Learn How Propaganda Works: The Giffords Shooting

A tragic event unfolded this weekend in Tuscon, Arizona when a political assassination attempt was made on the life of Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  Several innocent people were killed and many more were injured.  Our hearts go out to the victims.

We have been watching events unfold and looking for patterns that can help explain what caused this terrible act of violence and to discourage further escalations in domestic terrorism.

We see this event as a teachable moment in two respects.  Firstly, it is clear that hate speech directed toward large groups of people (especially the villification of liberals, Jews, Muslims, and immigrants) adds legitimacy to the violent acts committed by unstable individuals.  Hate speech should never be condoned, as it has been for years now by prominent public figures in the conservative movement.

Secondly, the unfolding media coverage offers a rare opportunity to watch political framing in action.  We have a highly contentious event that is already being framed in a manner that conceals systemic causes.  This provides us with an opportunity to watch agendas getting set in place and politically motivated interpretations established as the norms.

Below, we include several frames that you should watch for.  They are already starting to appear in the discourse and will continue to spread through mainstream media channels in the coordinated attempt (that will likely be successful) to spin this tragedy into conservative frames.

We encourage you to pay attention to the narratives as they unfold and consider the significance of the agendas they support.  Our ability to address the threats of violent rhetoric will depend upon our understandings of media frames that set the scope of what is considered to be “reality”.

Watch for These:

The “Lone Shooter” Frame
Emphasis will be on individual actions, ignoring cultural patterns that influenced the event like the militant imagery of Tea Party leaders and Fox News personalities.

The “Crazy Gunman” Frame
Effort will be made to reduce this complex event to the explanation that the shooter was insane, disregarding the anti-government sentiments that fueled him to action.

The “Both Sides Equal” Frame

Media coverage will presume violent rhetoric is equal on the left and right, ignoring how leftist individuals target single people (e.g. Bush hater) while right-wing individuals target groups (e.g. liberals, Jews).  Also the scale of violent imagery is disproportionately on the right side.

The “We’re All Sorry” Frame

Spokespeople on the right who have fueled violent rhetoric (e.g Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh) will publicly condemn violent actions while continuing to promote negative views of entire classes of people.  This behavior will not be present among liberals.

These are just a sampling of what is starting to emerge.  If you see others that you feel are significant, please share them in the comment thread.

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Cognitive Policy Works specializes in providing organizations and individuals with frame analysis, policy briefs, strategic advising, and training.