lessons in framing - the oil spill

I was driving downtown for a wake the other night (old friends, old times, good memories) when I heard two reports on two different news stations about the toxicity of the dispersant used in the wake of the oil spill.

Here they are:

The EPA reported today that the dispersant was no more toxic than the oil.

The EPA reported today that the dispersant was just as toxic as the oil.

Both of these reports are accurate but they had an entirely different effect on me.  "No more toxic than" was reassuring and did not lead me to ask any further questions.  "Just as toxic" made me worried and angry.  Instead of helping, I thought, the dispersant just made the situation worse - adding toxicity to toxicity.

That's the power of framing.

Framing -

  • A frame offers perspective by managing the alignment of the observer in relation to an issue.
  • A frame directs the observer to focus on a feature of an issue within the frame and to disregard other features of the same issue which fall outside this frame.
  • A frame influences subsequent judgement in that it organises and tailors information to fit into it. It therefore not only contains, but also constrains.
Victoria PynchonComment