Date of Award

Spring 3-2-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Carol Winkler

Second Advisor

Anthony Lemieux

Third Advisor

Tobey Bolsen

Fourth Advisor

Patrick Wade


Images powerfully influence foreign policy. At one level, the existence of disturbing images directs attention to a problem that has not been on the agenda of political actors responsible for the formation of foreign policy in the United States. Bosnia, Darfur, and Abu Ghraib serve as examples of foreign policy issues in which images significantly affected the direction of policy. On another level, images function as a component of narrative establishing news frames about an issue. The diffusion and manipulation of images should be an integral part of discourse regarding foreign policy. Entman’s Cascading Activation Model (later revised as the Cascading Network Activation Model) describes a discursive process that provides insight into the construction of foreign policy. The model assumes that images and text inserted into the middle of the cascade by media establishes news frames. This project both tests whether the setting of news frames can be understood by analyzing images used in discourse surrounding a policy and whether non-media actors in the cascade have employed images. Images linked to articles on Benghazi published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, and USA Today during the year following the attack were analyzed for origin of the image, hierarchy in the cascade, and frame content. The results showed that images do not behave in the cascade in the same manner expected of textual frames. The attacks on American facilities in Benghazi on September 11-12, 2012 are placed in the context of Libya’s diplomatic history with the United States. The American presence (principally CIA) in Benghazi has never been explained. Using original materials from the Department of State and Congressional investigative committees, the project concludes that it is highly probable the CIA established facilities using a State Department diplomatic mission to cover secret activities.


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