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None Dare Call It Torture: Indexing and the Limits of Press Independence in the Abu Ghraib Scandal

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This paper considers the extent to which leading news organizations use independent documentation to build interpretations of events that challenge official framing. The data presented in this study show that despite available evidence and sources to support a counterframing of the Abu Ghraib prison story in terms of a policy of torture, the leading national news organizations did not produce a frame that strongly challenged the Bush administration’s claim that Abu Ghraib was an isolated case of appalling abuse perpetrated by low-level soldiers. The press struggled briefly, and in limited fashion with the question of whether events at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere reflected an administration policy of torture, but “abuse” was by far the predominant news frame. The case of Abu Ghraib offers a critical test of agreement and differences among theories of event-driven news, cascading activation, and indexing. Although all the 3 models were implicated in this case, the data, drawn from a content analysis of the Washington Post, CBS Evening News, and a sample of national newspapers, fit most closely with the predictions of the indexing model.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Political Science, Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University, Portland, OR 97207 2: Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052

Publication date: September 1, 2006

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