Framing and agenda setting:

While agenda setting or gatekeeping decides what a newspaper or broadcaster covers or does not cover, the frame is the overarching angle of how the various stories are treated once they are covered. Framing, like agenda setting, is an inherently ideological act (whether consciously or not). The frame of a story (or group of stories) will have an influence on how that story is investigated and reported, who the journalist chooses to speak to, what questions he or she asks and how information is interpreted and reported.

Various issues can influence how frames are created; not least overarching ideologies in societies or what is often considered ‘common sense’. Likewise, issues such as the race, class, and gender of journalists, editors, owners, and audiences can influence framing. Finally, the production of news or how news is constructed is of importance. Newsmakers often depend on institutional sources such as police, courts, and politicians to supply stories which can both influence the agenda and how a story is defined.

Agenda setting in 1963, Bernard Cohen observed that the press “may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about. The world will look different to different people,” Cohen continues, “depending on the map that is drawn for them by writers, editors, and publishers of the paper they read.” Cohen had expressed the idea that later led to the formalization of agenda-setting theory by McCombs and Shaw.

Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw in 1972 in Public Opinion Quarterly postulated that the media sets the public agenda, in the sense that they may not exactly tell you what to think, but they may tell you what to think about. In the social sciences, framing comprises a set of concepts and theoretical perspectives on how individuals, groups, and societies, organize, perceive, and communicate about reality. Framing involves the construction of a social phenomenon – by mass media sources, political or social movements, political leaders, or other actors and organizations.

The concept of framing is related to the agenda-setting tradition, but expands the research by focusing on the essence of the issues at hand rather than on a particular topic. The basis of framing theory is that the media focuses attention on certain events and then places them within a field of meaning. Todd Gitlin, in his analysis of how the news media trivialised the student New Left movement during the 1960s, was among the first to examine media frames from a sociological perspective. Frames, Gitlin wrote, are “persistent patterns of cognition, interpretations, and presentation, of selection [and] emphasis … [that are] largely unspoken and unacknowledged … [and] organize the world for both journalists [and] for those of us who read their reports.”

Erving Goffman wrote in Frame Analysis that people interpret what is going on around their world through their primary framework. Goffman states that there are two distinctions within primary frameworks: natural + social. Natural frameworks, identify events as physical occurrences taking natural quote literally and not attributing any social forces to the causation of events. Social frameworks view events as socially driven occurrences, due to the whims, goals, and manipulations on the part of other social players (people).

Lakoff & Metaphors:

“The most compelling part of Lakoff’s hypothesis is the notion that in order to reach voters, all the individual issues of a political debate must be tied together by some larger frame that feels familiar to us. Lakoff suggests that voters respond to grand metaphors – whether it is the metaphor of a strict father or something else entirely – as opposed to specific arguments, and that specific arguments only resonate if they reinforce some grander metaphor. The best evidence to support this idea can be found in the history of the 2004 presidential campaign. From Day 1, Republicans tagged Kerry with a larger metaphor: he was a flip-flopper, a Ted Kennedy-style liberal who tried to seem centrist, forever bouncing erratically from one position to the other. They made sure that virtually every comment they uttered about Kerry during the campaign reminded voters, subtly or not, of this one central theme. (The smartest ad of the campaign may have been the one that showed Kerry windsurfing, expertly gliding back and forth, back and forth.) Democrats, on the other hand, presented a litany of different complaints about Bush, depending on the day and the backdrop; he was a liar, a corporate stooge, a spoiled rich kid, a reckless warmonger. But they never managed to tie them all into a single, unifying image that voters would associate with the president. As a result, none of them stuck.


Bush was attacked. Kerry was framed. According to Lakoff, Republicans are skilled at using loaded language, along with constant repetition, to play into the frames in our unconscious minds. Take one of his favorite examples, the phrase “tax relief.” It presumes Lakoff points out, that we are being oppressed by taxes and that we need to be liberated from them. It fits into a familiar frame of persecution, and when such a phrase, repeated over time, enters the everyday lexicon, it biases the debate in favor of conservatives. If Democrats start to talk about their own “tax relief” plan, Lakoff says, they have conceded the point that taxes are somehow an unfair burden rather than making the case that they are an investment in the common good. The argument is lost before it begins.”

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