Sunday, May 17, 2009

Funday framing Foxtacular

Today's topic is framing as a media effect, so let's turn to our favorite front page and get to work.

No, not the top story (that's for you agenda-setting fans out there) -- the No. 2 Most Super-Important Story in the World, "Terrorist-Disarming Bill Walks Thin Line." Before we get around to what sort of effect framing is, let's spend a moment on what this story is doing. What's its function in the discourse community that is Planet Fox? We can get a few hints (suggestions, not conclusions) from the "comment" function:

Well - ol' Bama really is "Chavez light" - sounds like he's planning to demonize, then outlaw, legitimate opposition groups under the guise of the anti-terrorist banner. Fear of opposition armed or not, is NOT a legitimate case for restricting civil rights, or even instituting surveillance actions against outspoken groups. Lumping vocal conservatives and anti-administration media outlets with actively violent anarchists and anti-American terrorists is painting with too broad a brush. Beware the incrementalism of Fascism.

According to Obama's Administration, if you're White and Christian in America, you are an out for the guns and CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVES AND TELL THEM NO. CONGRESS.ORG

It is scary just how many of these gun grabbers have become embolded now that Obama and his crew of flunkies are in office...

this is not about terrorists, it is about you, me and all the other law abiding citizens who do not tow the liberal/socialist line.

So it's prominent, it's important (not just a credit, but a byline), and it seems to reinforce a particularly salient theme: Obama and his socialist revolution are coming for your white girls guns! So what's going on in the story itself?

A bill designed to keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists is drawing fire from gun rights advocates who say it could infringe upon regular citizens' constitutional right to bear arms.

The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2009 would authorize Attorney General Eric Holder to deny the sale or transfer of firearms to known or suspected terrorists -- a list that could extend beyond* groups such as radical Islamists and other groups connected to international terror organizations.

The first part of the first clause looks weirder than it is. It contains two propositions: The bill would authorize the AG to do something, and Eric Holder is the AG. It's not really saying Holder and only Holder would be authorized; that construction is just one of the ways that news language packs information into stories. Here's one from yesterday's Freep:

A district judge said Franc­es Dingle likely never meant to kill four teens when she got be­hind the wheel drunk March 16, sped down Gratiot in Rose­ville, hit the median and sent her van airborne 31 feet before crashing into a car with the youths inside.

The story's not saying she deliberately sent her van airborne but didn't mean to kill anybody; it's saying she did something without intending its consequences, and then it's specifying the consequences. So it's not a violation of news rules to put Holder in the second graf of the terror story, it's just ... hmm. What's the next question that comes to your readerly mind?

Critics say the names of suspected terrorists could be drawn from existing government watch lists that cover such broad categories as animal rights extremists, Christian identity extremists, black separatists, anti-abortion extremists, anti-immigration extremists and anti-technology extremists.

"It doesn't say anything about trials and due process," said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. "This is one of the most outrageous pieces of legislation to come along in some time. It's basically saying, 'I suspect you, so your rights are toast.'" (Your winnings, sir.)

And we have a few more grafs on the outrage over the DHS reports on extremist groups. Anything else we're missing?

... The proposed gun control bill, which was introduced by Rep. Peter King, R-NY, last week and has bipartisan support, is currently before the House Judiciary Committee.

Oh. So if you hang on for the eighth graf, you find out the thing was introduced by ... Peter King, R-NY? The Rep. Peter King, R-NY? Peter "Too Many Mosques" King, R-NY? The one who wanted NYT execs indicted under the Espionage Act a few years back?

Well, yeah. (And if you hang on another 13 grafs, you'll find that the American Legion thinks the bill is "pretty logical," but that's a different story.) And that's what makes this a good piece for a framing test. Let's write the story in two conditions. Leave the lede as it is, but tweak the second graf. In the first condition, the party in charge of carrying out the law comes first (that'll be the Democrats of the demon-spawn Holder):

The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2009 would authorize Democratic Attorney General Eric Holder to ...

In the other, the party that introduced it comes first:

The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2009, introduced by Rep. Peter King, R-NY, would authorize the Justice Department to ...

Keep the eighth graf in both cases, but tweak it in the second so there's a second reference to King, rather than a first reference. Recruit your standard 100 sophomores from a survey class, give them a pretest (age, gender, party affiliation, attitudes toward The Terrorists, and the like), show 50 of them Version 1 and the other 50 Version 2, then ask your outcome questions. I'd just about bet that on "Which party introduced the gun legislation?" you'll get a significant difference between conditions.

I have no idea how deliberate this bit of framing might be. It's fair to infer from the story's prominence and significance that it got more attention than usual. But as noted above, it doesn't break any rules of news language. So it could just be one of those random things about how the world works. On the other hand, when you have a two-sided coin that seems to come up "heads" 90 percent of the time, you eventually start to wonder about the people who report on the coin toss.

* Think we should tell 'em? "Terrorists" pretty much by definition goes beyond "radical Islamists" and "groups connected to international terror organizations"?

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I can't bring myself to read any of it, but I do find myself wondering "standing with whom"?

5:25 PM, May 17, 2009  

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