Gunning For Justice And Pressing For Reform: How U. S. Newspapers Report Disputes Over Firearms

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Conference Papers -- Law & Society


Politics and Government


Informed by the costs and benefits of pursuing social change through litigation rather than other means and by how mass media condition efforts to change law, the authors investigate reports of efforts to hold gun manufacturers liable in U. S. civil courts for harms that, reformers insist, small arms cause or exacerbate. Their central question is how newspaper coverage of litigative efforts differs from newspaper coverage of efforts that do not involve litigation.Having coded stories and features in more than fifty newspapers between 1978 and 2005, the authors analyze characterizations of advocates, attorneys, and officials involved in contests over the manufacture and distribution of guns and of "frames" that newspapers apply to these contests. The authors demonstrate what differences litigative and non-litigative disputing made in coverage of principal agents n > 21,000 characterizations from articles on lawsuits; n > 11,000 from non-litigation articles]. Crucial frames differ in litigation articles n > 1700 frames coded] relative to those employed when litigation was not explicitly mentioned n > 600 frames coded].The authors find that coverage of litigation tends to reinforce the interpretive frames of proponents of change far more than those of opponents and that articles that mention lawsuits tend to contain unflattering characterizations of plaintiffs, their lawyers, and allied reformers far more than positive characterizations. Each of these problems in mass-mediated public relations is lessened but not eliminated in articles that concern reform efforts but do not anticipate litigation. ..PAT.-Unpublished Manuscript



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