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Stalemate, Xenophobia and the Framing
of the Immigration Debate
Brendan R. Watson
University of Missouri-Columbia
School of Journalism
Earl English Graduate Studies Center
Missouri School of Journalism
116 Walter Williams Hall
Columbia, MO 65211-1200
[log in to unmask]
Submitted to the Minorities and Communication Division of the
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication for
presentation at the annual convention in San Antonio, Texas, August
Overall newspaper coverage of Hispanic immigration is balanced.
However, the dominant conflict frame used to cover the issue may be
contributing to the lack of progress towards meeting some of the
objectives President George W. Bush laid out to overhaul the nation's
immigration laws in January, 2004. An analysis of coverage since that
time also reveals significant differences in how Hispanics and
non-Hispanics report on immigration, both in regards to the frames
they use and how they source their stories.
Stalemate, Xenophobia and the Framing
of the Immigration Debate
On January 7, 2004 President George W. Bush unveiled a proposal to
overhaul the United States' immigration laws. Speaking from the East
Room of the White House he said:
As a nation that values immigration, and depends on immigration, we
should have immigration laws that work and make us proud. Yet today
we do not. Instead, we see many employers turning to the illegal
labor market. We see millions of hard-working men and women condemned
to fear and insecurity in a massive, undocumented economy…The system
is not working. Our nation needs an immigration system that serves
the American economy, and reflects the American Dream (White House, 2004).
More than a year after he made that speech, 78 bills related to
immigration are pending before the United States House of
Representatives and the Senate (GovTrack, 2005). But there have been
no meaningful changes to the nation's immigration laws.
This is partly because from the outset President Bush's speech was
criticized for pandering to Hispanic voters in the midst of his
reelection campaign (Westphal, 2004). It was also criticized as being
little more than an effort to smooth over relations with Mexican
President Vicente Fox, who was annoyed with various Bush
administration policies and decisions, particularly in regards to the
war in Iraq (Washington, 2004). Fox was also upset that Bush had not
followed through on a promise made during his first election campaign
to make U.S. immigration laws friendlier to Mexicans and other
immigrants. The two presidents met in Crawford, Texas just five days
after President Bush's speech.
The lack of progress toward overhauling the country's immigration
laws can also be blamed partly on the divisive nature of the issue
and on American's xenophobic attitudes. According to the Pew Research
Center, 46% of native-born Americans believe immigrants erode
traditional American values and 72% also support further restricting
immigration (Pew, 2004). Perhaps, though, the most persistent
roadblock to meaningful reform, which scholars have blamed for both
feeding off of and contributing to xenophobia, is the framing of
Hispanic immigration by the news media.
An introduction to framing
Research into media effects tries to understand audiences' cognitive
responses both to overt and subtle content. Three theories, agenda
setting, priming and framing, dominate this research. Agenda setting
theory posits that by selecting a finite number of issues and events
to highlight in the news, the media affects what is most prominent in
the minds of the audience (Price, 1989). Priming, a closely related
theory, posits that audiences will give greatest weight to those
issues covered most by the media when evaluating political leaders
and policy. Priming is an important theory for helping to understand
why audiences draw on racial stereotypes when evaluating various
policies, even when race is not explicitly mentioned in the news
coverage (Domke, 2001). Framing, however, is the most powerful tool
for understanding how media affects attitudes towards immigration.
Framing is the process by which the media selects "some aspects of
perceived reality, … highlight[s] connections among them, and
thereby…make[s] a particular interpretation and evaluation more
salient than others" (Entman, 1989). There are four dominant frames
used by the media: human interest, responsibility, consequence and
conflict (Valkenburg et al., 1999). The human interest frame uses an
individual's story and/or an emotional angle to present an issue or
event from that person's perspective, often as a technique for
capturing and retaining audiences attention. The responsibility frame
attributes responsibility for causing or solving a particular problem
to an individual or group. These two frames are important, but the
consequence and conflict frames are most relevant to coverage of
immigration. The consequence frame presents an issue or event in
terms of its impact – typically an economic impact – on an
individual, group or geographic region. For example, illegal
immigration could be framed in terms of the additional cost to the
government and taxpayers for providing social and health services to
immigrants. The conflict frame emphasizes a conflict between
individuals or groups. In the case of immigration, the conflict is
often between blue-collar workers and immigrants for jobs and other
limited resources. The strategic or horse race frame is also
particularly relevant to news coverage of President Bush's
immigration proposal. The strategic frame emphasizes the competitive
win/lose nature of political campaigning, often highlighting how a
politician's statements affect his or her standings in the polls
(Cappella et al., 1996).
In his 1989 study of newspaper editorials, Entman found support for
his hypothesis that readers' cognitive processes will conform to the
dominant frame presented by the news media. Zhongdang and colleagues
(1996), Capella and colleagues (1997), and Price and colleagues
(1997) are some of the scholars who support Entman's finding. Price
and colleagues found that when coverage of Michigan's budget cuts to
the state university was manipulated to include a conflict, human
interest or consequence frame, readers' thoughts about the issue
conformed to these frames. Readers exposed to the conflict frame were
almost six times as likely as those exposed to the human interest
frame to list ideas relating to conflict in response to the story.
Those exposed to the consequence frame were four times as likely to
list thoughts related to consequences than those exposed to the
Price and colleagues (1997) also studied the effects of frames on
thought valence. They found that when readers were exposed to a human
interest frame their thoughts were more positive than when they were
exposed to conflict or consequence frames. Price and colleagues,
however, concluded that frames have no effect on the complexity of
audiences' thoughts. Other scholars have, though, concluded that
frames have such an effect. Shah and colleagues (2004) studied the
possibility that combination of multiple frames – loss/gain and
individual/societal – will affect the complexity of cognitive
responses. The researchers found those exposed to societal gain and
individual loss frames exhibited the greatest cognitive complexity,
while those exposed to the societal loss and individual gain
conditions expressed the least complex thoughts.
This is only one of the disagreements among framing effects
researchers. Another disagreement involves whether frames affect the
audience's ability to recall core facts from a news story. Price and
colleagues (1997) concluded the conflict, consequence and human
interest frames detract from recall of "core" facts in the story. De
Vreese (2004), however, concluded news frames, particularly the
conflict and consequence frames, do not affect the audience's ability
to recall details from the story.
Researchers have also examined the effect of preexisting audience
thought schemas on cognitive processes related to framing. Iyengar
and colleagues (1982) concluded that readers' cognitive processes
draw on significant information not part of either the news frame or
core facts of the news story. Shen (2004) found that while
preexisting schemas do not drastically alter the strength of the
effects of framing, they affect the frame's salience in audience's
mind. Shen tested the effects of an ethical or consequence frame in
coverage of stem cell research, and also a economic or environmental
consequence frame in coverage of the debate over whether to drill for
oil in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. Shen hypothesized that
when individuals with economic schemas are exposed to an economics
frame, they will be more likely to interpret drilling in ANWAR as an
economics issue and will support drilling. Likewise, individuals with
environmental schemas exposed to the environmental frame will be more
likely to interpret the issue in environmental terms, and will oppose
drilling. Shen's study supported these hypotheses, which also appear
to suggest that frames may strengthen individuals' preexisting schemas.
Price (1989) directly addresses this hypothesis in his research on
the effects of conflict frames. He hypothesized that individuals
exposed to a story employing a conflict frame that involves a group
in which they are members will think about the issue from their
group's perspective. Not only that, but these individuals are likely
to have an exaggerated perspective on their group's position, which
leads to strengthening of individuals' preexisting schemas and
greater polarization between groups.
Framing of race and immigration
Various scholars have attempted to draw connections between
American's xenophobic attitudes and the media's coverage of
immigration. Ono and colleagues (2002) quote extensively from the Los
Angeles Times in Shifting Boarders: Rhetoric, Immigration, and
California's Proposition 187, which interrogates the media's coverage
of a proposition. Proposition 187, had it not been overturned by the
federal courts, would have denied social service, healthcare and
education to illegal immigrants. The researchers quote two Los
Angeles Times writers as describing a march featuring the Mexican
flag as "an outrageous display of Mexican nationalism that bolsters
the case for reducing immigration" (Ono et al., 2002). This is part
of a pattern in the Times, which Ono and colleagues assert portrays
immigration as threat to the national interest, as an "invasion," a
"takeover" and an "infection." They conclude that the Times' coverage
legitimized the dominant rhetoric of "the invading undocumented
immigrant threatening the coherent social order," and helped pass
The connection between the Times' coverage and the passage of
Proposition 187, however, is a weak one. Ono and colleagues (2002) do
not distinguish between columnists' personal views, the papers'
editorial stance and news coverage. They quote all of the above as if
they were equivalent. Flores (2003), who attempts to make a similar
connection between the media's negative portrayal of immigrants and a
lack of public support for immigration, also admits "casual relations
between the mediated demonization of immigrants and restrictive
immigration policies are difficult to sustain" (Flores 2003, p. 363).
The problem with this type of research is that it draws on examples
of overt xenophobia and racism, as does a good amount of research on
the portrayal of race in television news. For example, in a 14-week
study comparing Philadelphia's television stations' coverage of crime
to local police and FBI violent crime statistics, Romer and
colleagues found that the news over represents people of color
perpetrating violence against whites (Romer et al., 1998). Given
Romer and colleagues' study, it is not surprising that Pan and
colleagues (1996) found that media use strengthens individuals'
political ideologies, particularly as they relate to racial equality.
They found that among White people who blamed African-Americans for
African-Americans' unequal position in society, media use
strengthened that belief.
In reality, though, portrayals of race in the news media are often
more subtle than Ono and colleagues, Flores, and Romer and colleagues
suggest. Domke (2001) studied news coverage that made no overt
mention of race, but rather contained various "racial cues," such as
mentions of "inner city gangs." Domke wanted to determine whether
there is a correlation between racial perceptions and political
ideology and whether that correlation is affected by whether or not
the news coverage contains racial cues. Domke concluded that "racial
cues not only trigger the association between racial perceptions and
political ideology but in turn may prompt individuals to become more
ideologically distinct in their political evaluations."
Cappella and colleague's (1997) efforts to explain the cognitive
basis for framing can help us to better understand the process of
"associative priming," which Domke identifies in his study. Cappella
and colleague explored both the effects of a conflict/strategic frame
on the public's attitudes towards politics and politicians, as well
as the cognitive effects of framing. They found that the strategic
news frame (the horse-race frame in this paper) leads audiences to
ascribe to politicians artifice, pandering and other negative traits.
In regards to the cognitive processes of framing, Cappella and
colleague found that select details about a subject are stored in
memory nodes. To help recall information and to make sense of
individual pieces of information, nodes are connected to one another
through spreading activation. This process allows connections to be
made between information stored in separate nodes, and allows
inferences to be made in the place of missing information. In the
case of urban crime and other race-related subjects, such as
immigration, the process of spreading activation, or "associative
priming," is aided by the fact that the media often links these
issues with race, either overtly or through racial cues. Spreading
activation helps explain the connections between race-related
subjects and individuals' previously held racial stereotypes, even
when race is not explicitly mentioned in the news coverage.
This model for the cognitive basis for framing outlined by Cappella
and colleague (1997) can help explain an anecdote revisited by
Lawrence (1997), in his attempt to better understand how the media
fuels the public's racial prejudices. During his campaign for
president, championing stricter penalties for violent criminals in a
speech, George H.W. Bush told a story about Willie Horton. Horton was
a convicted murder who escaped from prison while on furlough and
attacked a couple. While this anecdote had no effect on policy issues
related to crime in the campaign, the media played up the fact that
Horton was black and had attacked a white couple. As a result,
feelings of racial conflict increased as did resistance towards
blacks' political demands, particularly as related to government
programs intended to introduce greater racial equality. This occurred
because the audience, aided by the fact the media played up Horton's
race, made connections in their minds between Horton and previously
held beliefs about race. As a result of the news media's framing of
the story, the audience wove a narrative structure, which made the
story about racial conflict, not crime.
There have been few studies that have explicitly studied framing of
immigration. Coverage of this issue, though, is imbued with racial
cues, suggesting the strong parallels that can be drawn between other
studies on framing, particularly of race-related issues such as
crime, and framing of immigration. Domke and colleagues (1999) drew
some of these parallels in their investigation of how framing of
immigration influences not only individuals' positions towards
immigration, but also activates racial and ethnic stereotypes that
are part of those individuals' preexisting schemas. The authors
tested their hypothesis by writing two different stories, employing
either a consequence or ethical frame in coverage of immigration.
Results from the study show that when the story employed an ethical
frame, there was not a significant correlation between one's position
on immigration and racial perceptions. But when the story used a
consequence frame, there was a correlation between perceptions of
Hispanics as violent and opposition to immigration, and a strong
correlation between individuals' views of Hispanics as nurturing and
support for immigration.
These findings are put further into context by Domke's (2001) study
of the framing of crime, which suggests that audiences' responding to
coverage of immigration, which often includes racial cues, will
exhibit a strong correlation between their racial perceptions and
positions on immigration. There is nothing in Domke and colleagues'
study, however, to suggest why this correlation would be stronger for
the consequence than the human interest frame. One possible
explanation could be Price and colleagues' (1997) conclusion that the
consequence frame elicits more negative thoughts. Iyengar and
colleagues (1982) also concludes that media effects, including
framing, have the greatest influence on audiences when the issue
covered in a given story is unfamiliar, because the audience will be
less likely to present arguments to challenge the media's dominant
frame. This is illustrated by the fact that 51% of Americans with no
personal contact with immigrants believe that immigration is bad for
the U.S., compared to only 32% of Americans who have had personal
contacts with immigrants (National Public Radio, 2004).
Citrin and colleagues (1997) add another interesting perspective.
They argue that the consequence frame causes greater angst over
economic conditions, which in turn leads to greater social angst and
a decrease in support for immigration. Citrin and his colleagues
investigated the influence of economic factors on individuals'
attitudes towards immigration. Citrin and colleagues' data
substantially supports only the tax burden theory, which suggests
that opponents fight immigration on the basis they believe
immigration imposes additional fiscal burdens on local, state and
federal governments, and thus is an additional burden on tax-payers.
But their research also concluded that anxiety about the economy
activates anti-immigration sentiments based on fears that immigration
erodes social cohesion.
Each of these studies adds a valuable dimension to scholars'
understanding about media affects, framing and how framing may affect
the public's perception of immigration. There are still relatively
few studies, however, of the role of framing in news coverage of
immigration. Furthermore, most previous studies examined news
coverage that was manipulated for the purpose of the experiment. In
order to understand how frames may be affecting the current debate
over immigration, first scholars need to have a more concrete
understanding of how the news media, in this case newspapers, frames
the issue. This study also adds an additional dimension, examining
differences in framing of immigration based on the reporter's race.
In order, however, to more fully understand how framing of Hispanic
immigration is affecting the current political debate and public
opinion, it is first necessary to study whether or not the media's
coverage of the issue is balanced; what frames the media is using in
its coverage; the use of immigrants as sources in the newspapers'
coverage; and differences in coverage that may be occurring in
different regions of the country where immigration has been a
particularly heated topic. This study will also examine possible
differences in the way that Hispanic and non-Hispanic reporters cover
immigration. The study is based on three hypotheses and six research questions:
H1: Overall, newspaper coverage of Hispanic immigration has a neutral tone.
H2: Among the most common frames used to cover immigration —
conflict, consequence, human interest and horse race — the conflict
frame will be most common in newspaper coverage of immigration.
H3: Among the most common frames used to cover immigration —
conflict, consequence, human interest and horse race — the human
interest frame will be least common in newspaper coverage of immigration.
RQ1: How frequently do newspaper reporters quote immigrants as
compared to official sources?
