Why it’s a problem: This article is a perfect example of a tactic called “framing” in mass communication studies. Framing is about the way the media spotlight particular issues when covering a story and how that influences the public’s interpretation of events. If you think of a photographer composing a shot, what elements does the photographer include in the frame and what gets excluded? In San Francisco Chronicle’s coverage of the recent Alaska Air incident, the author frames the story as one about the pilot’s depression despite acknowledging that up to 13% of pilots experience depression, and while ignoring the fact that the pilot took psychedelic mushrooms just 48 hours prior to the flight. It’s also not clear yet that the pilot’s intent was to bring down the plane.

The author makes depression do a lot of heavy lifting in this article, and it relies on the reader’s biases to make the logical leap from “the pilot was depressed” to “the pilot tried to murder people.” This narrative device is what Margaret Price calls juxtaposition — “the placing of pieces of information side by side” such that the omitted parts compel the reader “to draw on existing stereotypic knowledge to explain the behaviour and, in so doing, to confirm the relevance and adequacy of that knowledge.”


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