Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Choice Cuts: How the Media Frames Immigrants

by Nate Hartmann

Immigration and Customs Enforcement police make an arrest
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In his talk about how immigration is framed both in French and American news and popular media, Rodney Benson brought up and focused on three frames (among 10 overall) through which immigration is seen. Those frames were those of immigrants as victims, heroes and threats. Focusing on page one news and the stories on national evening television in both countries, those three portrayals came up the most frequently. That said, the threat frame came up the most frequently though differed by country. In France the threat that immigration posed was to, more often than not, their arts and culture (Benson referred to it also as culture logic), whereas in the United States the focus was more financial and in terms of job and economic security (also referred to as market logic).

I don’t follow the French media much, but I closely follow the tech industry in America, and the impact immigration has on the industry and that industry’s impact on the overall economy. What I find interesting is the disparity between the stories that are most frequently shared by the mainstream media (those same front page and evening news stories) and those in niche media outlets, such as industry and business magazines. Back in December, an article in Quartz shared a study by the Kauffman Foundation that estimated that the introduction of a startup visa “could help generate 1.6 million US jobs over the next 10 years.” With unemployment (arguably) around 10%, those 1.6 million jobs would greatly strengthen our economy. And yet, as Benson found in his study, these are not the stories that hit the mainstream media. As he asserted, the political elite often shape news that goes out, regardless of the veracity of their opinions.

It seems that not only is there a greater instance of portrayals as immigrants as threats, but a relatively low amount of representations of immigrants as victims or heroes. Again, I can only think of industry media that focus on such heroic representations. The recent industry press that the startup Aereo, a TV distribution company started by an immigrant from India, has gotten has been largely positive, even as he heads off to the Supreme Court to defend his business model against companies such as Disney, CBS, and FOX. Another example of a heroic representation focuses on how dependent the American economy has become on immigration as a result of our aging population.

I generally read industry related publications, and hadn’t paid much attention to the disparity in representation and fact that often occurs in other media. As Benson pointed out, though, there is a clear bias, and that bias could hurt the economy of any country, not just the United States (right now, the EU faces increasing restrictions on immigration that could hurt member countries’ “trade in goods, services and capital”) that allows such stories to keep being published. While free speech and the right to share opinion needs to be protected, the choice inclusion or exclusion of these frames seem to border on the proverbial shouting of fire in a crowded movie theater.

Nate Hartmann is a first year masters student in the advertising program, and is a recipient of the Barton A. and Margaret K. Cummings Graduate Assistantship. He received his bachelor’s from the University of Illinois in Creative Writing in 2013. 

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