Useful expressions when ‘Framing the Narrative’
Today I’ll concentrate on how the MSM are reporting the scandal of the Care Home deaths, for an important reason. We’ve known for a long time that the MSM and politicians of all parties are not telling us plain facts, never mind ‘The Truth’. For a long time we’ve criticised authors, writers and reporters in the MSM, unwilling to investigate, for disregarding the old-fashioned separation between factual reports and their own opinion, their own interpretation of those facts.
This has been going on, more or less surreptitiously, since 1997. I won’t name names – you know the culprits. Just cast your mind back to the ‘MPs Expenses Scandal’ where it became clear that the much-praised Lobby journalists – i.e. those who report from the HoC – knew about this scandal much earlier but didn’t dare to write about it for fear of not being given access to ministers by the then PM’s press secretary. That would of course have had dire consequences for their professional lives.
As the decades rolled on, this has become ever more insidious. It follows a concept developed decades ago in Sociology and Media Research. It’s called ‘framing the narrative’. The definition in wikipedia is straightforward:
“News media frame all news items by emphasizing specific values, facts, and other considerations, and endowing them with greater apparent applicability for making related judgments. News media promotes particular definitions, interpretations, evaluations and recommendations.” (link)
However, the definition on the same wiki page, describing this phenomenon as used by politicians, shows why “Our MSM”, regarding themselves as political opposition to the current government, are fond of using it:
“Framing is used to construct, refine, and deliver messages. Framing in politics is essential to getting your message across to the masses. Frames are mental structures that shape the way we view the world. Reframing is used particularly well by both conservatives and liberals in the political arena, so well that they have news anchors and commentators discussing the ideas, supplied phrases and framing.” (link)
Anyone who hasn’t spent the last 25 years on a remote island in the Outer Hebrides, with no access to any MSM, knows full well that this is precisely what has been going on in the MSM: ‘framing the narrative’ so that small-c conservatism is bad while being ‘progressive’, i.e. a Lefty, is good.
After this lengthy introduction, let’s look at how the Care Home Scandal “Narrative” has been framed. The ‘mental structure’ is that “Our Sacred Cow” can do no wrong and must be protected by all possible means. As more news items about this scandal are dribbling out, the MSM are desperately trying to reframe this narrative so that blame is averted from “Our NHS”, with the aim of getting rid of the Tory government and if this isn’t feasible, given that the next election is over four years away, to get rid of Johnson at the very least.
A report in The Times this morning (link, paywalled), that Starmer is taking ‘popularity rating points’ from Johnson, is a case in point. I won’t even go into who was polled by whom, but ask how many viewers are now glued to PMQs to watch that virtual HoC, thinking that Starmer is doing ok. None, I’d suggest – and that is what the parliamentary sketch writers in the MSM rely on when they pontificate about how badly Johnson is doing, able to ‘frame the narrative’ as their sketches are all we now read, if that.
The broadsheets frame their narrative so as to “protect our NHS” by pointing at PHE and conveniently switching between PHE and ‘the government’, that is Johnson. The editorials in both the DT (paywalled link) and The Times (link, paywalled) this morning show this in exemplary fashion. I’ll quote from them below. There’s also a report in the Times on the latest finger-pointing exercise, serving as another example:
“The head of Britain’s care home sector has accused Public Health England of failing to understand social care and focusing too much on protecting the NHS at the start of the pandemic. Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, which represents independent care providers, told MPs yesterday that there had been repeated changes of guidance.” (link, paywalled)
So far so predictable. Next, Prof Green, after acknowledging that there was ‘guidance’ albeit too much of it, then said that:
“ […] the government’s response had been to concentrate on the NHS rather than care homes. “We should have been focusing on care homes from the start,” he said. He criticised the handling of the discharge of patients from hospitals to care homes, saying some people who had not been tested were discharged into care homes “full of people with underlying health conditions”.” (link, paywalled)
Again, a ‘not our fault, guv’ statement, insinuating that the government was wrong by focussing on ‘Our NHS’ rather than care homes. However, there’s one report which was published a week ago, having been somewhat neglected by “Our MSM” who are keeping to their agenda of blaming Johnson for everything. This report was published in the BMJ – not exactly a niche publication given to conspiracy theories!
