have
drama, that what attract readers is bad news, and attracting
readers in an increasingly commercialized media system is
fundamental. Indeed, media content is designed to attract view-
ers for the benefit of the stockholders and the advertisement
industry. Given these assumptions in the media industry, it is
not surprising to find an emphasis on conflict and negative
content when depicting these countries, but some actors in the
political process tend to create more confrontation than others,
and George W. Bush and several figures in his administration
were perfect for the Spanish journalists, in terms of creating
controversy and conflict, in their declarations and their policies.
For US newspapers, the same could be said, to a certain extent,
of the Socialist leaders of the Spanish government. During the
period studied, the Socialist Party was in power in Spain, which
is in itself already controversial in the United States, a country
of fundamentalist capitalists. Moreover, the Spanish govern-
ment’s decision to withdraw the troops from Iraq, and cut back
on most its support for the US-led policies in the Middle East,
infuriated the White House and many members of Congress.
This was very much reflected in the US newspapers coverage
of Spain.
One might conclude that the coverage of news regarding
other countries is connected to the perceptions of the govern-
ment of that country, and to the relations among governments.
In sum, this result reveals that newspapers are less independent
from their government agendas than they claim, at least re-
garding international politics. Indeed, in some extreme cases
they are given fake news by the government, as it happened
during the Bush administration (see The New York Times’s
article by Barstow & Stein, 2005), but usually the newspaper’s
agenda is set by the government in more indirect and subtle
ways, supporting Herman’s (1993) claim that mainstream me-
dia is vulnerable to “news management” by the government.
Assuming the validity of theories that suggest that newspa-
pers have a strong influence in defining what readers should
think about (e.g., Gamson et al., 2002), as well as understand-
ing international issues (e.g., Semetko et al., 1992), and con-
trasting them with these findings, one could conclude that,
given the US newspapers coverage, most of the US population
would have an ambiguous view of Spain: mostly negative re-
garding the Spanish government, but a generally neutral or
positive opinion concerning other aspects of that society. Fol-
lowing the same logic, the Spanish population will have an
even more negative idea about the US government, but their
views of the United States in other aspects would be neutral or
positive. The major difference lies in the fact that given a more
limited presence of Spain in the US newspapers and the type of
coverage, the US population will have less knowledge ob-
tained from newspapers of Spanish society, than Spanish peo-
ple of US society.
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