N E W S • F R A M E S • • • • •

About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

Archive for the ‘Daily Mail’ Category

“News” as story – not facts

Daily_Mail_17_03_2014March 17, 2014No “newsworthy” event (or non-event) has “meaning” without a conceptual frame. We need frames to make sense of anything. As some cognitive scientists point out, we don’t think in terms of neutral “facts” – our thoughts aren’t strung-together facts. We require frames to provide “meaning” to facts. Journalists instinctively know this; much of the “news” is presented as narrative frames – taking the form of a story (often with simplistic attribution of causes, heroes and villains, crisis, drama, etc).

(Today’s distraction/digression: The Daily Mail is one of the biggest-selling newspapers in Britain. I once read that it was the biggest-selling paper among college students – but I don’t know if that’s still the case. See if you can parse today’s headline story from the Mail. What are the facts, what is the story, why are they headlining with it, and why do so many people buy it?)

How we tend to frame events will depend on our worldviews, our hierarchies of values, etc. Inevitably this will bring into play the “deep” moral frame structures in our psyches. When we read a newspaper story, however, a frame has already been selected for us in advance. If it’s a common news frame (ie one reinforced through repetition over many years), it may seem entirely normal, appropriate and “true” with respect to the “hard facts” (if any) reported. But at the same time it may induce a “tunneling” – or cognitive blinkering – effect, in which crucial “aspects” of the newsworthy event are excluded from our consciousness.

kindle-book-coverThe corporation

This occurs not just with news “events”, but with political and social institutions and abstractions – and indeed any players, roles, entities, etc, involved in the news story. Consider, for example, the notion of a corporation or big firm. It’s an entity that features often in stories on jobs, in which the frame is perhaps “job creation” or “job loss”, etc. The corporation is the creator of jobs, the “engine of productivity”, etc, within that frame.

Now consider the frame favoured by, say, Noam Chomsky: corporations as unaccountable private tyrannies. Both of these frames (corporations as job-creators and corporations as private tyrannies) might be more or less “supported by the facts” – they’re both “true” in that sense. But, of course, they evoke (or invoke) two very different sets of ideas in our minds regarding the reality or “meaning” of corporations.

News frames ensure, through repetition, that one set of “meanings” takes prominence over others. This isn’t “bias” in the usual, narrow sense in which media critics use that term. Neither is it primarily about battles between different sets of opposing “facts”. It’s more fundamental than that, and requires that we understand the new cognitive fields of frame semantics, conceptual metaphor and moral-values systems.

Written by NewsFrames

March 17, 2014 at 11:58 am

“The young lack grit”

Daily_Mail_21_8_2013Aug 21, 2013 When I saw this Daily Mail headline (this morning), I thought: With all we know about the economic malaise and its causes, what would conservative ministers and newspapers focus on? Of course: that youngsters lack “grit”.

It seems such obvious, clichéd BS to “us” – and I recall Noam Chomsky explaining that he doesn’t criticise rightwing newspapers because it’s “too easy” (he focuses instead on “liberal” media).

And yet… The Daily Mail has millions of readers. Millions more see its prominent headlines (while at the supermarket or newsagent). And we know that conceptual frames work mostly unconsciously – “below” our awareness. And that repetition affects us “deeply” at this “level”.

(To put it another way: Professor Chomsky might find it “too easy” communicating his criticisms of rightwing media to fellow Chomskyites, etc – but how easy would he find it communicating those criticisms to Daily Mail readers?)


I don’t have time to write this (I’ve got a river to swim, a mountain to climb and a crap-job interview* to attend), so I’ll limit myself to a brief jotted note:

“Grit” (synonym: “firmness of character”) keys into a “moral strength” metaphor/worldview – part of the “strict” (ie authoritarian) morality which has been linked with conservative thinking. I wrote about this here.

* Not really. I don’t “waste my time” on such things any more. My “character” doesn’t need any “building”, thanks. And if it did, the last place I would go to “build” it is a God Damn job (said in a John Wayne voice).

Alternative headlines:

Written by NewsFrames

August 21, 2013 at 1:16 pm

A Daily Mail front page you won’t see…

daily-mail-03-04-13-rowlingApril 8, 2013JK Rowling should perhaps be given a Nobel Prize for getting a generation of kids to read books. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s generated endless amounts of tax revenue. How was this phenomenon nurtured? By a little time and space on the dole.

