Friday, September 28, 2007

Fox Framing Friday!

OK, to be fair, this is more an agenda-setting discussion than strictly a framing one, but this is my theory seminar, so we'll do it my way.

Agenda-setting, if you haven't heard the cliche yet, is the process by which news reports tell you what to think about while keeping hands off from telling you what to think. (Lots of pine trees have been slain in the effort to show why that's a false distinction, but it's still a good starting point.) The news talks about crime or inflation or war or drugs, and "most important problem" surveys reflect the play and prominence those topics get. Our friends at Fox set a pretty distinctive agenda. In any particular week, you're going to get a heavy dose of War On Terror, missing women, random threats to Our Kids, ACLU-inspired signs of the apocalypse, and Muslims Behaving Badly -- none of them totally unknown to the mainstream U.S. media, of course, but it's the mix and the emphasis that make agenda-setting the enduring theoretical paradigm that it is.

What's John Edwards doing in the No. 2 spot in the example above? Well, another standard item on the Fox agenda is Democrats Behaving Hypocritically. (How else to explain the appearance of Eatery Owner Forced to Remove Picture of Chelsea Clinton From Window as a story of national significance?) Here's the tale in its entirety:

Edwards Predicts Doom for African-American Males

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said if he isn’t elected president, the population of African-American males is likely to either wind up in prison or dead.

At an MTV/MySpace.com forum Thursday, Edwards responded to a question about inner-city kids partaking in violence by saying there was no “silver bullet” to fight the problem.

“We start with the president of the United States saying to America, ‘we cannot build enough prisons to solve this problem. And the idea that we can keep incarcerating and keep incarcerating — pretty soon we’re not going to have a young African-American male population in America. They’re all going to be in prison or dead. One of the two.”

Well. One never knows where the lede was fabricated (probably offshore; you never can tell what's going to happen when Fox is making things up). At least the article is a full three paragraphs. There's no context to help you understand them, but Fox's presumption is that you don't need to understand much more than "Edwards is an unbalanced lefty psycho (who gets expensive haircuts)." And here's the original place you landed with a click from that frontpage story:

Asked about what he could do about "inner-city kids partaking in violence" at the MTV/MySpace Forum yesterday, Democratic candidate John Edwards offered an apocalyptic prediction for young black males:

“We cannot build enough prisons to solve this problem. And the idea that we can keep incarcerating and keep incarcerating — pretty soon we’re not going to have a young African-American male population in America. They’re all going to be in prison or dead. One of the two.”

Hyperbole much? (Grammar-wise, you think Bill Buckley is turning over in that box of earth from his home country yet? I mean, is "hyperbole" now a verb at the National Review?) Despite popular misperception and those who find it a convenient talking point to illustrate inescapable racism, there are more young African-American men in college than in prison. In 2005, according to the Census Bureau, there were 864,000 black men in college. According to Justice Department statistics, there were 802,000 in federal and state prisons and jails; between the ages of 18 and 24, however, black men in college outnumber those incarcerated by 4 to 1.

Well, the stats appear to be correct -- at least, they were taken straight from a Washington Post article. But Fox is doing something unusual: referring straight to a commentary piece (a particularly stupid one, at that) from what's supposed to be a news position. So let's look for a second at some of the stuff Fox is buying into when it agenda-sets.

If the next question on the midterm was "Name two informal fallacies employed in the Sturmer National Review piece quoted above," you might say "straw-man argument" and "irrelevant argument." Or, more or less, "Edwards seems like the kind of guy who might say 'there are more black men in prison than in college'" and "Hey! There are four times as many black men in college as in prison!" The straw-man part is pretty self-evident. For the relevance part, well -- let's have a little test. For Saturday's class, answer these questions, relying on data from the Justice Department and Census Web sites:

1) What's the ratio of white men age 20-24 in college to black men age 20-24 in college?
2) What's the ratio of white men age 20-24 in prison (state or federal) to black men age 20-24 in prison (state or federal)?
3) What's the ratio of white men age 20-24 in college to white men age 20-24 in prison?

Post answers here. The 2005 data might be easiest to find. For extra credit, ponder why anybody would believe anything at Fox News. Then bear in mind that they have as many votes as you do.

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