conflict & communication online, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2003
ISSN 1618-0747




Susan Dente Ross
Framing of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in thirteen months of New York Times editorials surrounding the attack of September 11, 2001

This study sought to determine whether U.S. newspaper framing of international conflict shifted following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and the U.S. government's initiation of a global war on terrorism. Palestinian/Israeli violence, long a focus of international media and scholarly attention, has been rhetorically tied to terrorism and is the topic of this research.
The questions motivating this study include: How did the terrorist attack on U.S. soil alter the nature and/or quantity of U.S. media commentary about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? What does this commentary suggest about the nature of U.S. media framing of international conflict that is rhetorically tied to U.S. policy objectives and socio-cultural interests but does not involve direct U.S. military intervention? How far-reaching are the effects of a cataclysmic event on media framing, and what are they?
Media effects theory, social construction theory, and framing theory are primary foundations for this study. Thus, media messages are presumed to affect the audience, and significant changes in media content are presumed to alter audience understanding of the world. However, this study looks not at the effects of media coverage but at the semantic and narrative elements of media content (the frames) that construct and transmit meanings.
A close qualitative reading, supplemented by limited quantitative descriptions, of thirteen months of unsigned editorial comment in The New York Times provides the data for this analysis. Although much framing research focuses on news content, editorial-page commentary is a useful bellwether of a newspaper's dominant frames because unsigned editorials express the newspaper's public stance on issues and establish a context for reader decoding of news stories.
This study found the attack of Sept. 11 did not influence the frequency of New York Times editorial comment on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. However, this and other dramatic events during the period of study altered the dominant frame of reference for this discussion. Thus, in the weeks immediately following the Sept. 11 attack, the New York Times editorial page was more likely to frame Israeli/Palestinian conflict in terms of U.S. strategic interest in the region. Such effects were temporally limited. However, editorial framing of the two parties to the conflict consistently differed throughout the period. In general, New York Times editorials were likely to depersonalize Palestinians and frame them as aggressors rather than victims. Commentary on Israeli acts of violence, in contrast, often favored law and order frames, and the personal suffering of Israeli victims frequently provided the context for discussion of regional violence.


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On the author: Susan Dente Ross is a former professional journalist and newspaper owner who earned her Ph.D. in Mass Communication, with an emphasis in media law, from the University of Florida. Now an associate professor in the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University, She divides her research energies among studies of media framing, hate speech, First Amendment law, and citizen access to government issues. She is particularly interested in how the media and the law contribute to social and international conflict and inhibit the ability of non-citizens, minorities, and the relatively powerless to participate fully in public policy determinations.

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