RQ2: Are proponents of immigration and opponents of immigration
quoted in newspapers with the same frequency?
RQ3: Is there a difference between how Hispanic reporters frame
immigration compared to non-Hispanic reporters?
RQ4: Is there a difference between the tone of stories written by
Hispanic reporters and those written by non-Hispanic reporters?
RQ5: Taking into consideration source tone, is there a difference
between how Hispanic reporters cover immigration compared to
RQ6: Taking into consideration source affiliation, is there a
difference between how Hispanic reporters cover immigration compared
to non-Hispanic reporters?
A content analysis was conducted in winter 2005 on newspaper coverage
of Hispanic immigration from Jan. 7, 2004, the day the George Bush
announced his plan to overhaul immigration laws, through May 14,
2004. Articles were selected using the "Guided News Search" on the
Lexis-Nexis Academic database. A search was conducted between these
dates, using the search terms "immigration!" and "Hispanic!" Only
articles from major U.S. newspapers' news sections, which were
ostensibly about Hispanic immigration or Hispanic immigrants more
generally, were selected for the content analysis. One hundred and
sixty-six articles were selected for the content analysis to ensure
that the study had enough power (.80) to sufficiently conduct
statistical tests for a medium effect size (Cohen, 1999). The
headline, subhead and body of the story were coded. Any graphical
elements and sidebars were excluded from the analysis.
Reporter's ethnicity. To help determine if there is a difference in
the way that Hispanic and non-Hispanic reporters report on
immigration, reporters were coded as being "Hispanic" or "Other,"
based on whether they had a Hispanic-sounding last name. If the last
name was ambiguous, the reporter's first name was taken into
consideration. If the reporter was non-Hispanic or the reporter's
ethnicity was ambiguous, he/she was coded as "Other."
News frames. A story's news frame could be coded as "Conflict,"
"Consequence," "Human Interest," "Horse-race" or "Other." The
conflict frame was defined as a frame that emphasizes a conflict
between individuals or groups (Valkenburg et al., 1999). The
consequence frame was defined as a frame that presents an issue or
event in terms of its direct impact on an individual, group or
geographic region. The human interest frame is a frame that uses an
individual's or group's story and/or an emotional angle to present or
event. The horse race frame, most frequently used in political
coverage, suggests that a statement made or an action taken by a
politician is being put forward first and foremost to court voters
and win an election (Cappella et al., 1997). More than one frame
could be present in a single story. In the case that none of the
frames existed in the story or there was another frame used, the
frame was coded as "Other."
Story and source tone. To determine whether newspaper coverage of
immigration is balanced, the stories were coded for their overall
tone, which could be positive, negative or neutral. Source tone was
also coded to try to determine if newspapers give greater weight to
either proponents or opponents of immigration. A positive tone meant
that overall the story or source was favorable towards either current
levels of immigration, or was in favor of expanding immigration. The
story or source could also be coded as positive if it presented an
overall favorable image of immigrants. A negative tone would suggest
overall the story or source favored restricting immigration, or
portrayed immigrants unfavorably. Tone was determined by coding for
negative or positive words and phrases in the story or a source's
statements (Rodgers et al., 2003). A source was defined as a person
who was directly quoted in the story, and only the sources'
statements within direct quotes were coded to determine source tone.
If there were more positive words and phrases in the story or a
source's statements, plus or minus three, the story or source was
coded as positive, or vice versa. If there was not a difference
greater than three between positive and negative words and phrases,
the story or source was coded as neutral.
Source affiliation. To help determine the frequency with which
newspapers quote immigrants and other non-affiliated sources, sources
were either coded as being affiliated or unaffiliated. Affiliated
sources spoke with institutional backing. They were politicians,
academics, non-profit spokespeople, businesspersons, etc. Individual
citizens who either have no affiliation or whose affiliation is
unclear were coded as "unaffiliated."
Two graduate students, one male and one female, coded a 36 article
cross section of the entire sample. Scott's Pi was used to calculate
the intercoder reliability. Reliabilities for each variable met or
exceeded the .75 threshold: Newspaper region, 1; Reporter's
ethnicity, .96; News frames, .76; Story tone, .8; Source tone, .75;
Source affiliation, .96.