You’d be surprised how many successful people developed their craft on the dole. In a way, most successful corporations also require a long period on the dole. Do you think Boeing and Microsoft would have achieved commercial success without decades of state-funded research and development in aerospace and computing?

Any true wealth-generating activity requires periods of “social nurturing” which aren’t profitable. They’re not self-funding in the short term; they are dependent. (We realise this for children – we call it “education”. The money spent on it is regarded as social investment).

“Investment” (in human beings) was also one of the ideas – along with “safety net” – behind “social security”. The welfare state was created in the forties, in a post-war economy which was nowhere near as wealthy as now (imagine: computer technology didn’t exist).

But, for decades, the rightwing press, “free market” think-tanks, politicians and pundits (not just of the right) have wanted you to think differently about social security. They want you to think of “welfare” as an unnecessary nuisance which costs more than everything else combined.

To that end, a simple set of claims, accompanied by a certain type of framing, is relentlessly pushed into our brains by newspaper front pages and TV and internet screens. It has two main components:

  1. Vastly exaggerate the real cost of “welfare” and falsely portray it as “spiralling out of control” (how this is done is explained here and here). Misleadingly include things like pensions in the total cost when you’re talking about unemployment. (This partly explains why people believe unemployment accounts for 41% of the “welfare” bill, when it accounts for only 3% of the total).
  2. Appeal to the worst aspects of social psychology by repeatedly associating a stereotype (the “benefits scrounger/cheat”) with the concept of “welfare”. One doesn’t have to be a prison psychologist to understand how anger and frustration are channeled towards those perceived as lower in the pecking order: “the scum”. (According to a recent poll, people believe the welfare fraud rate is 27%, whereas the government estimates it as 0.7%).


It’s a potently malign cocktail. When imbibed repeatedly, there’s little defense against its effects. Even those who depend on benefits come to view benefits recipients in a harshly negative light (see Fern Brady’s article for examples). Those politicians who aren’t naturally aligned with rightwing ideology go on the defensive – they talk about “being tough” and “full employment“. It just reinforces the anti-welfare framing.

The strangely puritanical – and deeply irrational – obsession with “jobs”, “hard-working families”, etc, at a time in history when greater leisure for all is more than a utopian promise (due to the maturation of labour-saving technology, etc) seems an integral part of the conservative framing – which is perhaps why many on the “left” find it difficult to provide counter-narratives.

But that would require another article. For now I’ll leave you with a short video explaining Basic Income – a fast-spreading idea which is highly relevant to the above. (Guardian columnist George Monbiot recently championed Basic Income as a “big idea” to unite the left).

Written by NewsFrames

April 8, 2013 at 8:35 am

A Tale of Two Racisms

24 July 2012 – I intended to write about something called ‘moral licensing’, but the Daily Mail published something (on football racism) that deserves comment. This will probably interest those who’ve followed the John Terry & Luis Suarez cases, but I doubt it’ll interest anyone else, unfortunately. (The ‘moral licensing’ piece – which, in an odd way, is relevant to this – will follow in a few days).

I won’t rehash the Terry & Suarez cases (I’ll assume you know the details). There were some striking similarities between the cases, and some differences – eg process and burden of proof (more on that below). Also, the media coverage. Here’s what caught my eye in the Daily Mail yesterday (23/7/12):

John Terry piece, Daily Mail , 23/7/12

(There’s an online version of this on the Daily Mail site – scroll down past the main story).

It was written by Mail columnist Martin Samuel. The parts which caught my attention were these (my bold):

  • “To brand a man a racist requires only a balance of probability, according to the FA.”
  • “…his outdated ideas about a case needing to be proven.”
  • “Terry did not swing in a proper court, so now he will be tried in one with less exacting standards.”

So, to summarise: The FA’s “standards” in these matters aren’t as “exacting” as they could be. And, anyway, the newfangled “balance of probability” doesn’t establish proof, and it’s insufficient to “brand a man a racist”.

