Framing Science

Ten months ago the patterns of attacks among some of the leading personalities at Fox News were already emerging.

With Barack Obama’s win tonight in Iowa, expect the character attacks, innuendo, race codes, and islamo-phobia to pick up among various Fox News personalities. More than 10 months ago, filmmaker Robert Greenwald released a brilliant video montage of the emerging attacks on programs such as Hannity & Colmes and Fox & Friends. Watch the footage above.

In coming months, expect the following themes to be emphasized:

*Allegations that the only reason Obama could move from the state legislature to the Senate to Presidential candidate in the span of four years is that he is black.

*Frequent mentions of Obama’s middle name, along with insinuations about whether Obama is secretly Muslim, truly American, or “one of us.”

*Given his background and education, questions as to whether Obama is truly black? Does he really care about African Americans?

*Frequent mentions of his use of cocaine.


  1. #1 D
    January 4, 2008

    I dunno…on the points

    1 – Questions about Obama’s abilities seem inevitable given his inexperience and youth. About the only thing we really know about his abilities is his time at Harvard. Is it that wrong to wonder if his status as a fairly white acting black guy (cue Joe Biden saying silly things) has had something to do with his meteoric rise? It seems like if Obama lost unusually badly in certain southern states we’d wonder if his race had something to do with it. This would seem to be the flip side.
    2 – Why should Obama’s religious background (2) be beyond questioning any more than that of Mitt Romney? Or Kennedy? Or Giuliani?
    3 – See 1. Fox wouldn’t exactly be making up the claim that Obama “acts white” out of nothing
    4 – Can you actually be saying that Bush’s substance abuse is something it is ok to care about but not Obama’s?

  2. #2 blut
    January 4, 2008

    You dunno, huh?

    Don’t know anything about his abilities? Ever read his books? No? As far as inexperience, you may dimly recall what a complete fool George W. Bush made out of himself re foreign policy and his ignorance of even the names of various leaders of other countries. That was in the first election. Then you voted for him again. Cut the crap, everyone sees through you.

  3. #3 CF
    January 4, 2008

    At the end it mentions that Fox is hosting a Democratic debate and calls it an outrage…

    …didn’t CNN host a Republican debate? Was that an outrage to these people? Oops…

  4. #4 B8ovin
    January 4, 2008

    The question of race by FOX news is consistently coded and frequently implied. That Mr. Obama’s race is a contributing factor to his popularity is absurd, but FOX will make it (today Juan Williams used race to explain Ms. Clinton’s popularity with black voters). Race in politics is not now nor has it ever been a positive factor, so to frame it so is code for “progressive nutjobs” and the dreaded “political correctness”.

    The only question about Mr. Obama’s religion on FOX is whether he is a muslim or not. While I agree that we should be aware of extreme theocratic positions, this issue is one of framing Obama as an outsider, and used as a scare tactic. This is not the same old question of religion. And everyone at FOX who brings it up knows that Obama is NOT a muslim.

    I would like the poster who agrees that FOX can question whether Obama “acts white” to describe to me how people act “black”. Are you seriously saying that all black people act the same? That there is a “correct” way to act “black” or “white” for that matter? Who acts more white, Bill O’Reilly or Keith Oberman? Who acts more black, Obama or Justice Clarence Thomas? Is there a reason FOX should talk about Obama and not Thomas based on their supposed blackness?

    On FOX the use of Barrack HUSSEIN Obama is constant. No one needs to be a communications expert to understand why the use the middle name.

    The difference between Bush and Obama is that he admitted openly that he used drugs, and that it was a part of his youth. Since there is no evidence he does so now in what way is this relevant? I was never impressed by those who obsessed about Bush’s drug use as a youngster. I grew up in the seventies and eighties and would have to admit a great number of silly misadventures as a youth.

  5. #5 D
    January 4, 2008

    blut – I’m calling troll, and the gloves are off.

    1. Have I read his books? No, of course not. Like just about everyone in your electorate, I haven’t read books by the junior senator from Illinois, magnificent as I’m sure they are. Nor is that particularly likely to change between now and November. Even so, like everyone on the planet who gives a shit, I’d like to know something about the man’s abilities and experiences. Unless you think everyone should (or is going to) read books by all the US presidential party nominees before elections, seriously, cut the crap.

    2. Bush, it is true, had loads of experience by 2004 and continued fucking up miserably anyway. It does not follow therefore that someone, to be effective, need only lack experience or that experience is an actual liability in a politician. Before you putz around telling people to ‘cut the crap’, try making arguments that aren’t.