News frames in newspaper coverage of Hispanic Immigration
Conflict 108 65%
Horse race 68 41%
Consequence 39 23%
Human Interest 34 20%
Note: _(3)2=81.4, P < .0001
The first hypothesis posited that coverage of Hispanic immigration
and Hispanic immigrants is neutral, meaning that the majority of
newspaper articles on the subject are neither positive nor negative.
This hypothesis was supported. Out of 166 stories, 77% were neutral,
16% were positive and 7% were negative. This hypothesis was tested
using a chi square test, which compared the observed distribution to
a distribution where all categories were equally likely. The chi
square (_(2)2=144.9, P < .0001), was significant.
The second hypothesis predicted that the conflict frame would be most
common in newspaper coverage of Hispanic immigration. This hypothesis
was supported. As seen in Table 1, 65% of the stories used the
conflict frame, 41% used the horse-race frame, 23% used the
consequences frame, and 20% used the human interest frame. This data
also supports the third hypothesis, which stated that the human
interest frame would be the least common frame. These hypotheses were
tested using a chi square test, which compared the observed
distribution to a distribution where all categories were equally
likely. The chi square (_(3)2=81.4, P < .0001), was significant.
The first research question asked how frequently newspaper stories
about Hispanic immigration quote affiliated sources compared to
non-affiliated sources. Affiliated sources were more likely to be
quoted in news coverage of immigration than non-affiliated sources.
To answer this research question, an aggregate variable was created
for affiliated and unaffiliated sources from the mean number of
affiliated and unaffiliated sources quoted in each story.
Eighty-eight percent of sources were affiliated, while 12% were
unaffiliated. This research question was tested using a paired-sample
t-test. The t value (t=20.3, p < .0001) was significant.
The second research question asked if proponents or opponents of
immigration are given greater weight in newspaper coverage of
immigration. Positive sources were given greater weight. An aggregate
variable for source tone was created, which was the mean of positive,
negative and neutral sources in each story. Sixty-five percent of
sources were neutral, while 22% of sources were positive and 12% of
sources were negative. This research question was tested using a
paired-sample t-test, where positive and negative sources were
grouped. The t value (t=3.407, p < .001) was significant.
The third question asked if there is any difference in the way
Hispanic and non-Hispanic reporters use news frames to report on
immigration. Hispanics were more likely to use the human interest
frame, but there was no difference between Hispanic and non-Hispanics
use of the consequence, conflict and horse race frames. Out of 44
stories written by Hispanics reporters, 32% used the human interest
frame, while out of 122 stories written by non-Hispanics, only 16%
used the human interest frame. This research question was tested
using a chi square test, which compared the observed distribution to
a distribution where all categories were equally likely. The chi
square (_(1)2=4.7, P < .03), was significant.
The fourth research question asked if there was a significant
difference between the tone of stories written by Hispanic compared
to non-Hispanic reporters. There was no significant difference. Of
the 44 stories written by Hispanics, 2 were negative, 31 were neutral
and 11 were positive. Of the stories written by non-Hispanics, 10
were negative, 97 were neutral and 15 were positive. This research
question was tested using a chi square test, which compared the
observed distribution to a distribution where all categories were
equally likely. The chi square (_(2)2=4.3, P > .05), was not significant.
Use of affiliated and non-affiliated sources by race
Affiliated 80% 91%
Non-affiliated 20% 9%
Total 100% 100%
Note: For affiliated sources, t=-2.671, p < .001. For non-affiliated
sources, t=3.117, p < .001.
The fifth research question asked if there was a difference in the
number of positive, negative and neutral sources quoted by Hispanic
reporters versus non-Hispanic reporters. There was no significant
difference in Hispanic or non-Hispanic reporters' use of positive or
neutral sources. However, non-Hispanic reporters were more likely to
use negative sources than non-Hispanic reporters. Of those sources
used by non-Hispanics, 13% were negative, while only 8% of sources
used by Hispanic reporters were negative. This research question was
tested using an independent-samples t-test. The t value (t= -1.170, p
< .048) was significant.
