THE SUBTLE ART OF FRAMING

I've never seen, and may never see, a better example in my lifetime of what "media bias" looks like in practice than the simple, four-letter difference between the headlines "106,000 Sign Up for Obamacare" and "Only 106,000 Sign Up for Obamacare." In the course of 45 minutes at the gym on Wednesday afternoon I watched CNN switch from the former to the latter. Apparently the first version wasn't doing a sufficient job of priming an affective response from their 207 viewers.

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22 Responses to “THE SUBTLE ART OF FRAMING”

  1. RosiesDad Says:

    The best response to all of this chattering came from Jonathan Gruber (MIT Economist, one of the architects of Romneycare) on Chuckie T's show yesterday morning. (It was actually remarkable that Todd had Prof. Gruber on his show because he offered a nuanced explanation about what is going on and why everyone should just calm the fuck down for a while, give the administration time to get the website fixed and not worry about enrollment numbers until we are much closer to the March 2014 deadline for the individual mandate.)

    "I realize that we all want numbers to pay attention to and that would be great but the truth is it's just too early to say anything useful and I think unfortunately negative news about the website has drowned out the fact that we should just be calm and let this play out and if we do, I think we'll be in a very good position by March."

    Gruber also made some suggestions about how to help people who are losing their insurance or who are facing significant premium increases but stressed that this is a minuscule portion of the population. He also said that it's unlikely that Congress won't likely enact a good fix because Congress sucks, but I digress.

    In all, what I found remarkable was that Chuck Todd had this interview at all because "calm down" seems to be an anathema to an industry (Cable News) that seems to much prefer the Chicken Little model of reporting.

  2. RosiesDad Says:

    oops.

    unlikely that Congress would enact a good fix

    Sorry. Typing and thinking at different rates.

  3. Anonymouse Says:

    106,000? Huh. The local Fox affiliate was screaming that "only 1080 people" had been able to sign up. Maybe they meant just in the city they broadcast from? Or maybe they just made the number up. Fox is known for making stuff up.

  4. Anonymouse Says:

    Ooops, don't know what happened to the post–posted itself while I was in mid-thought. @Rosie's dad; the local Fox affiliate (hey, I've been dealing with elderly parents and they're incapable of turning off their television) went into spasms recently panicking the masses about "SNOWFALL!", when what we got was a slight dusting of it up in the highest elevations, and zero precip in the rest of the state.

  5. Major Kong Says:

    Are you sure it wasn't SNOWMAGEDDON!!! or SNOWPOCALYPSE!!!

  6. c u n d gulag Says:

    If we had legitimate and responsible sources of (real) news and information, they'd do a comparison of what percentage of people at this point had signed-up for Romneycare, AND what percentage of people had registered at this point for W's Medicare Part D plan.

    But we don't, now do we?

    Instead, we have wealthy "reporters" and pundits on TV, making sure they keep their corporate, and super-wealthy individual, bosses happy.

    These "reporters" and pundit's may not be too bright, but they're not stupid or crazy enough to lose their jobs for not going along with the chosen narrative(s).

  7. Sarah Says:

    Less than 200 people signed up for Romneycare in its first month of implementation.

    Can we retroactively impeach Gov. Romney?

  8. J. Dryden Says:

    I'm sure Fox went with "Obamacare Claims 106,000 Victims – Obama Officially 35 Times Worse Than Bin Laden."

  9. Anonymouse Says:

    @Major Kong: sir, I believe we must be neighbors. I refrained from using the terms Snowmageddon or Snowpocalypse because nobody outside the region would understand that absolute, pants-soiling terror the natives experience whenever the sky clouds over. Thanks for making me laugh!

  10. RosiesDad Says:

    @J. Dryden for the win.

  11. sluggo Says:

    This little factoid slipped through the (CBS?) news this morning: 800,000 people have completed applications for Obama-care. I guess the applications are sitting on the website.

    That sounds pretty impressive to me.

    Secondly, everyone is going to wait for the last minute to sign up. It's human nature. I hope that these guys only are reporting that only 106000 people completed their taxes by January 15.

    A question for Ed (and other teachers): how many term papers do you get turned in shortly after you assign them? Probably about the same per cent as people that signed up for Obama-care last month.

  12. middle seaman Says:

    A comment longer than 10% of the post commented on should be illegal.

    Media is not language sensitive. You are beating on a kid. 106,000 is probably a lie too.

