Political ideals frame news reporting

*The following post does not address issues related to education. Instead, it analyzes how themes from the left and right political spectrums frame and influence the the portrayal of the news.

The top headline for news sites across the nation on the evening of April 6 stated that the United States had just issued a missile attack on a Syrian military airfield in response to the chemical assault that killed approximately 72 Syrian civilians. To critique the portrayal of this issue, the following analysis looks at the overarching values from the left and right used in the framing of an article from the Washington Post and another from Fox News.

From the Left:

This article from the Washington Post, “U.S. strikes Syrian military airfield in first direct assault on Bashar al-Assad’s government,” written by Dan Lamothe, Missy Ryan and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, covers the U.S. military’s launch of 59 missiles on a Syrian military airfield, which is the first American attack on Syria since the start of their civil war six years ago. While it provides a mostly central view on the issue, details within the article reveal a left-leaning perspective.

A generic frame from the left comes from the article’s reference to how the Obama administration dealt with the civil war in Syria.

“The decision to strike follows 48 hours of intense deliberations by U.S. officials, and represents a significant break with the previous administration’s reluctance to wade militarily into the Syrian civil war and shift any focus from the campaign against the Islamic State.”

“While the Obama White House began operations against the Islamic State in 2014, it backed away from a planned assault on Syrian government sites a year earlier after a similar chemical attack on Syrian civilians.”

“The Obama administration had insisted that Assad could never remain in any postwar Syria, and it supported rebel groups that have tried unsuccessfully to oust him.”

The authors’ words contrast the current administration’s decision with the policies of the Obama White House and suggest that the decision to attack Syria was made hastily. This also touches on President Trump and his administration’s temperament as the article emphasizes their change from recognizing Bashar al-Assad’s leadership to directing an attack on his nation.

“The Trump administration’s position on the strongman appears to have quickly shifted in the wake of the chemical attack, as senior officials voiced new criticism of the Syrian leader.”

An issue frame used in the article shines through in the authors’ accentuation of the tension this strike could create with Russia.

“The operation, which the Trump administration authorized in retaliation for a chemical attack killing scores of civilians this week, dramatically expands U.S. military involvement in Syria and exposes the United States to heightened risk of direct confrontation with Russia and Iran, both backing Assad in his attempt to crush his opposition.”

The article goes on to present the attack in a more hesitant light, giving the impression that readers should be wary of the measures the administration is taking against Syria, which makes this an issue of policy. After reading this article, one can see the authors’ perspective that military action might not be the best way to respond to the tragedies in Syria.

From the Right:

In “US missiles target Syria airfield in response to chemical weapons attack” published April 7 by Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson for Fox News, the authors present the United States’ missile assault with underlying themes from the right wing.

Using a general right-leaning frame, the authors paints the current administration as an active agent for justice by retaliating against Syria through prioritizing the use of quotes from authorities about why the attack was necessary.

“‘It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,’ President Donald Trump said in a statement. ‘Tonight I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.’”

“Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said initial indications were that the strike had ‘severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment … reducing the Syrian Government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons.’”

The article also suggests that the previous administration acted with passivity in regard to Syria.

“Trump’s decision to attack Syria came three-and-a-half years after President

Barack Obama threatened Assad with military action after an earlier chemical weapons attack killed hundreds outside of Damascus. Obama had declared the use of such weapons a ‘red line.’ At the time, several American ships in the Mediterranean were poised to launch missiles, only for Obama to abruptly pull back after key U.S. ally Britain and the U.S. Congress balked at his plan.

‘He opted instead for the Russian-backed plan that was supposed to remove and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.’”

In a frame more specific to this issue, the article presents the Trump administration’s change of mind as an act of compassion rather than resulting from the President’s indecisiveness.

“As a candidate, Trump warned against the U.S. getting pulled into the Syrian civil war. But the president earlier in the week appeared moved by the photos of children killed in the chemical attack.”

“Trump and his top aides had acknowledged in recent days the ‘reality’ of Assad being in power, saying his ouster was no longer a priority. But the chemical weapons attack seemed to spur a rethink. In Florida on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said of Assad: ‘There’s no role for him to govern the Syrian people.’”

Since the article addresses the administration’s actions toward Syria, the evidence supports an issue of policy. Throughout the story, the authors give a sense that the US attack on Syria was necessary and leave readers with the impression that the administration is taking the right steps to ensure justice.

Taking a closer look at these articles shows that while they cover the same story, word choice and the issues emphasized by the authors reveal underlying frames from the left and right that influence reporting. To provide a more neutral view of the attack on Syria, this article could be rewritten to combine frames from the left and right to portray both perspectives of the administration’s actions.


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