The sixth research question asked if there was a difference in the
number of affiliated versus unaffiliated sources used by Hispanic
reporters versus non-Hispanic reporters. While non-Hispanic reporters
were more likely to use affiliated sources, Hispanics were more
likely to use unaffiliated sources. As seen in Table 2, 91% of
sources were affiliated, while 9% of sources were unaffiliated. In
the 44 stories written by Hispanics, 80% of sources were affiliated,
while 20 were unaffiliated. This research question was tested using
an independent-samples t-test. The t values for affiliated sources
(t= -2.671, p < .001) and for unaffiliated sources (t=3.117, p <
.001) were significant.
Discussion and conclusions
Many previous studies on framing generally, and framing of
immigration in particular, have been conducted using stories that
were manipulated particularly for the study. Thus, this study aimed
to fill a void in the literature but measuring the specific frames
that are being used currently by the news media to cover Hispanic
immigration. As predicted, the news media is not overtly biased,
either in favor or against immigration — at least on the surface. Yet
previous literature suggests audiences' thinking about an issue
conforms to the dominant news frame, which in this case is the
conflict frame, which appeared in 65% of all stories (Price et al.,
1997). The literature also suggests the conflict frame is more likely
to create a negative reaction among the audience towards immigration
than alternative frames (Price, 1989).
Furthermore, the conflict frame creates a wider golf between
proponents and opponents of a given public policy (Price, 1989, Pan
et al., 1996). The fact that the conflict frame is so dominant in
news coverage of immigration may be contributing to the fact that 72%
of native-born Americans favor further restricting immigration (Pew,
2004). The horse race frame, which was used in 41% of stories about
immigration, could also be contributing to the lack of support for
President Bush's proposal to overhaul the nation's immigration's
laws, as well as the stalemate in the Congress and Senate in regards
to the 79 bills pending there (Cappella et al., 1996). These frames
and their relation to the ongoing political debates over Hispanic
immigration is a ripe area of further inquiry for both communication
and political science researchers.
The relative scarcity of the human interest frame also needs to be
further investigated. In particular, how does the use of the human
interest frame in newspaper coverage of Hispanic immigration compare
to other public policy subjects? What is the effect of the relative
lack of this news frame? This is a particularly an important avenue
of inquiry, as minorities only make up 19% of the staff at major
daily newspapers, and Hispanics represent an even smaller percentage
of total journalists (ASNE, 2004).
Several findings from this study suggest that how reporters cover
immigration may sometimes be related to their race. Firstly, Hispanic
reporters are more likely to use the human interest frame than
non-Hispanic reporters. Again, there needs to be further inquiry into
why this is the case. Also, there needs to be further investigation
into the sourcing of these stories by Hispanic and non-Hispanic
reporters to understand why sources who have negative attitudes
towards immigration are quoted more frequently in stories written by
non-Hispanic than Hispanic reporters. Is this because non-Hispanic
reporters seek these sources out, or Hispanic reporters are loath to
quote them in their stories?
A larger scale study might also look deeper into the reasons Hispanic
reporters use more unaffiliated sources in their stories about
immigration than do non-Hispanic reporters. While not all
unaffiliated sources are immigrants, immigrants are certainly a
significant part of this group, and one that is far too often
excluded from coverage about an issue in which they have a lot at
stake. A future study might look at these three variables — frame,
tone and source affiliation — and control for both race and Spanish
language skills to see if a reporter's ability to speak immigrants'
native language has any bearing on how they are portrayed in the news
media. Another study may also see if Hispanic reporters and minority
reporters in general are more likely than White reporters to venture
outside of the establishment and quote unaffiliated sources. This
study, however, is an important first step in furthering scholars'
knowledge about coverage of newspaper coverage of Hispanic
immigration, and the role of race in predicting how reporters will
cover this increasingly important issue.
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includes: The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Baltimore Sun, The
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