Framing

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Framing is a spin technique used to control the parameters of public debate on an issue. This is achieved by describing the issue using language which incorporates a strong narrative element, where that narrative will naturally encourage the public to concur with the policy goals being promoted by the spin doctor. The language chosen is known as the frame.

The term 'framing' has been popularized by George Lakoff, a UC Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive science [1]. However, it is also used by spin doctors themselves. The Environment: A Cleaner, Safer, Healthier Future is a Frank Luntz playbook on how to sell the rollback of environmental protection legislation to the American public. In it, Luntz writes:

"Indeed it can be helpful to think of environmental and other issues in terms of 'story.' A compelling story, even if factually inaccurate, can be more emotionally compelling than a dry recitation of the truth... The facts are beside the point. It's all in how you frame your argument." [2]

Using the example of how conservatives have reframed tax cuts as "tax relief", Lakoff describes concisely how they make framing work for them in 'debates' on Fox News:

"Now suppose that a Senator goes on a Fox News show in which a conservative argues with a liberal. The way these shows work is that the conservative host states an issue using a conservative framing of that issue. The conservative host says: 'Some say that more tax relief creates more jobs. You have voted against increased tax relief. Why?' The Senator is caught. Any attempt to answer the question as asked simply reinforces both the Tax Relief frame and the 'Tax Relief Creates Jobs' frame. The question builds in a conservative worldview and false 'facts'. Even to deny that 'tax relief' creates jobs accepts the Tax Relief frame and reinforces the 'Tax Relief Creates Jobs' frame. The only response is to reframe. But you can't do it in a soundbite unless an appropriate progressive language has been built up in advance. With more time, one can bridge to another frame. But that frame has to be comprehensible in advance." [3]

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