N E W S • F R A M E S • • • • •

About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

“Officials say…” – The Guardian’s idea of journalism

"Officials say..." The Guardian's idea of journalismNov 3, 2011 – Today’s Guardian leads with a story concocted from anonymous “officials” – unnamed “sources”. The Guardian “has been told” stuff – by people who won’t take responsibility for telling it. What have these anonymous “official” people been saying? That Iran is taking a “belligerent posture” and… well, you probably know what comes next:-

‘The Guardian has been told that [military] planners expect any campaign to be predominantly waged from the air, with some naval involvement, using missiles such as the Tomahawks, which have a range of 800 miles (1,287 km). There are no plans for a ground invasion, but “a small number of special forces” may be needed on the ground, too.’ (Guardian, 3/11/11*)

Again, let’s be clear about who is saying what. To quote the Guardian article:

[Unnamed] British officials say that if Washington presses ahead it will seek, and receive, UK military help…”

“The Guardian has spoken to a number of [unnamed] Whitehall and defence officials over recent weeks…”

“The Guardian has been told [by unnamed entities] that…”

“One [unnamed] senior Whitehall official said…”

“In addition to that, [unnamed] officials now believe…”

[Unnamed] Ministers have also been told [by unnamed entities] that…”

“The [unnamed] senior Whitehall source said…”

“… [unnamed] diplomats believe…”

“Another [unnamed] Whitehall official, with knowledge of Britain’s military planning, said…”

“Another [unnamed] source added…”

“An [unnamed] MoD spokesman said…” (At least they’ve narrowed this down to the MoD.)

“One [unnamed] official said…”

“Western intelligence agencies say…” (Western? Can they not narrow it down to, say, a country?)

“A source said…” (You guessed it – an unnamed source)

[Unnamed] Experts believe…”

[Unnamed] British officials admit to being perplexed by what they regard as Iran’s new aggressiveness…”

(All of these attributions to unnamed sources come from the one Guardian article, written by Nick Hopkins).

War framing

What do all these unnamed sources have in common? From what they are reported as saying, it seems they all believe in – or wish to promote – the Fairy Tale of the Just War. In this frame, there’s a villain and a hero – the villain is evil, and the hero is “left with no choice” but to engage the villain in battle, and thus restore the “moral balance”. The “moral balance” in this scenario is that the heroic “West” remains armed with planet-destroying nukes, etc, while the villains are “disarmed”. Order and harmony are thereby restored.

The villains must be disarmed, as otherwise they could victimise the hero and the people the hero defends. The hero makes sacrifices, undergoes difficulties, has “tough decisions”, etc. And, of course, the hero acts honourably by going out of his way to avoid harming innocent bystanders (well, apart from several hundred thousand civilian deaths), whereas the treacherous, immoral villain doesn’t care who gets hurt.

That’s just the basic outline. The frame has further implications and consequences. For example, heroes don’t negotiate with evil villains – they defeat them, etc. (George Lakoff has provided a more in-depth look at metaphorical framing of war – PDF file).

* Note – the Guardian piece first appeared online on the afternoon of the day (2/11/11) before it was printed on the front page (3/11/11). There are a few minor differences in wording between online and printed versions. I’ve quoted from the online version.

Written by NewsFrames

November 3, 2011 at 11:30 am

One Response

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  1. Excellent piece! Very revealing (and embarrassing for the reporter in question, I’d guess).

    Talk about transparency and accountability in the media (and in officialdom)! The Guardian’s article is precisely the kind of softening up for war that we got prior to Iraq invasion in 2003. Do they have poor memories, or what?

    Alec Gerrard

    November 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm


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