    3. Swing and a miss ‘deducing’ my politics from the mere statement that I think Fox would be within the bounds of the civic discourse in bringing up these points about Obama. I’m not even a citizen, you #$&^, though if I were I’d certainly pick Hilary over Obama.

  6. #6 D
    January 4, 2008

    B8ovin – fair points; let me see if I can respond.

    1. I’m surprised you find it so odd that people might consider Obama’s race a positive. I don’t know where you live, but at least in Cambridge MA, lots of people (self included) are quite delighted there’s a chance the most powerful person on the planet might be a woman or a black male. Indeed, polls show as much, at least for gender. I couldn’t quickly find a similar poll for race, but I shouldn’t be surprised if similar effects held (mind you, I think more racists than sexists would be unwilling to broadcast their beliefs, so you’d have to take numbers with a pinch of salt)

    2. Re religion to frame Obama as an outsider, well sure, that’s what it’s about. That’s what it’s about with Romney for that matter – do you really think the voters are interested in, say, comparative scriptural positions on matters of eschatology within Christianity and Mormonism? No, it’s about pointing out the magic underwear and saying “lulz!!! he thinks Eden in in Kansas!!!”. It sucks, but hey, them’s the cards. Giuliani goes around acting like he’s religious, Obama needs to underplay the fact that he has a Muslim father (seems like in a sane world that’d be a positive) and Romney cloaks himself in a generic , chicken-soupy ‘faith’ because otherwise he comes off as either a MassachusettsGodlessLibrul or a EvilStupidCultist.

    This isn’t exactly the Fox Network’s fault…it’s the
    electorate this country has.

    3. Re “acting white”, for heaven’s sake I’m describing the stereotype, not endorsing it. Lots of people, like Bill Cosby and John McWhorter have made that observation, and accurate or not, it is an important part of the cultural vocabulary. Incidentally, the very phrase was coined by a black professor at Berkeley.

  7. #7 D
    January 4, 2008

    Ah, so here’s a poll with racial info as well.

  8. #8 Erhard
    January 4, 2008

    great shot Obama…next

  9. #9 Rob
    January 4, 2008


    >1 – Questions about Obama’s abilities seem inevitable given his inexperience and youth.< The issue lies (and hence the reference to Fox News) is that they won't be asking the same question of Rudy Giuliani or, for that matter, any of the other Republican candidates. Referencing Fox is synonymous with saying "The Republican Political Machine." >2 – Why should Obama’s religious background (2) be beyond questioning any more than that of Mitt Romney? Or Kennedy? Or Giuliani?< The issue lies not in his religious background, but implying something that is, in fact, not the case. Mitt Romney is, indeed, a Mormon. Barack Obama is not a Muslim, nor is he or has he ever been, a member of a madrassa. Those two claims have been made by Fox (and later retracted). That's the issue at hand - how Fox is going to portray a particular candidate to the exclusion of all else. >3 – See 1. Fox wouldn’t exactly be making up the claim that Obama “acts white” out of nothing< What does "acting white" look like, exactly? What relevance does it have to the election, or his policies? Do any of the candidates "act Hispanic?" Or "act South Asian?" The point is to rile up the conservative base. >4 – Can you actually be saying that Bush’s substance abuse is something it is ok to care about but not Obama’s?< Bush’s substance abuse is not okay. Obama’s substance abuse is not okay. We agree.

  10. #10 Rob
    January 4, 2008


    >At the end it mentions that Fox is hosting a Democratic debate and calls it an outrage…

    …didn’t CNN host a Republican debate? Was that an outrage to these people? Oops…< I believe the implication is that CNN is somehow a friend of the Democratic Party. However...

  11. #11 KCProgramr
    January 4, 2008

    Also, Huckabee and Romney are playing up their religion as part of their credentials and cite it as a guide to their decision making. That puts it into play in a way Obama’s religion isn’t. When Obama starts running ads touting his “Christian leadership” etc., I’ll withdraw the observation.

    And has been pointed out, there doesn’t seem to be a campaign of rumors and forwarded emails wondering if Romney is really a Mormon…. After all, he spent that time in that foreign country [cue scary music] France, so who knows what he might really be? I predict Fox will continue to do the occasional stories about “persistent rumors dogging the Obama campaign” that no one except Fox is talking about. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but doubt I will be.

    No, Obama’s cocaine use is no more laudable or excusable than Bush’s. His willingness to acknowledge it and discuss it is refreshing, however.

    Obama’s been on the Foreign Relations committee, which is more than Bush had coming into the office, but foreign affairs is probably the weakest part of his resume’. If he takes the nomination, choice of running mate is going to be very important.

