2009 FrameWorks Institute
Feinberg: Does this argue against the so-called “Rational Actor,” or, as Michael Schudson calls it, the “Informed Citizen,” in a mediated environment? Put another way,is it enough to just get out the facts or is framing a mediating factor in citizenunderstanding and engagement?
Iyengar: The facts are generally secondary. The key question is which heuristic—or shortcut—can the media point to? Episodic framing points to dispositional or individualistic accounts of policy problems while thematic stories implicate societalaccounts.
Feinberg: You say that the primary factor that determines opinions concerning political issues is the assignment of responsibility for the issue in question. Can you pleaseexplain why that is so important?
Iyengar: Responsibility is the most intuitive of concepts, so much so, it seems ingrainedin human psychology. We instinctively want to know why something happened (causalresponsibility) and how it can be prevented (treatment responsibility). It is one of themost basic “heuristics” for understanding events and issues.
Feinberg: You say that the critical measure of democratic government is the ability of citizens to exercise control over the actions of their elected representatives. Howdoes/can framing make a difference in how citizens respond? Put another way, is theunderstanding of frame effects an important condition for citizen empowerment?
Iyengar: Accountability is the essence of elections. Voters need to be able to evaluatewhether their elected officials have behaved in their interests. Thematic framingencourages voters to consider elected officials as relevant causes and cures for issues inthe news, hence voters will focus on the officials’ performance when voting. Episodicframing, on the other hand, distracts voters from considering official performance as arelevant cause or treatment; it detracts from electoral accountability.
Feinberg: In your experience, are there issues that tend to be covered episodically, whileothers might be covered more thematically? For example, we are in the midst of aneconomic meltdown; how do you see coverage playing out in this context, or what would you expect to see, and how would you advise advocates to monitor news that helps or hurts policy advocacy?
Iyengar: The classic episodic issue would be crime. Unemployment tends to have moreof a thematic element only because reporters tend to rely on economists or other expertsas sources. I would think (without the benefit of any real data) that news coverage of the banking meltdown has also had a non-trivial thematic component because of thecomplexity of the issue and journalists’ need for experts to tell them what is happeningand why.
Feinberg: Some have argued that framing thematically without first acknowledging personal responsibility ignores the reality of shared responsibility. You seem to be