Framing the Climate Bill is Critical, or, How the “Liberal” Press Habitually Undermines Action

August 17, 2022

Above, Biden comes out swinging at signing of the massive new Inflation Reduction (and critical climate) bill. This is the proper way to frame the argument.
Good time to repurpose “Let’s Go Brandon”?

James Fallows:

Last spring, after the tragic death of the incisive press critic Eric Boehlert, I wrote about his (and many other people’s) emphasis on framing the news. 

Framing is the idea that the assumptions behind the presentation, emphasis, and selection of stories are generally far more important than usual indicators of “bias,” overt as they might be.

This post is a quick reaction to a story this evening in the New York Timesillustrating the framing points that Eric Boehlert and others have been writing about.

Here is a headline on the paper’s site right now:

Why does this deserve notice?

  • The minor issue is presenting as neutral, observable fact what is in reality the writer’s or editor’s judgment and assessment. In this case, that Biden remains in “Trump’s long shadow” and that his major legislative success “can hardly break through” a focus on Trump—in a story whose own framing is part of making it harder for Biden’s legislative success to “break through.” 
    Writers and editors can of course make their own assessments of what matters, and why. I do it all the time, including right now. But they should own them, and make their case. 
  • A related, larger issue is that a “news analysis” of why Trump gets so much attention, gives him more attention.
  • An even larger issue is the instinctive reduction of public life to who’s up/who’s down politics, which most reporters (including me) find fascinating. This is as opposed to the way public decisions affect households and communities, which most people care about much more.

Biden today signed a bill that appears to be the biggest forward movement on climate policy in decades; that will limit health care costs for many people; that corrects the historic mistake of not letting Medicare negotiate drug prices; that increases some corporate taxes; that by most reckoning will lower the federal deficit; that by most reckoning will create many more jobs; that was eked out through a 50-50 Senate (whose 50 included Manchin and Sinema); and so on.

You can oppose this bill, as all Republican Senators did. Or you can find it lacking, as many progressives do. But by any normal standards — as Barack Obama said in a tweet this evening — it is a BFD.

Yet one that can “hardly break through” nonstop attention to Trump. According to an article directing its attention toward Trump.

The people pointing the spotlight, have some responsibility for where the spotlight goes.

The actual argument of the piece deserves notice, apart from the headline and presentation. Here are the set-up passages in the second and third paragraphs.

I’ve highlighted the parts on which the story depends. They are either passive-voice (“presence was felt” “seem eclipsed”), or of the “a picture emerges” variety. The latter is a familiar journalistic technique, of asserting something as true without coming out and saying so. Watch for it in stories: “From 15 interviews with the governor’s staff, a picture emerges…” (Rather than, “After 15 interviews with the governor’s staff, I am convinced…”) In this story, it shows up as “finds himself struggling”, “lived with the shadow,” “proved no match.”

It is as if I said right now: “This story often finds itself struggling to keep issues in perspective.” “Its framing has proved no match for the realities of our times.” “It lives in the shadow of past politicized coverage.”

I don’t know the editors of this piece, and there is no point in naming the writer. It’s an institutional question. But if you wonder what it means to “frame” the news, it means this.


3 Responses to “Framing the Climate Bill is Critical, or, How the “Liberal” Press Habitually Undermines Action”

  1. Hobart Stocking Says:

    Yes, my take: What-the-climate-movement-is-missing-with-the-new-ira-climate-bill And we better fix it fast. Thank.

  2. mboli Says:

    Donald Trump must have some amazing shadow! I see in the New York Times that the Trump shadow impact on global warming will be comparable to historic climate change legislation.

  3. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    News organizations miss the profits that came from all of the attention Trump’s outrages, idiocies and shenanigans got on a regular basis. Clicks are down since he lost power (and was kicked off Twitter). Trump as president was like having a mass school shooting every week.

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