[COMM-ORG] community organizing and media framing
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Fri Aug 27 13:27:27 CDT 2010
From: Peter Dreier <dreier at oxy.edu>
Friends and Colleagues:
The new (September) issue of Perspectives on Politics, a journal
sponsored by the American Political Science Association, will include
"How ACORN Was Framed: Political Controversy and Media Agenda-Setting,"
which I wrote with Christopher Martin. The APSA has posted the article
on the journal's website prior to its publication. It is available at
this URL: http://journals.cambridge.org/repo_A7875g0j
The article is based on research we did last year. It examines how the
right-wing "echo chamber" operates and influences the media and the
political agenda. Based on a case study of the controversy over ACORN,
it takes a close look at how the various components of the echo chamber
-- television and radio talk show hosts, bloggers, right-wing magazines,
conservative columnists, Facebook and other new media -- influence what
the mainstream media report and how they report it as well as how issues
emerge on the political agenda. The attack on ACORN was the first time
that most Americans heard the name Andrew Breitbart, the conservative
blogger who recently used the same tactics to attack Shirley Sherrod,
also with the support of the right-wing echo chamber. A copy of the
press release about our article, sent to media outlets today, is pasted
I would also encourage you to read an article by Madeline Janis,
executive director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy
(LAANE), published today in Huffington Post. Groups like ACORN and other
community groups, labor unions, environmental groups, and organizations
that represent the poor are often called “special interests” by the
media and the political and business establishment. In her article,
“Time To Be Proud of What We Stand For,” Madeline turns the tables on
her critics, explaining that she’s proud to represent the “special
interests” of working people. Read it here:
8/25/2010 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Peter Dreier, E.P Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and Urban &
Environmental Policy Program director, Occidental College, (323)
259-2913, dreier at oxy.edu
Christopher Martin, Professor of Journalism, UNI Department of
Communication Studies, (319) 273-7155, martinc at uni.edu
Read " How ACORN Was Framed: Political Controversy and Media
Agenda-Setting" at this URL: http://journals.cambridge.org/repo_A7875g0j
Los Angeles, CA -- A newly-published study examines how the right-wing
"echo chamber" operates and influences the media and the political
agenda. An article published in the Fall 2010 issue of Perspectives on
Politics, a journal sponsored by the American Political Science
Association, takes a close look at how the various components of the
echo chamber -- television and radio talk show hosts, bloggers,
right-wing magazines, conservative columnists, Facebook and other new
media -- influence what the mainstream media report and how they report
it as well as how issues emerge on the political agenda.
Two academics conducted a scientific analysis of the controversy over
ACORN, the nation's largest community organizing group. The researchers,
Professors Peter Dreier of Occidental College and Christopher Martin of
the University of Northern Iowa, found that the repetition of unverified
allegations and distortions was the rule in national reporting of a
purported "voter fraud" scandal involving ACORN (Association of
Community Organizations for Reform Now) during and after the 2008
The attack on ACORN was the first time that most Americans heard the
name Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger, who played a central
role in the right-wing echo chamber's successful effort to destroy
ACORN, which closed its offices in April. More recently, Breitbart
triggered a national controversy when he posted a video on his
BigGovernment website allegedly showing a racist speech by Shirley
Sherrod, a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee. It was soon
discovered that the video distorted what Sherrod actually said, but only
after she had been fired. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary
Vilsack soon apologized to Sherrod.
As Professors Dreier and Martin show, the echo chamber's attack on ACORN
was also distorted, leading most of its major funders and many political
supporters (including Democrats in Congress) to abandon the
organization, resulting in its collapse. By the time ACORN was
exonerated by a variety of reports and legal action, it was too late.
The case study, "How ACORN Was Framed," updates a report the two
researchers conducted and released a year ago. Their new article reveals
a classic case of the agenda-setting effect in which both conservative
and mainstream media outlets propelled the Republican agenda with a
barrage of unfounded allegations of alleged "voter fraud."
The study found that both conservative and mainstream media reported
allegations by Republican Party operatives and politicians without
seeking to verify these claims or to provide ACORN with equal
opportunities to challenge the accusations of voter fraud.
The analysis of the narrative framing the ACORN stories demonstrates
that -- despite long-standing charges from conservatives that the news
media are determinedly liberal and ignore conservative ideas -- the news
media agenda is easily permeated by persistent conservative media
campaigns, even when there is little or no truth to the story.
The authors conducted a content analysis of all 647 stories about ACORN
that appeared in 15 major news media organizations from 2007-2008. They
also examined media reporting of ACORN after the presidential election
and after President Obama took office. As they show, the attack on ACORN
was clearly a proxy for a broader attack on liberals, on Democrats, and
on candidate, then president, Obama.
