Political Scandals as a Democratic Challenge| Blunders, Scandals, and Strategic Communication in U.S. Foreign Policy: Benghazi vs. 9/11

Robert Entman, Sarah Stonbely


Scholars have paid little attention to the role of media scandals in U.S. foreign policy discourse. This article suggests that journalists’ treatment of foreign policy failures as scandalous bears little relationship to the nature or effects of officials’ malfeasance. Scandalized news coverage is instead more fruitfully viewed through the lens of skilled strategic framing. Contrasting the news about two terrorist attacks on Americans—9/11 and Benghazi—reveals how politicians can successfully promote or deflect potential foreign policy scandals without much regard for evidence. Benghazi suggests that unsubstantiated or minor failings can spawn major scandals. Conversely, 9/11 shows how and why well-documented and massive miscues may not ignite scandal. Much depends on party elites’ strategic communication choices. The ability of savvy communicators to foster or evade scandal regardless of underlying facts and severity of malfeasance has important implications for democratic accountability and prudence in U.S. foreign-policy making and democracy more broadly.


scandal, strategic communication, political communication, textual analysis

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