Their report has the title “Covid-19: “Staggering number” of extra deaths in community is not explained by covid-19” – which in itself is… staggering. Using data from the ONS on CV-19 deaths they write:
“Although the number of deaths in care homes has fallen for the second week in a row, more covid related deaths are being reported in care homes than in hospitals and are tailing off more slowly.” (link)
The next quote shows that even professionals are extremely careful to avoid pointing their fingers at the real culprit – but number are numbers, ain’t they:
“At a briefing hosted by the Science Media Centre on 12 May he (David Spiegelhalter) explained that, over the past five weeks, care homes and other community settings had had to deal with a “staggering burden” of 30 000 more deaths than would normally be expected, as patients were moved out of hospitals that were anticipating high demand for beds. Of those 30 000, only 10 000 have had covid-19 specified on the death certificate. [He said] that “the huge number of unexplained extra deaths in homes and care homes is extraordinary. When we look back . . . this rise in non-covid extra deaths outside the hospital is something I hope will be given really severe attention.” He added that many of these deaths would be among people “who may well have lived longer if they had managed to get to hospital.” (link)
Ah! But let’s not mention you-know-which organisation! And how do ‘Our MSM’ frame this narrative? It’s the fault of the government for not having test kits and PPE available at the push of a button as Lockdown was started – and by not being transparent! It’s only slightly the fault of PHE. Here’s today’s Times’ editorial, referring to a report by the HoC Science Committee:
“the government has not been transparent about the scientific advice that underpinned its own decision-making. Of the 120 papers used to inform meetings of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), 92 have remained secret. Meanwhile, the agency in its response to the report insisted that it was “not responsible” for the testing strategy, which it said fell under the Department of Health and Social Care. It denied that it had tried to “constrain” testing in private laboratories.” (link, paywalled)
Odd – I definitely remember the many reports from private companies and Uni labs trying to help running tests but being thwarted by PHE …! The Times concludes with an appeal to government to reform PHE while being doubtful that PHE will be able to run the ‘test and trace’ government initiative by government, aimed at lifting Lockdown restrictions.
The DT has this headline for their opinion piece: “Ministers must answer the question: could these tragic deaths in care homes have been avoided?” (paywalled link). As in The Times, it’s about ‘government owning up to mistakes’, but with a slightly different emphasis:
“The UK’s tragic excess death tally, higher than anywhere in Europe, if not the world, has been exacerbated by what has happened in care homes. More than 10,000 of those excess deaths are not Covid related. It may be hindsight to say this could have been avoided, but enough managers have come forward to say they objected to NHS patients being sent to their care homes for it to be true. This newspaper interviewed one who was threatened with losing the home’s official CQC status if it did not take new residents who might have been Covid carriers.” (paywalled link)
Never mind that the DT transposed the numbers from that BJM report …! ‘Tis less scary that way. Here’s the concluding paragraph of their editorial:
“Perversely, since we are in a pandemic, the number of deaths in hospitals is actually lower than the five-year average, suggesting Covid has been displaced from the NHS to other settings. Professor David Spiegelhalter, of Cambridge University, said: “Hospitals have essentially exported thousands of deaths back into the community.” Who is responsible for this?” (paywalled link)
Note the ever so slight shift in the ‘framing of the narrative’ and note that the last question hints at the subject still ‘forbidden’ to address in public discourse! If you’ve followed my ‘narrative’, here and in the many previous columns, you might answer that last question with: “Our NHS”. But that answer, you see, is wrong!
Not only have ‘Our MSM’ framed their narrative in such way that ‘Our NHS’ is blameless, no matter what, they’ve also tried to make us accept that ‘Our NHS’ is run by Johnson (never mind hapless Hancock, the actual minister) and thus everything, from excess deaths in Care Homes to PHE, is Johnson’s fault alone.
That’s how they work. That’s why we must stay vigilant. That’s why we must remain alert: ‘Our MSM’ are framing their CV-19 narrative so that it’s no longer about dealing with the pandemic and the Lockdown. They’ve politicised it in such fashion that the desired outcome is supplanting Johnson and his government with Starmer and Labour, regardless of our vote in the last GE, regardless of valid criticism of Johnson and his government.
Keep well and