Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Deborah Smith-Howell
This study applies Walter Fisher’s narrative theory of communication to a rhetorical analysis of three presidential crisis speeches: President George W. Bush’s speech on September 20, 2001 after the terrorist attacks, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor speech on December 8, 1941 and President Bill Clinton’s Oklahoma City bombing speech on April 23, 1995. The speeches were analyzed to discover the accuracy of the theory, why the speeches were successful and if they supported the case for a presidential crisis communication genre. Three main conclusions resulted from this rhetorical analysis. First, the theory was verified as accurate because it defined the speeches as successful, which they were. Second, the theory enabled rich description of the speeches’ success, revealing the internal mechanisms and power of exceptional stories. Third, employing the theory provided confirmation for defining an important genre being debated among communication scholars, presidential crisis communication. This study illuminates several important elements for the communication field: storytelling power, presidential influence and genre. First and foremost this thesis points to the power of stories in creating shared meaning, in defining history, and in setting future policy. By tapping into inherently human communication needs and expectations, stories can become profoundly powerful in characterizing our understanding of history as it occurred and how it is about to occur. The power of the president in creating meaning during national crises cannot be overstated. Given the power of these types of presidential crisis orations in setting policy and creating definitions for posterity, they must be given due academic and critical attention, in part by attaining classification as a unique genre.
Dowell, Sharon, "Uncovering the storytelling power of communication: Applying Walter Fisher's narrative theory to three presidential crisis speeches" (2003). Student Work. 444.
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