. . . Friday October 15, 2004

Getting the Picture About Framing

You can bet the folks from Sinclair were cool with broadcasting this episode of Nightline.

On Thursday night, Koppel and company dedicated an entire evening to examining the night, three decades ago, when John Kerry earned his silver star. ABC producers went to the very village where John Kerry supposedly shot an enemy soldier. They asked eyewitnesses from the village to describe their memories of the events that took place.

After the Vietnam package, John O’Neill (who has a different set of memories) was allowed to come on the show to spout his non-responsive attacks on John Kerry and anyone else who has a story different from his own. O’Neill must have taken his media training courses from Vince Mcmahon. He never answered Koppel’s questions about what possible motivation these Vietnamese villagers would have for lying about the night in question. Most of them had never heard the name Kerry, and fortunately for them, none had heard of O’Neill’s Swift Boat Veterans for Media Manipulation. (Update: It turns out some of the Swifties may have paid a visit to that village even before ABC did.)

That’s the set-up. Now here’s the point. Throughout this campaign, you’ve been hearing about the art of framing an issue. Well, regardless of whose version of things you bought during Thursday’s Nightline, the story was framed in a way that should lead to the sound of corks a popping at Bush/Cheney HQ.

Here is the frame: John Kerry still defending his military record. John O’Neill still getting endless airtime for his attacks. Guess whose name never came up during the entire report? George W. Bush.

It barely matters what the ABC reporters found in Vietnam. What really matters here is that the framing of Kerry’s military career has turned it into a period of his life which must be defended. And being on the defensive (especially about your strengths) is not where any candidate wants to be three weeks before voters head to their polling places.

Nightline could’ve easily spent the night focused on the third debate which marked a clean sweep for Kerry. They could’ve given viewers a live update from inside the green zone in Iraq where insurgents managed to kill at least five people. They could’ve focused on any number of issues that would have displayed Kerry’s significant momentum heading into the homestretch. But they chose to focus on one that is framed in favor of the President. Period.

Even with the issue framed more delightfully than he and his could have imagined when they began this effort, O’Neill still spent much of his time attacking Koppel for ABC’s reporting. That’s how these guys work. Never relent. And there are two messages. First, they want to soil Kerry. Second, they want to soil the media. Any reporting that questions their version must be viewed as biased. Critical reporting (and critical thought in general) only serves to muffle the bullhorn.

And this strategy works. Ted Koppel concluded the broadcast with a brief statement in which he defended his program’s duty to investigate these stories and then to actually report on what they find.

A so-called liberal media outfit spends a night putting Kerry back on the defensive and then feels the need to defend their own decision to do so. That’s how extreme it’s become. That’s how effective the expert framers like O’Neill and others on the Right have become. We’ve arrived at a point where mainstream news outlets defend themselves from charges of bias coming from Fox News, right wing papers, John O’Neill and political operatives who blatantly lie about things we see with our own eyes.

And those who have long been on the attack in this battle can chalk up one more victory after Thursday’s Nightline. For another 45 minutes, Kerry was playing defense. And the media was playing defense. The fact O’Neill is brazen enough to position his total victory as yet another example of his own victimization shows you just how lopsided this battle has become. O’Neill attacks the media even when he’s getting exactly what he wants. It’s like blaming your hand for masturbation.

Like it or not, you’ve been framed.

Concentration is important!