The news media analyzed included USA Today, The New York Times,
Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News
Channel, CNN, MSNBC, National Public Radio (NPR), and NewsHour with Jim
Lehrer (PBS). They also examined all stories about ACORN from three
local newspapers representing cities in which ACORN has a long-time
presence: the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The article also examines the role that Andrew
Breitbart played in this manufactured controversy, including the efforts
of his two colleagues (James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles) who secretly
videotaped their visits to ACORN offices and then posted doctored
versions of those videos on the Breitbart website, which were heavily
promoted on the Glenn Beck show and other Fox News shows and,
subsequently, in the mainstream media.
The Dreier-Martin study illustrates the way the media help set the
agenda for public debate, and frame the way that debate is shaped. It
describes how what the authors call opinion entrepreneurs (primarily
business and conservative groups and individuals) set the story in
motion as early as 2006, how the conservative echo chamber orchestrated
its anti-ACORN campaign in 2008, how the McCain-Palin campaign picked it
up, and how the mainstream media reported these allegations without
investigating their truth or falsity. As a result, the relatively
little-known community organization became the subject of a major news
story in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, to the point where 82
percent of the respondents in an October 2008 national survey reported
they had heard about ACORN.
In October 2008, at the peak of the campaign season, negative attacks
dominated the news about ACORN with these key findings:
* 76 percent of the stories focused on allegations of voter fraud.
* 8.7 percent involved accusations that public funds were being
funneled to ACORN.
* 7.9 percent of the stories involved charges that ACORN is a front
for registering Democrats.
* 3.1 percent involved blaming ACORN for the mortgage scandal.
The study also found that the media, including the mainstream news
media, failed to fact-check persistent allegations of voter fraud
involving ACORN despite the existence of easily available countervailing
evidence. The media failed to distinguish allegations of voter
registrationproblems from allegations of actual voting irregularities.
They also failed to distinguish between allegations of wrongdoing and
actual wrongdoing. For example:
* 82.8 percent of the stories alleging voter fraud failed to
mention that actual voter fraud is very rare.
* 80.3 percent of the stories alleging involvement in voter fraud
failed to mention that ACORN was reporting registration irregularities
to authorities, as required by law.
* 85.1 percent of the stories alleging involvement in voter fraud
failed to note that ACORN was acting to stop incidents of registration
problems by its (mostly temporary) employees when it became aware of
* 95.8 percent of the stories alleging involvement in voter fraud
failed to provide deeper context, especially efforts by Republican Party
officials to use allegations of voter fraud to dampen voting by
low-income and minority Americans.
* 61.4 percent of the stories alleging involvement in voter fraud
failed to acknowledge that Republicans were trying to discredit Obama
with an ACORN scandal.
The authors reveal that the attacks on ACORN by Republicans and
conservatives -- and the same pattern of reportage that repeats
allegations without any attempt to independently verify the facts --
have persisted throughout 2009. For example, despite the discovery of
e-mails revealing Karl Rove's role in the firing of U.S. Attorney David
Iglesias for failing to prosecute ACORN on charges of voter fraud
despite the lack of evidence, not a single major daily newspaper
mentioned ACORN as the Republicans' target.
Perspectives on Politics is a quarterly, peer-reviewed journal sponsored
by the American Political Science Association. It aims to publish
scholarly work that asks "big" questions. It seeks to publish articles
that are written for a broad audience and that speak to questions of
broad public interest in ways that can be generally understood,
appreciated, and engaged.
- END -
Peter Dreier, Ph.D., is the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of
Politics and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy program at
Occidental College in Los Angeles. He is coauthor of several books on
urban policy and politics, including Place Matters: Metropolitics for
the 21st Century (University Press of Kansas), Regions That Work: How
Cities and Suburbs Can Grow Together (University of Minnesota Press),
and The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City (University of
California Press). His research has been published in the Journal of
Urban Affairs, Harvard Business Review, Urban Affairs Review, Journal of
the American Planning Association, North Carolina Law Review, National
Civic Review, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research,
Media and Society, and other scholarly journals, as well as the Columbia
Journalism Review. His research has been funded by the Brookings
Institution, Ford Foundation, the Eisenhower Foundation, and other
funders. Dreier can be reached at (323) 259-2913 or dreier at oxy.edu.
Christopher Martin, Ph.D., is a professor of journalism at the
University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He is co-author of
Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication, now in its 7th
edition, and author of Framed! Labor and the Corporate Media. He also
writes Mediacrit, a blog of news and journalism criticism
(http://mediacrit.com). His research has been published in Journalism
Studies, Journal of Communication Inquiry, Communication Research, and
the Journal of Communication. He is on the editorial board of the
Journal of Communication Inquiry. Martin can be reached at (319)
273-7155 or martinc at uni.edu.
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