  13. LK Says:

    @mdl smn: Brevity FTW

  14. bb in GA Says:

    Just a casual listen on this one by me…"Administration sources say they were expecting 500,000 to sign up by this time in the launch…"

    If that is true (Am I being played by the media here?) then why is "Only 106,000 have signed up.." evidence of blatant bias?

    //bb

  15. Neal Deesit Says:

    CNN's Vice-President of Emotional Manipulation wanted to use "A Measly 106,000 Sign Up for Obamacare," but focus groups showed that 63% of respondents thought this meant that Obamacare mandates eating Swiss breakfast cereal.

  16. Alan C Says:

    I think the word "only" suggests bias because it introduces a value judgment instead of simply reporting the facts. It certainly is a low number compared to expectations, but that could easily be addressed in the body of the article and, as some have pointed out here, some historical context could be given. Or I could keep banging my head on the desk.

  17. c u n d gulag Says:

    If I was in charge of White House communications, I'd put up an electronic scoreboard in the Press Room, where the "reporters" and pundits could keep track of the day-to-day progress of PPACA compared to Romneycare, and also compared to George W. Bush's Medicare Part D fustercluck of a rollout.
    In other words, keep a rolling tally to provide some much needed perspective.

    For instance, today it could say (and I'm just guessing at numbers and percentages, just to make a point here):
    DAY 35 Tally, To Date:
    PPACA: 106,000 people – .048% of those eligible.
    Romneycare: 5,000 people – .049% of those eligible.
    Medicare Part D: 12,000 people – .038% of those eligible.

    By providing some perspective, the board would not only reaffirm to "reporters" and pundits that ALL programs take some time to gain steam, but also provide some cover for Congressional Democrats.

    Why hasn't anyone thought of doing something like this?
    Or, is this a stupid idea? (Sadly, not exactly a first, for me).

  18. Phoenician in a time of Romans Says:

    If we had legitimate and responsible sources of (real) news and information, they'd do a comparison of what percentage of people at this point had signed-up for Romneycare, AND what percentage of people had registered at this point for W's Medicare Part D plan.

    Done here (for the former)

    http://www.balloon-juice.com/2013/11/13/massachusetts-pace-vs-us-enrollment-pace/

    —-
    At 16% into the open enrollment period, 2,089 Massachusetts citizens had signed up. As a straight population adjustment (sum *48.75), that would translate into the national experience of roughly 102,000 people signing up. 106,000 people signed up via either the federal exchange or through state exchanges covering all but three Exchange jurisdictions according to the Washington Post. Three state run Exchanges have not reported their numbers so we can assume a slightly higher number.
    —-

  19. Xynzee Says:

    So is that just for the market place set up by the Fed to pick up the slack created by GOP states or across the whole program?

    I thought Cal and WA were killing it.

  20. Xynzee Says:

    Thanks Phoenician. I was distracted prior to your post and my post.

  21. OrwellianDoublespeaker Says:

    To be "fair and balanced" though, is this example of bias any worse than NPR calling Representatives who were attempting to negotiate the recent continuing resolution "hardliners," when it was the Democrats, including the President, who drew the hard line and refused to negotiate?

    Do NPR reporters get a pass for commonly using phrases like "radical faction" to describe Republicans who wanted to give to individuals the same deferred compliance deal as the prez (through a curious exercise of executive authority that I cannot for the life of me find in the Constitution) on the employer mandate? The NPR reporters didn't use the phrase as a quote by someone else, which I would have had no issue with at all. Instead, they repeatedly used it as an adjective, along with hardliners, when describing who–and who alone–was to blame for the CR impasse that partially closed the federal gov't. Clearly, in my view, responsibility for the impasse was shared by all, but a somewhat larger share goes to the side that refused to negotiate.

    I was so appalled by NPR's bias, I felt compelled to search the dial and see what the other side had to say. After five minutes of Hannity, I'd had enough.

    Conclusion–the only way to get fair and balanced news is to listen to both sides and learn to spot and immediately dismiss the bias. Personally, I find "only" to be far less offensive bias than "radical faction" or "hardliner."

  22. bb in GA Says:

    Got your bias right here:

    "When Crystal Mangum falsely accused several Duke lacrosse players of rape in 2006, there were 160 television news stories in the first five days after the players were arrested, but in 2013, when Mangum was convicted of murder and sentenced to 14 years in prison, there were only 3 television news stories, a difference in coverage of 5,233%"

    See more at: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/michael-w-chapman/duke-rape-accuser-got-160-tv-news-stories-accusation-3-murder#sthash.5S8SLic1.dpuf

    Of course, we are so late in the thread nobody will see this or care, but WTH, it's for the record….

    //bb