Journalism and Mass Communications, College of


Date of this Version


Document Type



A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Journalism and Mass Communications, Under the Supervision of Professor John Bender. Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2011

Copyright (c) 2011 Charles Franklin Bisbee


Journalistic performance in covering the presidential argument to undertake Operation Iraqi Freedom drew almost instantaneous criticism from within the profession. The general line of criticism held that journalists failed a “watchdog” standard of applying scrutiny to the rhetoric of public officials in terms of fact-based and legitimate argumentation. Alleged causes, in the case of Operation Iraqi Freedom, are usually rooted in al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001 terroristic attacks inside the United States. Some critics submitted that post-attack journalistic “patriotism” granted President George W. Bush an overly-generous benefit of doubt in framing an American response. Others faulted journalistic norms. But the criticism in itself is open to critique as limited, however admissible.

My thesis is directed at expanding the discussion by considering how journalists might have used the classical theories of rhetoric as a watchdog aid in covering President Bush’s rhetorical war on terror. Three key speeches channeled a part of that war towards an invasion of Iraq. Chapters One through Three concentrate on breaking down those speeches as Aristotle, Cicero, and other ancients might have. Metaphor’s ability to function as a fact in rhetorical reality is particularly stressed as the president often used metaphor related to World War II. Approaching the speeches in this fashion raises watchdog questions journalists could have raised at the time working solely with the Bush texts.

Chapter Four explores the use of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the convention acceptance speeches of the two major party nominees for the 2004 presidential contest. This allows the chance to consider convention rhetoric on a war in the first election in sixty years featuring an incumbent wartime president standing for re-election.

Chapter Five concludes that a variety of reasons contributed towards making journalistic failure here a failure, in part, from taking rhetorical language at the most superficial level. Ignoring metaphor was particularly unfortunate as the figure over time steered the legitimate Bush rhetoric downward from the classical theory.

Adviser: John Bender