Telling Tales: the Reporting of Politics
When television or the press report politics, they are recounting stories about the world. They are not just holding up a mirror to events or pointing a telescope at them. The mass media do not simply ‘cover’ observable events and report facts; they animate them by turning them into narratives with plots and actors. Just as they create ‘the Gulf War’, so they create the political process itself, the context in which the events take place. Movies use the artifice of cinema to tell a story, to create characters in a believable world; news does a similar job for the events that are its concern. News reporters tell stories too. They describe the pursuit of political ambition, the rivalries and pacts, the human frailties and strengths. Political careers sometimes assume epic form, ending in tragedy or triumph; more often they take the guise of soap opera. This is not a metaphor; this is how news is told. ‘News’ is, in this sense, an art form and news reporting an art, and political coverage is one particular genre of this art. This is the central theme of this chapter, which looks at the way the story of politics is narrated. A key device for analysing these narratives is provided by the notion of the ‘frame’.
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