Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Glib Discovers Framing

Our old pal Glib Fortuna has made a startling discovery: gay rights advocacy groups actually discuss how to make their position most appealing and convincing to the public. He is shocked – shocked! – to find out that those he disagrees with actually use the tools of political framing just like those he agrees with (or is manipulated by). You see, he discovered this article about how gay rights groups are training gay parents to be more effective advocates for themselves in the media and he just can’t believe that they would stoop to the level of anti-gay groups in actually framing their message most effectively.

What he has suddenly discovered is called “framing” and the irony is that it was developed and perfected largely by conservatives. Only in the last few years has the left begun to try and catch up in this regard, prompted largely by the publication of George Lakoff’s work. The idea behind framing is to state an issue in the way that is most likely to appeal to one’s target audience, which primarily means to state it in a way that is most likely to appeal to the real reasons they make decisions: emotion.

The reality is that people are, as Matt Nisbet puts it, “cognitive misers”; that is, people rarely take the time to think an issue through in a serious, logical manner. On those issues where they have a real expertise, they likely have applied the full range of analytical tools to reach a rational conclusion; on almost all other issues, however, they apply cognitive shortcuts, mostly vague emotional associations. Since that is how most people reach conclusions about most issues, that is the most effective level on which to appeal to people.

This is nothing more than the application of the tools of advertising to political communication, and it has been well understood by conservatives for a long time. It goes back at least to Newt Gingrich’s famous memo to GOPAC members on how to apply positive language to yourself but only negative language to your opponents. This is absolutely the norm in political discussion; the only relevant question is whether a given way of framing the issue is honest or not, something Glib doesn’t bother to address; he’s too busy being shocked that gays would use the tools of framing the same way others do.

He quotes the following from the article about the political training:

Armed with a slick 162-page handbook and coaching from daylong seminars, gay and lesbian parents across the country are learning to present the most convincing case that their families are normal, even mainstream.

A national training campaign, started in 2005 by Family Pride in Washington, and ramped up in the past few months, prepares gay parents to be spokespeople and counter critics of the growth in families led by same-sex couples. About 30 parents and other supporters of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights – plus about 15 children – attended a training session in San Francisco over the weekend. Los Angeles and San Diego are next.

The campaign to create a speakers bureau of people available to appear in the media and before lawmakers is bearing fruit. A Texas couple who were among the first to complete the training were slated to tell their story on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show Monday.

And replies with appropriately feigned outrage:

Remember all the horror and outrage when Bush “staged” an interview with deployed troops. These extremists are staging an entire social movement and getting sweet segments on Oprah.

The irony, of course, is that he is engaging in framing himself in this statement pretending to be outraged that someone else is framing. And he’s doing so dishonestly to boot. He’s framing it dishonestly by pretending that teaching people how to speak to the media most effectively means that the “entire social movement” is “staged”, which is of course utter nonsense. If that was true, then every political position would be staged any time anyone uses the tools of political communication – framing – to get their point across. Indeed, because Glib is using the tools of framing himself, he is inadvertantly undermining his own position here.

Note also Glib’s use of framing by portraying those who simply want their families to be recognized as families by others as “extremists.” And yes, the more astute among you will notice that I have also engaged in framing with the way I have turned the image he wishes to portray (radical homosexual activists advancing their agenda) into an entirely different image (families seeking recognition and respect). Again, bear in mind that everyone uses framing; the only relevant issue is whether a given frame is honest or not.

He then quotes this passage from the article:

At the seminar, parents worked to shape their stories into compelling appeals for civil rights. They heard about research on gay and lesbian people who raise children and on the terminology that most appeals to straight Americans.

“Our families are a real political tool,” trainer Trina Olson told the group, which included people from a spectrum of ages and ethnicities. The event was a collaboration of multiple family-advocacy groups, including the national Family Pride organization and the San Francisco Bay Area’s Our Family Coalition and Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere.

Participants heard about using words and phrases that signal what they have in common with people around them – “being a fair person,” “in it together” and “building strong families” – rather than focusing on gay rights and sexual orientation.

And once again, he feigns outrage:

So there you go. Advice from the “trainer”: Purposely use kids to promote a radical adult-led social upheaval and oh yeah, lie about what you are really doing while you’re at it.

Carefully-crafted repackaging with innocent kids as props. Nice.

Oh, of course. Because gay rights opponents would never use kids to advance their position. I’m sure that has nothing to do with the fact that gay rights opponents are constantly equating homosexuality with pedophilia. And again, bear in mind that the key question is whether the frame is honest, and the one discussed above by the trainer certainly is.

Whether the bigots like it or not, there are hundreds of thousands of families headed by gay parents in this country. Hundreds of thousands of gay parents doing all the things that straight parents do – helping their kids with their homework, punishing them when they misbehave, teaching them right from wrong and how to treat other people, cheering at their soccer games, preparing them for their future, and so forth. That’s what parents do and gay parents are no different from straight parents in that regard.

And yes, those who don’t know such families need to see that, just as they needed to see interracial families two generations ago so they could see that their attempts to demonize those families were off base because those families were just like theirs. And yes, the children of gay parents are important in showing the bigots that they are wrong, that being raised by parents who love you is infinitely more important than what gender their parents happen to love.

