Journalism inevitably flattens reality, since we can tell only a tiny part of any story. How framing can make that situation better or worse.
Sorry to be a bit late on this- just getting over a mild case of COVID, so just getting to this now.
Thank you for the section on Texas and Houston. As Dallas, Harris (Houston), Bexar (San Antonio), and Travis (Austin) counties all went blue in the last presidential election, you would think the WashPo would know better than to publish such a simplistic job posting. There is a flip side to this, as many clusters of Trump voters live within two hours of the DC or Midtown Manhattan flatlands that an "enterprising reporter" could visit for another perspective.
Sadly, the problem exists beyond journalism. Some time ago, I heard the Democratic nominee for president speak (I won't say the candidate's name, but-read on-it's not too hard to figure out). Afterward, I went up to the candidate and said, "I think you are great, but what do I say to my family in Texas?" The candidate gruffly replied (perhaps it was the end of a long day), "Tell them I served in the military. Tell them I hunt and am a gun owner." I was a bit shocked at this response- we have few gun owners in our family. My parents, who have never shot a gun, are small business owners and artists- certainly not the Texas stereotype. They were concerned about economic issues, not guns.
The Flatland analogy is excellent. I took Herbert Gans' "Sociology of News and Journalism" course at Columbia when his book “Deciding What’s News- A Study of CBS and NBC Evening News, Time and Newsweek” was first published. Gans does not use the word “framing," but the last prescriptive chapter of the book is called “Multiperspectival News," which gets at many of the same points (and, you could say, uses a similar spatial analogy). Sadly, over 40 years later, we do have some multiperspectival news in the sense that there are different cable channels and programs for different audiences. Still, much of it is driven by ratings/market needs and the related need to cater to the confirmation biases of the audience. Journalists have enough trouble just satisfying these market imperatives to stay employed. Still, we can only hope that they can stretch themselves further to provide more perspectives and dimensions to stories.
Thanks for pointing me to the Swan/McConnell interview. I agree with you that often times, the foreign questioners get to the critical point whereas US interviewers tend to be too deferential. McConnell's carefree "things will self correct" throw away near the end was a misreading of history. It would have been nice to get some answers about how valuable the tax cuts enacted at the beginning of the Trump Administration have done as this appears to be the only proactive plan advanced by the Republican Party in the past decade and a half.
This discussion of "flattening" put me in mind of a little book I read way way way back in the 1980s, "America's Hidden Success", by a political scientist at the University of Arizona, John Schwarz. At the time -- I myself was in college then -- Reagan and the conservative movement had successfully convinced many people that government was "the problem". If you weren't there then, it's difficult to capture how pervasive this view was. Schwarz's book -- I think it was all of 150 pages -- simply produced the statistics to show how much government programs had successfully created a middle-class nation in the 50s, 60s, and even the dreaded 70s (mostly through paying for college and Social Security). I well remember how strikingly out of sync with the times that book was. (Conservatives were busy writing books telling us how diseased all of American culture was and how broken education was; they kept producing lists of items Americans "should" know and demonstrating how few were familiar with the items on their carefully chosen lists). And it seems the run of that particular daydream has not broken even today.
Looking around the net, it seems that little book has gone down the memory hole, but I did find an intriguing review of it, in Commentary of all places, focusing on the power of "bad news" in the news biz.
Bravo! In reading what you set forth today about framing, and the Want-Ad by the Washington Post for a journalist who would cover "red state" culture (which the paper seems to presume Texas is), I'm reminded of the 6 months I lived there in the winter of 2010-2011, in Houston as a Muslim. The religious community was quite large and diverse, Houston is a city of many people who come from all over, and there is no monolithic "conservative" viewpoint, yet the stereotype "conservative guys hanging out in a diner" is the framing for the type of reportage expected from the successful candidate. Where are the Mexican-Americans, Pakistani and Arab Americans, the British transplants in the petroleum industry, the coastal residents, and the many people who moved to Texas from Louisiana? It's as though none of them are real, none of them count, there are no viewpoints to include in that "diner" scenario beyond the perpetually unemployed in their MAGA caps.
Labels ("framing") are an inescapable human response to an outrageously complex reality. Our current hyperpartisanship, it appears to me, is due to the fact that we are choosing to rely more and more on labels and the stereotypes that accompany those labels than we do our personal intellects, our interactions with individuals, and our innate sense of fairness and open-mindedness. I abhor tfg, but I know plenty of genuinely good people who support him. If I were to follow the instructions of memes and comments I see daily on social media, I would have nothing more to do with those supporters. I have to constantly filter out those demands that I join the angry masses, and it gets more and more challenging every day. I once told someone, "My TV isn't working, so I have no idea who I'm supposed to be angry with today! It's disorienting!" (Although I have absolutely no patience with TV "news" programs any more; I ceased tormenting my brain with CNN or MSNBC or FOX or even the "old school" NBC, ABC, or CBS, many years ago.)
I, too, have lived many places. I'm currently in Houston, teaching at a private international school until the end of the school year in May, after which I will return to my happy retirement near the home of my youth in western Michigan. But I've spent several decades in Central Florida, one year in northern Vermont, 3 years in Cairo, Egypt, 3 in Accra, Ghana, and several months in Dubai in the spring of 2020, where I saw firsthand how that country dealt with the emerging pandemic. I interact frequently with friends from all 'round the world. I love to witness the diversity of the human experience, and to find the similarities and differences among us.
One thing I have learned: each of us is a complex mixture of beliefs, experiences, positives and negatives. Our labels, essential though they may be for survival, too often hinder us from the truth about individuals or groups or cities or nations - and ultimately imprison us within a world concocted by others out of fear or ambition or spite. It is a cold, wicked prison, and the greatest punishment within those walls is the abandonment of truth.