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About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

Archive for the ‘War’ Category

The ever-popular “war on workshy” frame

Oct 8, 2012 – Today’s Express headline concerns the “WAR ON WORKSHY”. I first became aware of this “war” back in 1998, when the following headlines screamed at me (on March 27th, 1998):

“WELFARE WAR ON WORKSHY” (Daily Mail)
“BLAIR IN WELFARE WAR ON THE IDLE” (Daily Telegraph)
“SHAKE-UP IN WELFARE HITS THE WORKSHY” (The Times)
“THOU SHALT NOT SHIRK” (The Express)

I was unemployed at the time, and I took it personally – it seemed like a war on me. It also struck me as being political and journalistic bovine excreta. The same media had just reported the lowest official unemployed count for 18 years (given as 1,383,800 in The Daily Telegraph, 19/3/98). Government figures showed that only 5% of welfare expenditure went on the unemployed, including benefit fraud. (The percentage is pretty much the same today – see my earlier post).

As Larry Elliott (Guardian’s economics editor) put it at the time:

“..ministers should stop conniving in the fallacy that the welfare state is in a terminal crisis when it palpably is not…What is not legitimate is to pretend that welfare is a luxury Britain cannot afford”.
(Larry Elliott, The Guardian, 19/1/98)

It’s all déjà vu for me. We were in a “terrible crisis” then, and we’re in a “terrible crisis” now. And we’re encouraged to think about this crisis – repeatedly – in terms of a war between “hard-working families” and “workshy scroungers”. Or, as today’s Express puts it:

Senior Tories believe the move will be popular with millions of hard-working families who are fed up with workshy scroungers ripping off the benefits system. (Express, October 8, 2012)

This frame tends to exclude the thoughts: 1) that large numbers of “hard-working families” are themselves dependent on various benefits (since the market often doesn’t pay a survival/living wage), and 2) that many of those “hard-working families” will eventually find themselves unemployed (at which point they land in the “workshy scrounger” category – until they can find another job).

After decades of relentless tabloid attacks on the unemployed, the cited Tories are probably right – in a sense – about the “popularity” of the proposed welfare cuts. Because the “real” war is in the framing, and the Framing Wars are currently being won by the rightwing press (which, as noted recently by George Monbiot, gets much of its editorial content direct from neoliberal thinktanks). We see an indication of the success of this framing (in shaping people’s thinking) from the 2012 British Social Attitudes survey, which reports that:

62% agree that unemployment benefits are too high and discourage work, more than double the proportion who thought this in 1991 (27%)

So, don’t think about the trillion pounds spent bailing out the banks, or the $21 trillion stashed in tax havens by the tax-avoiding super-rich, etc – those are separate, different news compartments. Focus your anger on the unemployed people. The frames in your head tell you they deserve it.

Alternative headlines:
‘WAR ON YOUNG & OLD & VULNERABLE’
‘WAR IS PEACE, WORK IS MANDATORY’
‘BANKS BAILED OUT BY SLAVE LABOUR’
‘ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL ANGER-REDIRECT HEADLINE’

◊ Read more about the metaphorical framing of welfare here and here,
– and more about the framing of work here & here.

Written by NewsFrames

October 8, 2012 at 8:52 am

“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