He then quotes this from the article:

Instead of appealing for “marriage equality,” parents should talk about what it means to be barred from marriage. The term “discrimination” should be shelved and replaced with the more concrete idea of “hurting,” Olson told the parents in San Francisco.

And again, he is shocked – shocked! – that people would appeal to emotions when making a political argument:

Gee, that’s a great idea, public policy decisions made based on feelings, “hurt” feelings at that. “Hurting” is more “concrete” than “discrimination?” No, “hurting” is more accurate than “discrimination” because it’s all about emotion, and not at all about good public policy, constitutionality or rights.

Oh, of course. Because Glib and his fellow right wingers would never appeal to emotion in making a political argument. Those constant appeals to “protect the children” or “support the troops” or “stand up for God”, those aren’t emotional appeals at all, purely analytical phrases designed to plumb the logical depths of a position. All of this feigned outrage is quite absurd, of course.

What really bothers Glib is that there are so many families out there headed by gay people and that if people see such families and get to know them, they might realize that they’re human beings just like the rest of us. They might actually notice that gay parents go through all the same things straight parents do. They worry about their kids, they put bandaids on the cuts and scrapes, they comfort them when they have bad dreams, they’re proud of their accomplishments. In short, they’re just like us. And that message is terrifying to those who have invested so much effort into portraying gays as Them.


  1. #1 Will
    February 2, 2007

    Carefully-crafted repackaging with innocent kids as props. Nice.

    Snowflake babies anyone?

  2. #2 Alex
    February 2, 2007

    Perhaps some of the most obvious (and successful) framing that the anti-same-sex marriage crowd has done is with their language. Bills to prevent same-sex marriage or even to roll back civil partnership protections are labeled as “marriage protection”. And even many people who aren’t same-sex marriage opponents have ended up using the phrase “redefining marriage” for the act of extending marriage to same-sex couples, just because the Right has used that phrase over and over and over again. Did passing women’s suffrage “redefine the vote”? Did ending black slavery “redefine freedom”? Extending an institution to a new group does not automatically “redefine” that institution – but that’s the message that the anti-SSM crowd wants you to believe.

  3. #3 MG
    February 2, 2007

    Apparently he is not from a state that had a “Vote YES For Marriage” campaign. That was the worst case of framing I have been witness to. Many people still “proudly” have their signs up where I live.

  4. #4 IRobot
    February 2, 2007

    I guess you could say that that Glib is being glib! ha ha. uggg!

  5. #5 paulh
    February 2, 2007

    [first word of dialogue from “Four Weddings and a Funeral”] you, IRobot – I wanted to say that !!!

  6. #6 CPT_Doom
    February 2, 2007

    Not only is Glib way late on the concept of using gay/lesbian families to frame the political debate, he is more than 35 (if not 50 or 60) years late on the whole use of framing by gay and lesbian civil rights advocates. Certainly since Stonewall, and previous to that on a limited basis (mainly through groups like the Daugthers of Bilitis or the Mattachine Society), the use of “coming out” to change the political debate has been discussed and used by those of us who are “alternative.” It is, in fact, the most effective tool in the civil rights battle, because revealing yourself as gay or lesbian (or bi, for that matter) automatically destroys stereotypes about gays and lesbians promoted by the anti-rights crowds. In fact, in poll after poll, it is clear that the more you know and love gay and lesbian people, the more you see them as human beings and not “perverts” out to destroy the country. Look at Ed here, who has clearly been co-opted by the vicious machinations of gays and lesbians.

  7. #7 SharonB
    February 2, 2007

    Of course, the ADF tagged their link to this story:
    “Homosexual Radicals Admit at Conference: Kids are Stage Props
    StoptheACLU.com, Glib Fortuna, 2.1.2007”

    Is is, afterall all about “protecting the children ™.”

  8. #8 Jake
    February 2, 2007

    Liberals are only just now learning how to frame debates? Huh?

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    February 2, 2007


    They’re just starting to catch up, yes. Not that it was totally unknown before by any means, but it was the right that really perfected the use of framing and the liberals have been pretty bad at it (and still are, frankly).

  10. #10 kehrsam
    February 2, 2007

    Liberals can be pretty good at defining things in terms of public policy choices, especially civil rights and abortion in the past. But with a few exceptions, they have been terrible at creating the language of the debate and giving it an emotional slant.

    As an example, for all the wonderful ideas a group such as Common Cause creates, it has done a terrible job of convincing Americans of the need for reform of the election process. When a certain tipping point is reached (DeLay, Ney, etc) the general population gets angry for a few weeks, and maybe something happened. Otherwise, all the politicians say nice things about CC, but don’t bother to return their calls. It is the same on most other issues.

    It is good to be right, and to know the reasons why you are right. It’s even better if you can get Howard Beale to make it a cause.

  11. #11 Jurjen S.
    February 5, 2007

    Carefully-crafted repackaging with innocent kids as props. Nice.

    What, never seen “pro-lifers” picketing a Planned Parenthood clinic? And what is the term “family values” if the quintessential example of framing?

  12. #12 Jurjen S.
    February 5, 2007

    Oops, that should read: “if not the quintessential example”.

New comments have been disabled.