“Talking up” versus “stating facts”: the news framing and priming of a cardinal

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Professor Greg Craven, Vice Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“Talking up” was Professor Greg Craven’s heartfelt claim against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Australian media generally in an interview with journalist Karina Carvalho, a journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)

“Stating facts” was Ms Carvalho’s reply.

Professor Craven, Vice Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, was interviewed by the ABC on 8 April about the Australian High Court decision to overturn convictions against Cardinal George Pell.

Setting rhetorical traps

Ms Carvalho, visibly irate, went further and set what is called a rhetorical trap for Professor Craven – “do you have sympathy for the accuser?” Professor Craven, of course, could not contradict the principle underlying the question.

Professor Craven and Ms Carvalho may not be aware of framing and priming techniques and specific rhetorical devices deployed in news, but those techniques and devices create the lens through which readers and viewers interpret events.

Priming

A media frame consists of images, words and phrases, at base, that are chosen by an author-journalist to report on a particular topic or issue, making salient a perceived reality.  A frame can activate specific schema in our minds. This is called priming. Individual words and images, of course, can prime readers or viewers. The word “socialist” for example became an important priming word in the Democratic primaries in the United States.  Bernie Sanders said he is a “democratic socialist” and not a “socialist” or “communist”, shifting the focus to “democratic”.

Another example from the US is established media frames used to report successful sports stars. In the example below, a picture of the sports star playing baseball is provided in a story about charges against him for physical child abuse against his daughter.

A media frame consists of images, words and phrases, at base, that are chosen by an author-journalist to report on a particular topic or issue, making salient a perceived reality.  A frame can activate specific schema in our minds. This is called priming.

The story ends, “Hamilton was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2010 when he hit a league-leading 359 for the Texas Rangers while adding 32 home runs and 100 RBIs.”

Framing and negative discourse

Media frames and priming words can become established over time. Cardinal Pell’s media frame for most of this century was never close to the positive sports media accusation-arrest-trial-conviction frames in the United States. Phrases such as “Pell supporters” are used as part of negative discourses.

A Newcastle Herald headline “Pell backers clash with ‘angry’ protester”, as one example, conveys the idea of violence against those protesting against Cardinal Pell, with ‘angry’ bracketed by the journalist for some reason; a downplayer or proof surrogate as a rhetorical device.

The actual story is that Cardinal Pell’s supporters sang hymns outside court and, according to the journalist, ‘yelled’ for Cardinal Pell to be forgiven. The journalist says that Cardinal Pell supporters tried to block a Mr Advocate from speaking to the media, but there is no evidence provided and no violence recorded.

“Pell’s supporters”, “yelling”, “clash”, “angry” are all priming words.

Karin Carvalho, a journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)

When Professor Craven talked to Karina Cavalho both of them joined a media frame(s) built up over time. Ms Cavalho was never going to finish her story with, “Cardinal Pell is author of Contemplating Christ with Luke” and “Professor Craven is author of Australian Federation: Towards the second century.”

Media frames can, of course, change, just as individual schema can change. It is never healthy to have media frames that are extreme.

 

Related

• How Australia’s legal system retained its integrity in the Pell case
• The tortured road of the falsely accused
• Cardinal’s critics still having a hard time with the truth