American Atrocity Revisited: National Identity, Cascading Frames, and the My Lai Massacre

Charles M. Rowling, Penelope Sheets, Timothy M. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This study draws on the “cascading activation” model of press-state relations to explore U.S. political and news discourse surrounding the 1968 My Lai Massacre. We systematically analyze White House, military, congressional, and news communications and draw upon scholarship in social psychology to assess why the press might challenge certain frames in response to My Lai but indiscriminately echo others. In particular, within these communications, we examine how serious and widespread the actions at My Lai were conveyed to be, how the circumstances were portrayed, how the actors involved in the incident were characterized, and the extent to which America’s core values were questioned. Our findings suggest that the Nixon administration employed frames designed to downplay the severity of the My Lai incident, highlight extenuating circumstances faced by those directly involved, denigrate the alleged low-level perpetrators, and bolster the national identity. These frames were then largely echoed in the press, despite consistent and forceful challenges by congressional Democrats. These findings, we argue, align with the cascading activation model, and we build on it by highlighting the underlying importance of “cultural resonance” in the framing process. We reflect on the theoretical and practical implications of these patterns and, in doing so, engage the broader scholarly debate over the process through which U.S. news coverage aligns with the communications of government officials, particularly in moments of national dissonance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-330
Number of pages21
JournalPolitical Communication
Volume32
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 3 2015

Fingerprint

massacre
national identity
communications
news
activation
Communication
incident
Chemical activation
social psychology
coverage
Military
discourse
Violence
Values

Keywords

  • My Lai
  • cascading activation
  • cultural resonance
  • framing
  • national identity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science

Cite this

American Atrocity Revisited : National Identity, Cascading Frames, and the My Lai Massacre. / Rowling, Charles M.; Sheets, Penelope; Jones, Timothy M.

In: Political Communication, Vol. 32, No. 2, 03.04.2015, p. 310-330.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

@article{43f9bf6cbbd149358dee495f5f3d576c,
title = "American Atrocity Revisited: National Identity, Cascading Frames, and the My Lai Massacre",
abstract = "This study draws on the “cascading activation” model of press-state relations to explore U.S. political and news discourse surrounding the 1968 My Lai Massacre. We systematically analyze White House, military, congressional, and news communications and draw upon scholarship in social psychology to assess why the press might challenge certain frames in response to My Lai but indiscriminately echo others. In particular, within these communications, we examine how serious and widespread the actions at My Lai were conveyed to be, how the circumstances were portrayed, how the actors involved in the incident were characterized, and the extent to which America’s core values were questioned. Our findings suggest that the Nixon administration employed frames designed to downplay the severity of the My Lai incident, highlight extenuating circumstances faced by those directly involved, denigrate the alleged low-level perpetrators, and bolster the national identity. These frames were then largely echoed in the press, despite consistent and forceful challenges by congressional Democrats. These findings, we argue, align with the cascading activation model, and we build on it by highlighting the underlying importance of “cultural resonance” in the framing process. We reflect on the theoretical and practical implications of these patterns and, in doing so, engage the broader scholarly debate over the process through which U.S. news coverage aligns with the communications of government officials, particularly in moments of national dissonance.",
keywords = "My Lai, cascading activation, cultural resonance, framing, national identity",
author = "Rowling, {Charles M.} and Penelope Sheets and Jones, {Timothy M.}",
year = "2015",
month = "4",
day = "3",
doi = "10.1080/10584609.2014.944323",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "32",
pages = "310--330",
journal = "Political Communication",
issn = "1058-4609",
publisher = "Taylor and Francis Ltd.",
number = "2",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - American Atrocity Revisited

T2 - National Identity, Cascading Frames, and the My Lai Massacre

AU - Rowling, Charles M.

AU - Sheets, Penelope

AU - Jones, Timothy M.

PY - 2015/4/3

Y1 - 2015/4/3

N2 - This study draws on the “cascading activation” model of press-state relations to explore U.S. political and news discourse surrounding the 1968 My Lai Massacre. We systematically analyze White House, military, congressional, and news communications and draw upon scholarship in social psychology to assess why the press might challenge certain frames in response to My Lai but indiscriminately echo others. In particular, within these communications, we examine how serious and widespread the actions at My Lai were conveyed to be, how the circumstances were portrayed, how the actors involved in the incident were characterized, and the extent to which America’s core values were questioned. Our findings suggest that the Nixon administration employed frames designed to downplay the severity of the My Lai incident, highlight extenuating circumstances faced by those directly involved, denigrate the alleged low-level perpetrators, and bolster the national identity. These frames were then largely echoed in the press, despite consistent and forceful challenges by congressional Democrats. These findings, we argue, align with the cascading activation model, and we build on it by highlighting the underlying importance of “cultural resonance” in the framing process. We reflect on the theoretical and practical implications of these patterns and, in doing so, engage the broader scholarly debate over the process through which U.S. news coverage aligns with the communications of government officials, particularly in moments of national dissonance.

AB - This study draws on the “cascading activation” model of press-state relations to explore U.S. political and news discourse surrounding the 1968 My Lai Massacre. We systematically analyze White House, military, congressional, and news communications and draw upon scholarship in social psychology to assess why the press might challenge certain frames in response to My Lai but indiscriminately echo others. In particular, within these communications, we examine how serious and widespread the actions at My Lai were conveyed to be, how the circumstances were portrayed, how the actors involved in the incident were characterized, and the extent to which America’s core values were questioned. Our findings suggest that the Nixon administration employed frames designed to downplay the severity of the My Lai incident, highlight extenuating circumstances faced by those directly involved, denigrate the alleged low-level perpetrators, and bolster the national identity. These frames were then largely echoed in the press, despite consistent and forceful challenges by congressional Democrats. These findings, we argue, align with the cascading activation model, and we build on it by highlighting the underlying importance of “cultural resonance” in the framing process. We reflect on the theoretical and practical implications of these patterns and, in doing so, engage the broader scholarly debate over the process through which U.S. news coverage aligns with the communications of government officials, particularly in moments of national dissonance.

KW - My Lai

KW - cascading activation

KW - cultural resonance

KW - framing

KW - national identity

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=84928705595&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=84928705595&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1080/10584609.2014.944323

DO - 10.1080/10584609.2014.944323

M3 - Article

AN - SCOPUS:84928705595

VL - 32

SP - 310

EP - 330

JO - Political Communication

JF - Political Communication

SN - 1058-4609

IS - 2

ER -