Framing of the 2003 U.S.-Iraq War Demonstrations: An Analysis of News and Partisan Texts

Article excerpt

This study examines press coverage of pro- and anti-war demonstrations before and during the 2003 U.S.-led Iraq war. Computer analysis revealed the existence of partisan master frames in texts by pro- and anti-war organizational groups, and that news articles about each group reflected the frames of the group in question more so than the opposing group's frames. An examination of cues of legitimization and delegitimization in the news articles showed that cue words of delegitimization were used more in anti-war articles than in pro-war articles.

When the United States commenced its war with Iraq in March of 2003, it did so without the international support it had received in its first war with Iraq in 1991. Only a few close U.S. allies were willing to send troops to form a coalition force against Saddam Hussein's regime. The military move by the United States also met opposition from segments of the population in the United States. As the voices of opposition heightened, however, so too did the voices of support. In cities across the United States, pro-war rallies were often strategically held at locations where anti-war protests were being staged. Frequently covering these opposing demonstrations were members of the media.

In a special Time magazine issue on the war with Iraq, a story pertaining to the anti-war protests that were being held following the initial aerial attack on Baghdad begins by describing a demonstration in San Francisco with the following words in its lead paragraph:

Here's how they fared by the Bay: 40 intersections shut down by human blockades. Hay bales set on fire in the streets around the Transamerica Building. Police-car windows smashed all over town. A vomit-in by a small group at the base of the Federal Building to demonstrate that the war made them sick. 1,350 arrests-the highest one-day total in the history of the city-and a police plea for motorists to stay away from downtown. "Absolute anarchy," was how San Francisco assistant police chief Alex Fagan put it.1

Indeed, "anarchy" and chaos are vividly conveyed in this opening paragraph. Are such negative frames similar to those contained in other mainstream news stories concerning demonstrations against the U.S.-led war with Iraq? What frames were consistently used in reference to the pro-war demonstrations? This study's primary purposes were to examine the type of news frames associated with the anti-war and pro-war demonstrations held in the United States, to analyze the extent to which those frames corresponded with the frames expressed by the anti-war and pro-war organizations, and to investigate the degree to which the press characterized protests as legitimate or illegitimate.

Framing and Protest Movements

Many scholars2 interested in studying news production and news discourse have explored the notion that journalists rely on "framing" to generate news stories. According to these scholars, journalists do strive to report news objectively, but in an effort to quickly comprehend and organize news material in a systematic and efficient manner, they tend to engage in a process of framing. In constructing frames, journalists simplify, highlight, and make more salient certain aspects of reality, while obscuring others.

When certain frames are consistently adopted, they become a part of the news repertoires and are elevated to thematic levels. Researchers using framing analysis have acknowledged that power relations are often reflected in such adopted frames. Ryan, Carragee, and Meinholder, in their work on news media framing of collective action, wrote that journalistic frames are "influenced by the frames sponsored by multiple social actors, including corporate and political elites, advocates, and social movements," and that the news stories "become a forum for framing contests in which these actors compete in sponsoring their definitions of political issues." The authors assert, however, that even with such varied potential influences, "given the practices of American journalism and the significance of resources in the successful sponsoring of frames, framing contests favor political and economic elites. …