July 16, 2008
The L.A. Times ‘frames’ the Presidential race
Last Sunday (July 13), the Los Angeles Times ran an article on the 2008 campaign that I feel bound to comment upon. It was in the right hand column, front page, prime location. It was a perfect example of something called framing. The title: "Obama, McCain agree on many once-divisive issues." Subtitle: "Their similar stances on immigration, nuclear weapons, global warming and stem-cell research are evidence of a centrist shift in the political landscape."
An interesting thesis. The only problem is that it is flat wrong in almost all respects.
Yet the frame is well suited for the frame being offered by McCain's campaign. In fact, the central explanation for what the article portends to find is "McCain's record of defying the GOP party line." This assertion, which is totally irrelevant to the campaign of 2008, leads to a source saying that McCain would definitely not represent the third Bush term. (To balance it off, the same source says this centrist argument means that Obama is not as liberal as he is accused of being.)
A frame is a way of presenting something as if it were in a picture frame. Framing makes a political event into a story. Facts that fit the frame stay in, and those that don't get shoved out or reshaped. In a year that Republican ideas are in the toilet with public opinion, McCain's hope has to be to frame the issues as basically consensual. The frame of a centrist American political system with everybody crowding toward the middle is very popular with pundits, even though the evidence for its existence is very weak.
In order to make this frame apply to a race in which Obama and McCain disagree on almost everything, the reporters have to cut, squeeze, add, and in general fix up the facts to fit the frame. So on Iraq, global warming, Russia, immigration, and wiretapping, they make the case work for the frame in spite of the evidence to the contrary.
McCain's campaign depends on convincing people that he is like Arnold, even while adopting actual policies to please his conservative base. The perfect frame for McCain would be to be free to adjust his policies to fit right wingers while still being described as a maverick for things he said years ago and that bear no relevance to the current race.
And that, folks, is framing in a nutshell.
Read columnist Marty Kaplan's take on the Times and owner Sam Zell