The UK media (en masse, including the Daily Mail) – took the exact reverse of this position over the FA’s “standards” on the Suarez case. “Balance of probability” was regarded as appropriate – yes, a lower burden of proof than “beyond reasonable doubt”, but just fine for the job. And quite sufficient to “brand a man a racist” (actually, “racial abuser”). As for “exacting standards”, the UK press fell over themselves to congratulate the FA on its 115-page Suarez report. Here’s what one fairly typical Guardian piece said about it:

The thoroughness, attention to detail and remarkable depth of the 115-page document […] a report that has prompted legal experts to talk about a document that is “appeal proof”. […] has brought a new meaning to the word transparency by revealing every last detail […] this extraordinary report… (Guardian, 1/1/2012)

This kind of gushing praise for the FA report was all over the newspapers, as was quick denunciation of those who criticised or questioned the FA panel’s verdict. Even before the FA released its delayed 115-page report, criticism of its verdict on Suarez – whether direct or implied – was framed by the UK media as “shameful“, as “confusing” the “zero tolerance messageon racism. When Suarez’s club (Liverpool) raised the issue of lack of evidence, etc, they were denounced as “beyond the pale“, “hypocritical“, and their actions viewed as a “constant undermining of the FA’s role“:

“Some of the words being used to describe the FA and its role in governance on these sort of issues, that is really beyond the pale.” (Piara Powar, BBC, 8/1/12)

(One of the things I learned about the fight against racism – from campaigners such as Piara Powar, Lord Ouseley, Sports editors at the Guardian, etc – was that it entails, indeed requires, an uncritical acceptance of “the FA and its role in goverance on these sort of issues”. I’d never realised this before, as the FA always seemed to me like a dubious assortment of inept old blokes in suits, with a rich history of unprogressive views and general cluelessness. But that’s what the UK media is for – to inform and educate).

Bandwagons, herd-mentality, etc

So, what about Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail – author of the above critical remarks about the FA’s “standards”, etc (in the context of the John Terry case).  Surely he, of all people, didn’t jump on the hack-bandwagon – praising the FA’s Suarez report and dismissing its critics? Actually, that’s exactly what he did. Here’s the damning evidence, from his Daily Mail column, 4/1/2012:

Martin Samuel on Suarez, Daily Mail, 4/1/12Burden of proof

The FA uses the civil “balance of probability” rule of proof. This generally means a lower burden of evidence required to “prove the matter” than applies in criminal cases.

Many journalists seem to forget that “balance of probability” is a flexible rule, and that the more serious the allegation, the greater the burden of evidence required to prove the matter. This is clearly stated in the FA panel’s 115-page report on the Suarez case (see paragraphs 76-80). Paragraph 80 states: “The FA accepts that the Charge against Mr Suarez is serious, as do we. It is for this reason that we have reminded ourselves that a greater burden of evidence is required to prove the Charge against Mr Suarez.”

Martin Samuel’s piece, above (on the Terry case), perhaps confuses the issue over “proof” and “standards” (depending on how you interpret his wording). “Balance of probability” doesn’t, in itself, imply “less exacting standards”. It implies a lower burden of evidence, which is not the same thing – it doesn’t mean a licence to be sloppy. In fact, on the Suarez case, the media seemed convinced that the “balance of probability” rule had been applied to the most exacting standards. (Close scrutiny of the FA panel’s report reveals that this wasn’t the case. The FA’s own prescription for stronger evidence – in accord with the seriousness of the allegations – seems to have been “forgotten” by the FA’s panel, and completely overlooked by the media. No direct evidence/witness testimony was submitted in the Suarez case. And so the ironies pile up…).

Please also see: the original piece I wrote exposing media falsehoods on the Suarez case: Media on Racism: Part 1 – Churnalism (this article “went viral” on social media, and has been read by several hundred thousand people to date).

Written by NewsFrames

July 24, 2012 at 1:16 am

STRIKE! Work framed as Obedience

STRIKE! Work framed as ObedienceNov 30, 2011 – Today’s Daily Mail states that the 2 million people on strike today will “cause chaos”. After all, we’re not working. We think of “work” in many ways, but there are two dominant frames which tend to maintain the status quo (of appalling pay & working hours, concentrated wealth for the few). These frames are: Work as Obedience and Workers as Resources.

