'Framing the debate' had its 15 minutes of fame, somewhere early in 2006, and since then has been revealed as little more than another word for 'spin' and, in a new study published in the journal Communication, Culture & Critique, Barbara Barnett of Kansas University lays out how framing was used in the Duke lacrosse players rape allegation.
In Spring 2006, when three White Duke University lacrosse players were charged with raping a Black female student from nearby North Carolina Central University, Duke University officials framed the crisis in terms of institutional reputation rather than the rape issue at hand.
The University carefully crafted its response to allegations of rape, presenting itself as a voice of reason in an emotionally charged atmosphere, and as a victim of a rogue prosecutor, whose case relied on rumor rather than solid evidence. In a case that involved allegations of rape, there was surprisingly little discussion on the allegation of rape itself.
The prosecutor, meanwhile, framed the debate in terms of rich white kids versus an exploited black woman.
Barnett reports on her qualitative textual analysis of public relations materials published by Duke from March 24, 2006 through June 18, 2007.
Allowing for the examination of emphasis and meaning, Barnett's analysis revealed that the University carefully crafted its response to allegations of rape, presenting itself as a voice of reason in an emotionally charged atmosphere.
They then later framed themselves as a victim of a rogue prosecutor, whose case relied on rumor rather than solid evidence. Duke University proved adept at speaking about its own image and integrity, but failed to address the larger issue in the case.
"In the end, the charges against the Duke athletes turned out not to be true, but for nearly nine months, Duke lived with allegations that three student athletes might have raped a student at a nearby university. Duke focused on its own reputation but missed an opportunity to talk about the larger issue of rape," Barnett notes.
Obviously part of that is because the young men had not been tried, much less convicted - there's no value in condemning something that did not happen and further tarnishing the reputations of young men who were innocent of the charges - but another aspect is that framing was used to look like there was meaningful analysis happening but it was really just designed to do public relations work.
This study is published in the June 2008 issue of Communication, Culture & Critique.