Framing is a central organizational idea or story line that provides meaning to an unfolding sequence of events and that weaves a connection among them. It also suggests what the controversy is about, giving the heart of the issue. Framing includes the process of emphasizing and omitting information in a story so that the media can form the events into a dramatic or twisted story to attract and influence an audience. In my opinion, American journalists frame the war on terrorism in a biased way that portrays the events as patriotic and positive for the United States.
The catchphrase “War on Terror”, coined by the Bush administration shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, set a retaliatory tone in order to validate homeland security policies and rationalized military involvement in the Middle East. In the Washington Post Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote that President Bush consciously used this phrase to frame the fight as “war” against our attackers. President Obama said in a public address that framing the event in this light destroyed any hope of unity (vanden Heuvel). Shortly after bin Laden’s demise, however, Obama framed the killing as the “end of war” when, in fact, it significantly advanced the fight against terrorism but did not end the war. During his address, Obama also brought back the emotion from 9/11 in order to make the American audience feel unified and give justification for continuing the war (vanden Heuvel).
Such overarching themes phrased by governmental officials strongly coerce the news media to quickly pick up on implications without questioning their accuracy. Journalists immediately frame news coverage in the same vein as politicians. After 9/11, journalists took the lead from President Bush’s rhetoric to frame revenge against our attackers as the War on Terror. Their news coverage not only swayed public opinion to believe in our country’s mission but also brought about changes to public policy. In her article, “Terrorism as a Context of Coverage Before the Iraq War”, Amy Fried wrote that Time’s and Newsweek’s coverage of Iraq policy was framed by the 9/11 context, as well as stories about terrorism in general. As an example, Fried pointed out that news magazine articles used photographs and graphics that linked Iraq to terrorism. As Table 1 shows, the September 16 cover stories about Iraq were preceded by cover stories about 9/11 and then followed by a Time September 23 cover about al Qaeda terrorists. Newsweek’s cover story on September 23 emphasized Iraq, with the title ‘How We Helped Create Saddam and Can We Fix Iraq after He’s Gone?’ with a large picture of Saddam Hussein’s face taking up most of the cover. Just before the cover story, a four-page photo spread focused around September 11 commemorations, including flags, a kneeling police officer at Ground Zero, flowers, and President Bush’s words from his speech of commemoration, with the quote ‘What our enemies have begun, we will finish’ (Fried). This biased display of photojournalism promoted patriotism and drew on people’s emotions from the 9/11 attack to ensure that the American people would stand behind the war. Newsweek decided to depict the coverage in this light to show that the devastating effects of 9/11 justified the fight with Iraq and the hatred of Saddam Hussein.
As another example, Hetherington and Nelson indicated in “The Anatomy of a Rally Effect,” that President Bush quickly took advantage of the “rally-around-the-flag effect” to promote American patriotism and increase his falling approval rating. The media promoted his image as positive by framing news coverage to endorse our government’s mission to fight terrorism because the President believed that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that would obliterate America. The news media framed their news coverage by reporting that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction without ample investigation. Fried pointed out that people simply assumed that Iraq possessed these weapons because media coverage reported a declaration of war on Iraq and Saddam Hussein to protect Americans from total obliteration. Fried wrote, “Both news magazines used graphics that strongly implied that Iraq posed a threat to U.S. national security” (Fried). In reality, the media wanted to show that Iraq posed a threat and skirted the issue with implications rather than reporting actual facts (Fried).
The media has also chosen to pacify the American people by portraying our military in a positive light. In The Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Schwalbe wrote that the media dramatically reports war by appealing to visual senses through photographs, videos, graphics, icons, and maps. News articles are framed to influence audience reaction to news about the war and provide an accounting of the war for those who are not there (Schwalbe et al.). The media selectively chooses what to show about the war in order to censor negative information in favor of facts that cause audiences to see the war in a positive light. For example, the media shows positive images of U.S. soldiers helping people in Iraq instead of photos that portray U.S. bombing of innocent Iraqi civilians.
To further appease Americans, the media often depicts Arabs as the enemy and creates an image in the minds of American citizens that Arabs are violent. Most journalists on the battlefield in this war have chosen to omit footage of the casualties of war and innocent people dying in favor of showing more images of soldiers helping the local citizens than in any previous US war. The media and our government censor news coverage by choosing not to frame war stories in a negative light in order to justify starting and continuing the war. In her article, Schwalbe concluded by following the footsteps of previous scholars, and realizing that television journalists are more likely to report war news in a positive manner. In addition, she wrote that both the Associated Press and U.S. newspapers choose biased reporting by framing anti-war demonstrators in a negative light while associating pro-war demonstrators with harmony (Schwalbe et al).
In contrast to the philosophy of American journalists, Al Jazeera, the news station founded by the Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, reports supposedly unbiased news as an option to the government-run television that is popular throughout the Middle East. Al Jazeera’s goal is to frame their news as truthful, fact-filled broadcasts about political events at the risk of threatening leaders in their own county. The station claims to report uncensored news by showing actual footage of controversial events, such as the aftermath of bombings and prisoners of war to ensure that the public knows the truth (Control Room).
When considering the impact journalists have on people when framing their stories, one might suggest they “dig a little deeper” for the truth in order to appropriately inform their public. Unfortunately, it seems that the media frequently chooses to remain upbeat and selects the path to positive-light reporting. In direct disagreement with this philosophy, news audiences have the right to complete, uncensored, and unbiased news so they can decide for themselves whether to believe or disbelieve what they hear or read. It is not surprising that deep-thinking and probing American citizens look for alternative news sources and turn to Al Jazeera for what they hope to be the truth about the war with the Middle East, a pattern to which American news outlets have reacted in a most hostile manner.
Control Room. Dir. Jehane Noujaim. Writers Jehane Noujaim and Julia Bacha. Noujaim Films, 2004. DVD (documentary)
Fried, Amy. "Terrorism as a Context of Coverage Before the Iraq War." Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics. 10.125-132 (2005): Print.
Gershkoff, Amy and Kushner, Shana. “Shaping Public Opinion: The 9/11-Iraq Connection in the Bush Administration's Rhetoric.” Perspectives on Politics, 3, pp 525-537.
Hetherington, Marc J. and Nelson, Michael. “Anatomy of a Rally Effect: George W. Bush and the War on Terrorism.” PS: Political Science and Politics. 36. 1 (January 2003): 37-42.
Schwalbe et al. “Visual Framing of the Early Weeks of the U.S.-Led Invasion of Iraq: Applying the Master War Narrative to Electronic and Print Images” Journal of Broadcasting and Elextroni Media. (September 2008).
Vanden Heuvel, Katrina. “A Chance to End the ‘War.” The Washington Post. 03 May 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-chance-to-end-the-war/2011/05/03/AFugChgF_story.html