Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Last week saw the killing of 14 and the wounding of an additional 21 in San Bernadino by a County Health Department employee. He apparently left a company training event after some kind of argument, and later returned with his wife, as well as an arsenal of tactical military equipment. The event was a tragedy for the families, the San Bernadino community, and the nation. The scenario itself was also confusing enough that for the first day or two after the attack, the media struggled to determine which frame it would put it in: Was this a terrorist attack or was it a case of armed workplace violence? As the facts become more clear, it is likely to turn out to be both. But the struggle to determine what box it would be put in at first, provides a very clear example of the notion of a "Frame Game." A staple of narrative theory, the notion of framing is that the same set of facts can be viewed quite differently depending on how they are presented. Facts are facts, but the “frame” provided by our language and the larger story is what provides the meaning.
Calling persuasion a “Frame Game” is based on the recognition that both sides in a dispute will try to frame the event in a light that suits their interests. In the San Bernadino tragedy, for example, advocates on one side saw the “gun murder” framing as an opportunity to press for greater gun control based on the argument that well-armed attacks have become far too common in the U.S., while advocates on the other side saw the “terrorist attack” framing as a chance to call for greater security measures at home, more bellicose policies abroad, and potentially an end to planned resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S.. That battle over the right frame parallels what legal advocates are trying to do in the typical case. While there is a fair amount of discussion on the importance of frames in the study of human communication and persuasion, there is surprisingly less on what exactly creates a frame. So, based on the interests of legal persuaders, the focus of this post is to share my own thoughts on four qualities that make up a frame.