    (Just my 2 bits.)

  12. #12 kevin
    January 4, 2008

    >>4 – Can you actually be saying that Bush’s substance abuse is something it is ok to care about but not Obama’s?

    >Bush’s substance abuse is not okay. Obama’s substance abuse is not okay. We agree.

    For me, and many others I know, the drug issue is a big one for Bush, non-existent for (Bill) Clintion, and probably not much of an issue for Obama. Here is why:

    – Bill basically admitted to occational recreational use of marijuana, a very common and seemingly “light” drug that a lot of people see as not much worse than (or actually less bad than) alcohol. So what. A decent number of Bill’s supporters are sympathetic to legalizing it anyway (at least for medical uses, clothing, etc.), reforming drug laws to put it more on par with smoking or drinking or whatever and further from something like cocaine.

    – Obama admits to using cocaine, a seemingly harder drug with much higher social and personal consequences, chance for addiction, etc. I don’t know many people calling to legalize cocaine. But it is so far pretty minor — I admire his guts to just admit it, don’t begrudge someone mistakes made in their youth then admitted and corrected, and as yet have no reason to think he currently has a drug problem.

    – Bush won’t admit to anything despite plenty of evidence. So he’s lying or at least seems to be (first count against him). But worse, he advocates for and pushes for stronger drug laws and harsher penalties. So he’s a hypocrite (second count). I suspect for most everyone who ever had an issue with Bush’s drug use, it is not at all about the drugs themselves, it is about the double standard and being a hypocrite.


  13. #13 D
    January 4, 2008

    – Yeah, Fox is definitely going to be misleading every now and then, like with the madrassa thing, and those who notice are going to have to point it out when they do.

    – My concern here is with the (inadvertent?) deployment of the “Fox News Frame” (ahem) to stigmatize what seem like very reasonable (and important) questions to ask a potential President Obama. I want to know about his religious background. I want him to have his feet held to the fire on these matters, including, yes, his Muslim father, what he knows and understands about Islam around the globe, whether he ever considered joining his father’s faith, and if not why not. I want to know more about his membership in the United Church of Christ – why, for example does he oppose gay marriage for “reasons of faith”, when his own church is one of the most gay friendly in the country and actively supports gay marriage, has gay priests, and allows ceremonies for religious gay weddings.

    – On race again, Wikipedia has a nice article on Acting White. *I’m* not making that idea up. It’s been out there, and I think it’s important to see it engaged and confronted.

    – For that matter, most articles criticizing Obama for not being authentically black (by being son of an immigrant and not a descendent of a slave, for example) have come from within the black community. Again, wikipedia is a good link source.

    – I particularly enjoyed this , a cute account of one way his carfully rendered racial image can prop him up for all the wrong reasons.

  14. #14 Dave Briggs
    January 4, 2008

    I dunno…on the points

    I have to agree. I think it is too early to have concise definitive answers. Time will tell, and depending on how the rest of the process goes we may all end up stopping asking these questions anyway.
    Dave Briggs :~)

  15. #15 B8ovin
    January 4, 2008


    This is late and I don’t mean to post it so you can’t respond, but you deserve an answer.

    As to the “positive” of being a black man, can’t FOX make the same point that Hillary only gets support because she is a woman? And does FOX make the point that in the South a white male protestant fundamentalist gets support ONLY because of those characteristics? In short, is Obama’s support among those who are excited by his race a greater phenomenon than that of others who profit by their race? If not, why present it as a compelling factor other than to raise white backlash? If the discussion is about all factors leading to popularity and supposed advantages of ALL candidates I would be satisfied you’re correct. But remember this is about FOX specifically, not all discussion. The way the use this question is to raise fear in their mostly white, mostly older audience.

    As to acting “black”, I iterate my point. Why would the question legitimately be raised? Since we don’t have a way of acting “WHITE”, why do we assume there is a way of acting “black”. Because of popular culture, where image is a defining proponent of success? Do we need to carry this over to politics? I agree it is a testament to the political process that such a question needs to be asked, but let’s again remember the focus on FOX. If Obama DID act “black” as I understand the term, I’m pretty sure they would vilify for this as well.

    Finally, I think you are way off on the religion question. In fact, FOX does not question Obama’s religion, FOX questions what Obama’s religion isn’t. Big difference and not the least bit relevent.

    Hope you see this and I didn’t submarine you by answering late.

  16. #16 D
    January 4, 2008

    Prof Nisbet – I submitted a response yesterday which never appeared here. There was something about a comment being held for approval. Did you receive the comment, or is there some bug somewhere?

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