Revisiting the Protest Paradigm: the Tea Party as Filtered through Prime-Time Cable News

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cable television, media framing, partisan journalism, social movements

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The emergence of a national "Tea Party" movement in the United States stimulated much media commentary regarding the movement's origins, goals, participants, and even temperament. Unlike political movements of the recent past, the Tea Party stands starkly to the right. This study examines nightly cable news coverage of this movement by using key frames associated with the "protest paradigm"—the tendency for media to marginalize movements by drawing attention away from core concerns raised by such movements. We ask whether the protest paradigm can be applied to a right-wing movement and whether such application varies by the ideological leaning of a given source. That is, do cable news channels use frames in ways consistent with their respective ideological hues? We draw on a representative sample of stories regarding the national movement from the most viewed nightly news programs on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN, with the Associated Press as a reference point. Results show significant differences across sources in issue and marginalization frame use. Although utilization of marginalization frames is popular among ideological channels, traditional news sources are not immune from using these devices.

Citation / Publisher Attribution

International Journal of Press/Politics, v. 18, issue 1, p. 61-84.