Framing American Politics. Karen Callaghan and Frauke Schnell, eds. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005. 248 pp. $27.95.
New Media Campaigns and the Managed Citizen. Philip N. Howard. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 265 pp. $65.00 hbk. $23.99 pbk.
These two books provide insightful perspectives about different areas of political communication research, all at varying levels of conceptual development. Considering them in comparison offers valuable insight into how key political communication research approaches develop and mature and helps explain why particular methodological designs are favored over others. Callaghan and Schnell's edited work demonstrates how scholars have come to a more refined understanding of framing over time, in this case viewing it as a specific research paradigm rather than an overarching theory. Howard's shrewd examination of political uses of new technology could have important implications for future theorizing about electronic campaigning.
In Framing American Politics, Callaghan and Schnell gather an impressive group of scholars from the framing debate to examine the utility of this concept in macro-level studies of how frames are set by "political elites" and micro-level studies of how these frames affect individual consumers of political content. Framing is understood here as a "top down" process whereby "political elites, such as the news media, politicians, interest groups, and other political players, define the political space and erect the boundaries within which a public policy issue will be considered." Callaghan and Schnell clearly stake their turf in this typically muddied field of research. They provide a solid framework for this volume with a concise yet cogent introduction and a solidly argued conclusion. Framing is treated as a "coherent research paradigm," and the book focuses on the aspects of this concept considered most relevant to political communication. This is not another discussion of "What is framing?" as much as it is an exploration of the question, "Why is this concept relevant to our discipline?"
Considering the overall strength of the contributors to this book and the coherence of the arguments presented, Framing American Politics is a work best considered in its entirety. While most of the chapters could stand on their own merit, the collective volume offers a compelling and balanced argument for why framing should continue to inform political communication studies. The book also brings to light the central issues that scholars, even with their more refined understanding of framing, must grapple with in order to truly advance this particular line of inquiry. Key among these issues is finding a more effective way to learn from studies of framing effects. Callaghan discusses the "file-drawer" problem, where members of the academic community hesitate to publish the results of quantitative work that fail to support the hypothesized relationships. This challenges the assumption that only studies that locate statistical significance can advance the framing debate. The book's discussion of framing effects illustrates how these types of studies can be both promising and problematic.
Schnell and Callaghan's own effects research in chapter 5, "Terrorism, Media Frames, and Framing Effects," does well to support the book's overall focus on a framing paradigm within which political communication scholars can incorporate both micro- and macro-level considerations. They use content analysis and experimental research to explore the effect of changing news coverage of the gun control debate following the September 11 attacks. They explore how focusing events contribute to changes in news frames, thereby merging two important political communication concepts. There seems to be a natural link between this study and the frame-changing model that was proposed in 2004 by Chyi and McCombs, although this study is not referenced in the chapter. …