On lookin' into eyes and stuff
If you're fond of framing and propa- ganda and stuff, you're probably a regular visitor to the commentators at the bottom of the Fox News Web page. Predictably, O'Reilly, Hannity and Hume are all weighing in on the weekend's top discovery by the news side: Those craven, hate-spewing media all reported that Gen. Ricardo Sanchez slagged the entirety of the Iraq effort after mid-2003, but nobody reported his comments on how dreadful the media are!
That's a discussion for another time (the address and subsequent Q&A are online at C-SPAN). Today's real fun is Hannity's divergence into the heretical suggestion that when the general says "The death knell of your ethics has been enabled by your parent organizations who have chosen to align themselves with political agendas," maybe he's talking about -- oh, parent organizations that are clearly aligned with political agendas. (A reporter from the hatemongers of Times Square was among those Sanchez singled out for good work, and a reporter for the Scaife paper in Pittsburgh asked Sanchez the hardest question of the day, but that's digressing.)
Hannity: Brent Bozell, show me where that Rupert Murdoch, my boss here at FOX and the owner of the FOX News Channel, how did he influence Hillary Clinton to vote to authorize that war? Or John Kerry or any of the Democratic senators? I'd like to know where that influence and where is there evidence of that?
... Bozell (addressing another librul comment by the other guest): OK. Stop right there. Stop right there. Give me an example of Rupert Murdoch influencing this war. I'm sick and tired of hearing liberals make these kind of statements. Give me an example.
You guys want to know how it works? OK. I'll try to spell it out. Flip back to the top and "Putin: Lay off my buddy," representing Fox's coverage of Putin's visit to Iran. The only suggestion that he and Ahmadinejad are "buddies" is -- well, the earlier Fox headline that said "buddy, buddy." In other words, you sort of just made it up. Nobody's claiming to look into anybody's eyes and see anybody's soul or anything like that.
Check out the rest of the coverage. Putin and Ahmadinejad are warning against third countries' using the Caspian littoral to launch interstate wars against Caspian littoral states. (I'm Tasered! Tasered! to find gambling going on here.) And Robert Gates is telling his audience that Iran "seems increasingly willing to act contrary to its own interests." (The nice thing about realism, as Condi Rice could have told him before she took the devil's sixpence, is that realists don't give a poop what Secretary Gates thinks Iran's interests are. They're interested in what Iran thinks Iran's interests are.)
Thing is, Fox's coverage of Iran isn't accidental, and it isn't a one-off. It looks pretty much the same week to week. Why is that important? Here's a theoretical proposition. Let's say there are two general ways of reporting about "security" issues:
1) As the sorts of challenges that governmental and societal structures are designed to cope with. Even at the extremes, they represent events that fall into known mechanisms.
2) As "existential" threats to the very fabric of nationhood or culture, requiring extraordinary measures for an unspecified period of time.*
We can think of them as "war on terror" stories and War On Terror® stories to make things easier. If you're the political leader who can make the case for (2), you get a say in saying what kind of measures and how quickly (or slowly) things ought to return to normal. Make sense so far?
The way Fox talks about Iran is similar to the way it talked about Iraq, and it's similar to the way other Murdoch products talk about Iran and Iraq (and immigration, to name another security issue). Those similarities are measurable and can be compared with what other news outlets do: Fox is increasingly War On Terror®, and grownup news organizations are increasingly "war on terror." Next question, does that make a difference? Two propositions:
1) People who don't see themselves as aligned very closely with the government will be inclined to listen less closely to reports that suggest that Mexico's northern border is the next front in the War On Terror®, or even to reports that suggest the country is involved in a War On Terror® rather than a "war on terror."
2) People who do see themselves as aligned with government are already more inclined to hand over their civil liberties. War On Terror® framing of a news event makes them even more willing to do so.
Murdoch doesn't have to "influence the war." He can influence opinion about national security and civil liberties, and he can influence attention to coverage of the war (if you stop paying attention at the eighth graf and the latest about Blackwater is in the 12th, too bad for you). At least, that's the implication here. Coming soon to some sort of forum somewhere.
*Credit where it's due: The concept of "securitization" that this project is based on was developed by Barry Buzan and colleagues, aka the Copenhagen School. The tests and stuff, and the link to news framing, I hope, are original.