Media Framing: It Starts With a Headline
Americans want to feel secure. They have a strong need to believe that our military and government are doing everything they can to make sure that we never again witness events like those on September 11th, 2001. Sixty seven percent still rate security a primary concern according to Unisys Security Index. American media can be trusted to bolster these feelings of security.
Recent attacks against US and Coalition Forces by Afghan military trainees led the United States to temporarily halt one of many programs the US has to train Afghan police, military and special operations forces. The temporary suspension involves approximately 7 percent of all Afghan Forces.
A survey of 4 leading print and online media ( Huffington Post, BBCnews.co.uk, New York Times and FoxNews.com) show that only 2 of the 4 lead with a headline indicating that only some of the training programs were halted. Only in the first several paragraphs noted that a fraction of troops will be affected. They then reassure the American public that current and future troops will be more heavily scrutinized, or “vetted” before the Afghan police and special operations forces are allowed to continue. Other reassurances follow in all articles that there are many Afghan forces already in place, ready for withdrawal in 2014. They reassure that the bulk of the recruitment is by the Taliban, which is steadily being crushed.
More than a few holes can be found in these attempts to bring comfort to American anxieties. Whether any activities in Afghanistan currently affect American security is uncertain. Then again there is the question of whether any of the Afghans recruited for military service can actually be vetted. In a country where very little documentation exists of any prior activity or misdeeds the process consists mainly of questioning grandmothers, great aunts and local elders. Without question they will most likely tell US Civil Affairs teams that the recruit in question is a good person, worthy of the task. As far as Taliban involvement, most Americans have no other basis to judge than their media.
The theory of filtering criteria is a useful one for trying to discern the actual story behind the headline. Most Americans, however will have neither the time nor the inclination to look much farther, and so will be willing participants in the business of media framing.