Work as Obedience

In the work-as-obedience frame, there’s an authority (the employer) and there’s obedience to the commands of authority (ie work). This obedience is rewarded (pay). Certain consequences follow from this metaphorical framing. The worker is expected to be loyal, to make sacrifices (contrast with the work-as-exchange* frame). This may explain why, each year, workers give £29 billion in unpaid overtime to their companies (according to TUC figures).

(Consider also that the average worker spends 139 hours a year commuting – another sacrifice).

Remember that frames function “below” consciousness, according to the cognitive scientists (I’ve written about this before: here & here). Why do people tolerate a situation in which income is dependent on obedience (to people they might regard as idiots)? Perhaps it’s because our upbringing results (in most cases) in the work-as-obedience frame being a familiar part of our neurology (consider the paternal representation of school/employer).

In adulthood, this work frame infantilises us, and it’s reinforced by the paternal-strictness type of attacks on the unemployed from politicians and media. Terms such as “workshy” and “scrounger” don’t suggest people aged 45+ who have lost their jobs.

Workers as Resources

The workers-as-resources metaphor is part of ‘market’ framing:

  • “Free market” means firms are free to manage their own resources.
  • Resources are acquired and disposed of – in a way which minimises costs, maximises “efficiency”, etc.
  • Labour is just another resource (as in “labour market”).

Excluded from the workers-as-resources metaphor is the human experience of working in a job, and the distinction between meaningful activity and dehumanising work (not to mention work which physically harms). Orthodox economics of both right and left “treat labor as a natural resource or commodity, on a par with raw materials, and speak in the same terms of its cost and supply” (Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By). Workers’ rights movements have fought against exploitation of workers (with some important successes) but have tended to implicitly accept this economic framing.

Protestant Work “Ethic”

The “work as obedience” metaphor is also linked to the moral framing of work which comes from religious traditions, most notably from the Protestant (or, rather, Puritan) Work Ethic. You don’t have to consciously subscribe to these religious beliefs to be affected – moral guilt over “laziness” seems to affect practically everyone in our society (but not in all societies – the framing isn’t universal).

And thus we arrive at these strange notions:

  • Work is morally virtuous regardless of the experience of the worker.
  • Firms should be “free” to make this experience even worse.

And so (to cut a long historical story short) we get the news frames of guilty “slackers”, irresponsible chaos-causing strikers – in opposition to the moral good (ie market fundamentalism and a joyless, outdated work ethic). And, to many, it looks just like “common sense”. Meanwhile, metaphorical terms such “flexible labour” (or worse, “cheap labour”) hide the reality of human degradation.

* The work-as-exchange frame is something that George Lakoff has written about in his work on conceptual metaphor. In this frame, work is conceptualised as an object of value which belongs to the worker. This is exchanged for money.

Written by NewsFrames

November 30, 2011 at 9:27 am

Daily Mail lies about strikes

Daily Mail lies about strikesNov 28, 2011 – Today’s Daily Mail headline reads: ‘NOTHING WILL STOP US FROM STRIKING’. The Mail adds that “unions won’t discuss a last-minute peace deal” and that “Union leaders have declared there is nothing the Government can do to avert the biggest strikes in a generation this week”. [See update #2 below – the Mail has rewritten its story]

The message is clear: “the unions are hell-bent on confrontation”“nothing” will stop them. (Incidentally, the Nov 30th strikes have massive public support according to polls from the BBC, Guardian, etc – but that’s not part of the Mail’s narrative).

What are the Mail’s statements based on? The report doesn’t mention the source, which is, in fact, an interview with Brendan Barber (TUC head) on BBC’s The Politics Show (27/11/11).

The Mail’s lie becomes clear when one compares its headline (and other statements) with what Barber actually said in the interview. (The following is my transcript of Jon Sopel’s interview with Brendan Barber and Francis Maude, starting at 12m 20s):

Jon Sopel (BBC): Mr Barber we’re about to speak to Francis Maude who is listening to this interview. Is there anything he could say that would get you to call off your action?

Brendan Barber (TUC): Well, at this stage I think that’s probably unlikely…

Sopel: So there’s nothing he can say?

