Framing mass shootings as a social problem: A comparison of ideologically and non-ideologically motivated attacks

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Framing mass shootings as a social problem: A comparison of ideologically and non-ideologically motivated attacks


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Category: |Journal: Aggression and Violent Behavior (full text)|Author: J Gruenewald, J Schildkraut, M Gilliam, M Novak|Year: 2020

Typically regarded as separate phenomena, recent events suggest that mass shootings and terrorism may not be as distinct as previously believed. Given that most members of the public never will directly be impacted by either of these types of tragedies, news media play a critical role in shaping perceptions about these events as social problems. To date, however, there has been little empirical research on the similarities and differences in news coverage of mass shootings and terrorism events. Therefore, the current study analyzes New York Times coverage of 18 mass shootings, both ideological (extreme far-right and radical Islamic) and non-ideological (e.g., school, workplace), in the context of Joel Best’s model of social problems creation. Findings indicate that although the basic structure of this model (defining the problem through headlines, using examples and statistics to offer context) is employed across mass shooting types, the way these events are framed diverges based on the motivation of the shooter. Specific disparities exist related to the rhetorical devices used to frame headlines, the way in which shooters and victims are emphasized, and the solutions offered. These differences can have broader implications for shared understandings and policy responses to mass shootings as a social problem.

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