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News Framing at CNN.com
The graphic below is a screen capture from the main page of CNN.com on the afternoon of October 15, 2007. The headline, highlighted for emphasis in this article, links to a CNN.com story about Lindsay Roberts, wife of the president of Oral Roberts University. She is at the center of a scandal involving improprieties alleged in a lawsuit file by three former professors against the private, religious college. The most salacious of the allegationsbacked up by pictures, cell phone records, and other documentsinvolve Mrs. Roberts' interactions with underaged males, one of whom was photographed in a car with Mrs. Roberts after midnight even though a local curfew prohibits minors from being out after 10 p.m. without their parents. Among other allegations are some backed by extensive records of late-night text messaging between Mrs. Roberts and underaged males, as well as representations that the boy who was in the car with her was ultimately moved into the Roberts family's university-provided home to the dismay of her children. Further allegations have to do with the firing of a long-time employee, who was replaced by a convicted sex offender, and lavish clothing expenditures by Mrs. Roberts, purchases paid for by the ministry because she was to wear the apparel in her television broadcast appearances.
Note carefully the manner in which the headline is presented:
The reader who clicks on the headline finds that the associated article recaps the highlights of what is on an official Webpage of Oral Roberts University, wherein Mrs. Roberts is given space to express her dismay about the allegations being leveled against her.
That front-page CNN.com headline might, however, give a somewhat different impression, possibly even that the allegations have actually made her physically ill. Once a reader clicks on the headline and goes to the article, the word "sicken" is in quotes because it is how she, herself, on the official Oral Roberts University Website, is characterizing how she feels about being accused of improprieties.
Now, let us pull back to exactly one week before, on October 8, 2007, when Blackwater USA was still headline news at CNN.com and many other media outlets. The Iraqi government had just ordered Blackwater out of the country. An official investigation by the Iraqi government concluded that 17 Iraqi civilians killed when Blackwater employees opened fire in a town square were murdered
by the mercenaries. Gruesome photos and moment-by-moment accounts of the massacre had been delivered by news media outlets for more than a week, with at least one account by the Washington Post
providing multiple, eyewitness accounts and on-the-scene interviews with those who saw and survived the relentless onslaught of firepower by the private American security firm's personnel. So, on October 8, recounting the conclusions of the Iraqi government report, which held Blackwater criminally and civilly responsible for the deaths and injuries of Iraqi citizens from the September 16 shower of gunfire in a Baghdad square, CNN.com had the headline, again highlighted here for emphasis, in the screen capture graphic below:
Note, again carefully, but this time also comparatively, the manner in which the headline is presented:
Note the single quotes around the word victim
. Such quotes have the effect of removing a word or term from the realm of the factual and placing it squarely in the wide-open field of the claimed, the alleged, the scrutinizable, the questionable. That's the intended effect of so-called "scare quotes": they diminish the representation made by the words within them; and that's exactly what those single quotation marks did with respect to the use of the word victim
to describe a person killed or injured in the September 16 Blackwater shooting incident at a square in Baghdad.
According to CNN.com, then, allegations sicken Mrs. Roberts, but someone killed or wounded by Blackwater mercenaries on September 16 is a 'victim' of the attack. A civil lawsuit backed by extensive photographic and textual, documentary evidence can sicken
a wealthy, religious, American defendant in a sexually charged lawsuit; but when extracted from a foreign government's official report that included dozens of appallingly gruesome photographs and testimony from many eyewitnesses, the term 'victim'
must have quotes around it.
CNN.com has used and avoided using scare quotes before, and it will undoubtedly do so in the future as a way of subtly shaping the perception its readers have of information it reports. Although journalism students are taught about this and other means of "framing" early in their training, many people, even those well-educated, are not consciously aware of it in actual use, even when it is deployed repeatedly, over an extended period of time, by a single news source deliberately attempting to shape perceptions and opinions. While it might have been hoped that, by now, framing would be relegated to local media, CNN.com is demonstrating that what is considered at best disingenuous news presentation and at worst dishonest journalism is alive and quite well in the ranks of 'professional' 'news media' outlets.
The Dark Wraith encourages readers to keep a close eye on CNN.com for more 'journalistic' hijinks.
My comment has little to do with CNN, unless perhaps to mention another who has helped bring the state of reporting while editorializing to a fine art. While over doing some housekeeping at the [defunct] message board, I saw a spam-bot screen name that cried for preservation. It was...
My edit(after removing the Lolita links-kind of appropriate here too, if they had remained).
The original post is now gone, but I cannot resist leaving this up just for the screen name.
I think this sounds like a descriptive for a character in the upcoming film "Rush Limbaugh Down Under", the mutant kangaroo smuggling drugs in her pouch to aging radio pundits in exchange for them NOT talking.
The bar has been lowered soooo far by the right wing punditry and the Jerry Springers of the world, where human life becomes an abstraction and an entertainment, that blatant falsehoods/spin is no longer found objectionable. The sly dig, the innuendo, all are in style. The rabble rouser like Rush screeches nastiness, so a more restrained 'victim' goes right under the national radar. Unless news agencies themselves decide to clean up their acts, we will see more and more slip in to more and more formerly respectable outlets.
I must add...I was glancing down the headlines and read "Woman offers mustard for lost dog". When I read it again, it was slightly better, though the image of a woman with a large squeeze jar of French's holding it up to a fellow with a poodle on a bun is still with me.
Now, did the woman offer the car, or a horse for the dog? And was it her lost dog, or was she trying to obtain someone else's lost dog? The headline really sucked.
Thanks for changing out the feline photos. yours are much more alluring!
Oh, and as to Giuliani being ready for a Martian invasion; Why wait? Let's preempt those Godless heathens back to the Stone Age!!
I was going to say maybe we should start calling her Mrs. Robinson but Pam's House Blend beat me to it.
Maybe a movie poster is in order...I'll think about it.
OT - just noticed the Online Reference below your posts Mr. Wraith
Is it more reliable than wiki?
Presentation is everything. Some newspapers assiduously choose when to use "alleged" or "supposed", and when to omit.
I have also seen them using civilian terms interchangeably (incorrectly) for military occurrences. Ex.: They will report a soldier as "injured," vs. wounded," thereby mitigating the effect.
Or civilian papers will fail to explicate military-ese, using terms such as "fixing a target," which of course means you will "take someone out," or "kill them."
I lost faith in CNN many moons ago. I find most of my 'news' through the European media, blogs and the Internets
I will never understand why the MSM is so afraid to take on the Theocrats. Perhaps afraid is the wrong word..its more like they are sleeping in the same flea-laden bed.
It's easy to understand. Most of the media are owned by big GOP donors. And any media "personality" is usually beholden to their "boss" for that pay check, eh?
Go here: Who owns what,
or search for more.
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