Barber: What Francis Maude has to do, with his colleagues in government, is he has to give people confidence that there is a secure, fair pension going to be maintained for the future… at the moment people simply do not have that confidence…

Sopel: Mr Barber, sorry to interrupt you, isn’t that a rather extraordinary position that there is nothing that the chief negotiator [Maude] could say here on Sunday lunchtime that would get you to call off your action on Wednesday?

Barber: Well, he could certainly have a try… [Barber then outlines the specific policies being forced through by the government, which he wants them to reconsider] … if they’d really take a step back on some of these issues… but having talked to Mr Maude and his colleagues rather a lot over recent months, I fear he’s not prepared to say that – which leaves us with a real difficulty… Unless he comes up with something very surprising then, of course, the action will be going ahead this week.

Sopel: (now questioning Francis Maude): Have you got anything to say to Brendan Barber that might avert these strikes on Wednesday?

Maude: Yes, I’d say, Brendan, call it off. Now. (Listen to the rest of Maude’s comments, starting after 14m 20s).

As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, news frames often provide a narrative with a hero and a villain. This usually boils down to causation in some sense. Who is causing the thing which is making people angry? (And who is trying to prevent that thing from happening?). The “answer” is clear from the Mail’s headline. But since the Mail doesn’t even provide source details, it would be difficult for a casual reader to see that it’s a lie.

Alternative headlines:

Update #1, 28/11/11: The Sun has also run with this story (‘Unions chief: We won’t halt strike‘). The Sun is a bit more honest than the Mail – it accurately quotes Barber (“Well, at this stage I think that’s probably unlikely”) and mentions The Daily Politics as the source. The Sun’s first paragraph, however, contains the same lie as the Mail’s: “The leader of the TUC vowed yesterday there is NOTHING the Government can say to make unions call off Wednesday’s strike.”

Update #2, 28/11/11: The online version of the Daily Mail’s headline article (which I also link to above) has been completely rewritten since this morning. The lying headline has been replaced with something about Michael Gove. I’ve scanned the newspaper article, so you can see the original version here. Update #2b, 3/12/11: the online version appears to have been rewritten yet again on 29/11/11, this time with the focus on Ed Miliband rather than Michael Gove.

Update #3, 30/11/11: The Sun (on 29/11/11) asked TUC head Brendan Barber to write 200 words on the case for the strike. Apparently it was so good – so convincing – that the Sun wouldn’t publish it. You can read it here.

Written by NewsFrames

November 28, 2011 at 1:13 pm

“News” = recycled clichés

News clichesOct 31, 2011 – This morning’s front pages present an arresting selection of news clichés

The Daily Express alerts us to a “CRISIS” in something, and a “BOOST” to pensions. The Express’s front page story is actually about an idea which is being “considered” (by the government).

“i” and the Belfast Telegraph go with “SHAKE-UP” (in education). I think we all know what that means.

The Daily Mail reports that the Church of England is at “WAR” with an ill-defined noun (“sleaze”). Slightly more interesting is the information that the church currently invests millions in Internet Service Providers.

The Mirror front page informs us that it’s “WAR” between the Prime Minister and Nick Clegg on Europe. (It’s not a trivial matter that the metaphor of armed conflict is commonly used on complex social and economic issues which have little to do with armed conflict. More on this when I discuss the “war” metaphor in a future piece).

The Evening Standard tells us that somebody important “HAILS” “women power”; the Wall Street Journal reports that a “SHAKY OUTLOOK lingers in Europe”. (If you have a photo of a lingering shaky outlook, please email it to me immediately).

The Telegraph lets us know that some money from somewhere will be used to “KICK-START” the economy; The Times reports that David Cameron is seeking “RADICAL REFORM” on something-or-other.

The Scotsman headlines with the story that charities are being “HIT” by a “CASH SQUEEZE”. (See my previous comments on media use of the “hit” metaphor).

To Summarise:

Shake-up in education, shaky outlook in Europe, war between church and sleaze, war between Cameron and Clegg, a hypothetical “crisis fund” to boost pensions, a bit of money to kick-start the economy, charities hit by cash squeeze, Cameron (when he’s not at war) seeks radical reform on adoption, and the Queen hails women power.

All in all, a rich collection of headline bullshit.

Written by NewsFrames

October 31, 2011 at 12:20 pm