Differential News Framing of Unmanned Aerial Drones: Efficient and Effective or Illegal and Inhumane?
26 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 5 Aug 2015
Date Written: 2011
Over the past four years, the United States has significantly expanded its use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also called predator drones, to conduct intelligence-gathering and military-strike operations in remote regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Experts are divided over this recent change in military strategy, with some defending the use of drones as a legal and efficient way to target terrorists, and others condemning it as a violation of international law that ends up frequently killing innocent civilians (Tapper, 2010; Bergen & Doherty, 2010; Ackerman, 2010). In this study, we propose an exploration of the differential framing of the drone issue in U.S. and foreign news coverage. Specifically, we content analyzed three leading English-language newspapers - The New York Times (United States), The Guardian (Britain) and Dawn (Pakistan). Consistent with previous scholarship (Jones & Sheets, 2009), we expected U.S. and foreign journalists to differ, systematically, in how they frame the drone policy. Given their social identity and institutional motivations, we believe American journalists will be more likely to frame the usage of drones in ways that protect American national identity - by avoiding mention of civilian deaths, and by highlighting the drones’ value in saving American lives, their legality under international law, and their effectiveness as a tool in the War on Terror. We believe foreign journalists, on the other hand, will not be constrained by the same institutional or social identity motivations; we, therefore, expect them to more regularly discuss civilian casualties, the technological limitations of drones, their illegality, and their ramifications for increased hostility toward the United States. We found data conforming to these patterns, which have important implications for global public opinion about the use of drones, as well as for the American public’s exposure to and understanding of the downsides of drone warfare as a policy.
Keywords: framing, social identity, drones
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation