Bilateral relations between countries and the complexity of newspaper editorials

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Bilateral relations between countries and the complexity of newspaper editorials

The archival measure of integrative complexity, developed by Suedfeld and Rank (1976), is one of several procedures for the systematic study of documentary evidence to infer various characteristics of the interactions between countries (e.g., Axelrod, 1976; Ertel, 1972; George, 1969; Hermann, 1980; Mehrabian, 1967; Winter, 1987). Integrative complexity is defined as the joint operation of two components of information processing: differentiation (the perception of The University of British Columbia. 601 0162-895X/92/1200-0601$06.50/1 ? 1992 International Society of Political Psychology

Suedfeld several dimensions in a stimulus situation or of several perspectives on the situation) and integration (the recognition of relations among differentiated dimensions or perspectives, e.g., as interacting, as capable of being integrated, or as being relevant to some overarching event or idea). Evidence of differentiation and integration in verbal (written or oral) statements can be reliably assessed by trained scorers (see Method). A large number of studies have shown level of complexity to vary with environmental and personal stress, political ideology, and social role, inter alia (Suedfeld, Tetlock, & Streufert, 1992). Most of these studies have used governmental documents or the pronouncements of officials as the data sources. Level of complexity is important because it indicates differences in decision-making strategies: for example, sever- al studies have confirmed the association between reduced complexity of governmental communications during international crises and imminent war (Suedfeld & Tetlock, 1977; Suedfeld, Tetlock, & Ramirez, 1977; Suedfeld & Bluck, 1988). Periods of international crisis are associated with reductions in complexity not only in official documents but also in such diverse materials as personal letters, editorials in a scientific journal, and presidential addresses to the American Psychological Association (Porter & Suedfeld, 1981; Suedfeld, 1981, 1985). These data may indicate a general state of rising tension within a society, which in turn may affect information processing and decision-making at both the private and public levels: for example, it may influence readiness for or against negotiated compromise as the solution to problems. The overwhelming majority of archival materials used in such studies have consisted of governmental communications, memoranda, policy papers, and the like, and the private or professional correspondence and speeches of various societal elites. Relatively little attention has been paid to the mass media, except as they reproduce the other kinds of materials. Systematic content analysis of media content has been used to study various aspects of national and international politics-e.g., to identify publications that served as disguised propaganda outlets for Nazi Germany, to monitor sequential changes in Comintern policy toward and away from cooperation with noncommunist countries and groups (Lasswell, Leites, & associates, 1949). Structural-i.e., complexity-analysis may also provide interesting data. The current study focuses on the association between international relations and the complexity of editorials in periodicals of broad readership and impact. Further, it looks at the concomitants of events that are more "normal" than international crises: that is, events that affect relations between pairs of countries positively or negatively but for the most part without carrying major risks such as war. Both communist bloc and Western publications were included to assess possible differences between the two types of system in this respect. Three major questions are addressed: 602

Bilateral Relations Between Countries and the Complexity of Newspaper Editorials 1. Will the complexity of newspaper editorials reflect lessening or increasing levels of international tension even when events do not reach the level of crisis but are of a more routine nature (such as trade agreements, diplomatic visits, U.N. votes, and the like)? Our hypothesis was that such changes would be found, showing the effects of "disruptive stress": i.e., changed complexity in times of increasing tension. 2. Will there be a difference between publications of communist and Western countries in this regard? One might expect so. In the former case, until very recently newspapers were instruments of the government and supported the governments current policies. While American and Canadian newspapers may be more or less subject to subtle governmental reinforcement (e.g., "leaks" of restricted information) or the lack of it, as well as needing to stay in step with public opinion, editorial philosophies are developed within the newspaper and may or may not be congruent with governmental views (cf. Charles, Shore, & Todd, 1979; Downing, 1988; Dreier, 1982). On the other hand, the effects of international tension on complexity have been shown to be quite pervasive in society-but these findings were based on times of crisis. We predicted that there would be a closer association between tension and editorial complexity in the communist than in the Western sources. 3. The third question involves the absolute level of complexity rather than changes in complexity. Because of previous findings, we predicted that Pravda will generally show lower complexity-more dogmatism, less flexibility and recognition of alternate points of view-than the Western publications. The relevant findings showed such differences between American and Soviet govern- mental statements (Suedfeld et al., 1977; Tetlock, 1988; Wallace & Suedfeld, 1988), although the current reformist leaders of the U.S.S.R. may break the pattern (Tetlock & Boettger, 1989). METHOD The two types of data used in this study were 1. Editorials from national newspapers, scored for integrative complexity. 2. Events involving both members of each pair of countries, scored on a scale of extremely positive to extremely negative. Source Documents The documents analyzed were editorials that appeared in the newspaper of a particular country (the "source country") and had as their topic relations with, or the actions of, a specific other country (the "subject country"). The source 603

Suedfeld countries were the Soviet Union, Canada, and the United States; the subject countries were these three plus the Peoples Republic of China. The choice of newspapers was based on the national and international prominence of the publications. This was no problem in the case of the U.S.S.R. Pravda was an official national newspaper with wide domestic and foreign circulation. Its 11 million subscribers and up to 40 million readers included the elite of the Soviet Union: members of the intelligentsia (22% of the readership), engineers and technicians (18%), and 90% of the members of the Communist Party. More than any other Soviet newspaper, Pravda had the "task of presenting Party policy, in the most unambiguous and authoritative form, both for domestic consumption and for the world outside" (Roxburgh, 1987, p. 79). The New York Times is certainly one of the most prestigious and widely distributed American dailies. In a 1982 poll of newspaper publishers, editors, and professors of journalism, it was a clear first choice as the best newspaper in the country, a tradition it has long held by "telling the news with completeness and integrity" (Emery & Emery, 1984, p. 653). It has long been considered the newspaper of record, and has been described as "a key part of every Washington journalists and every legislators morning. The Times is an indispensable source for writers, editors and embassies. Its sober, steady and hardly ever rocks the establishment boat; its been viewed by foreign governments as a reliable chronicle of American positions" (Tataryn, 1985, p. 71). Although Canada has no real equivalent of either of the above two publications, the Toronto Globe and Mail calls itself, and is generally considered to be the closest approximation of, Canadas national (rather than local or regional) newspaper (Tataryn, 1985). Like the other two, it is distributed nationwide and appeals primarily to a relatively well-educated readership. Relevant editorials (those dealing with any of the four subject countries) were collected from these three newspapers (for Pravda, using the English translations in The Current Digest of the Soviet Press) for every year between 1947 and 1982. There were some problems in selecting material to be scored. Most editorials in all of the newspapers dealt with domestic issues, and in some years few editorials appeared dealing with some subject countries (both the Times and Pravda had relatively few editorials related to Canada). Furthermore, these editorials varied greatly in length. We decided to use databases of equal size as far as possible. For each source newspaper during each year, all editorials dealing with the subject country were identified. The complete texts of up to five of these (all, if there were only five or fewer in the sample; otherwise, five were selected randomly) were copied into the computer, which then used a random numbers program to select five scorable paragraphs. The selected paragraphs were pre- pared for scoring by the removal of any names, dates, or other specific material that would identify either the source or the subject country. 604

Bilateral Relations Between Countries and the Complexity of Newspaper Editorials Complexity Scoring Each paragraph was then scored for integrati