News Framing of Debates Over the Confederate Flag

The conflict around the confederate flag emerged shortly after the Charleston shooting on June 17th and has sparked national debate settled only after the removal of the flag from South Carolina Capitol House on July 10th. The news story involves the presence of the Confederate Flag and its relation within the recent Charleston shooting event. Many governmental officials and citizens felt that the Confederate Flag was outdated, and that it built onto the ongoing race problem in America. As a result, the South Carolina local government signed legislation removing the flag from the Statehouse. In response, major news outlets discussed this event’s implications and its role within a progressive era.

Major cable networks has given lots of attention to the story. Fox News has made extensive televised and written coverage of the story during its lifespan. Interestingly, while partisan tension pertaining removal of the flag has been heated, coverage from Fox News emphasizes one consistent theme—how does racism relate to confederate flag.  Both implicitly and explicitly, the network’s coverage points out that it does not. A news article calls removal of the flag “political correctness run amok.” Krauthammer goes further to comment on Fox’s news program that the removal of the flag is irrelevant to Charleston massacre, which would have happened anyway. In his opinion, removal of the flag is just the standard liberal impulse to do something when people don’t know what to do. The discussion further includes a quote from president Obama on racism, calling it something in the gene of Americans. Criticizing the quote, the anchors conclude that removal of the flag has little to do with deeper issue of racism, around which the event supposedly evolves. And it is apparent that other political sides of the issue has been omitted or downplayed in Fox’s discourse.

On MSNBC there are about 400 stories around the Confederate Flag. They frame the story as an issue of racism and thus a political issue – there’s a sensitive debate arguing about the removal from the statehouse grounds. They talk about rethinking the placement of Confederate symbols, and eliminating merchandise that relates to the symbol. They mention how the Republican Party has started, since the Charleston shooting, thinking about the possible racial implications that the Confederate flag and symbol might have, when before they didn’t see it even as something to be considered a problem. Videos in the news outlet website present ideas about a “backlash” that may be possible from taking the Confederate Flag down, how members of the KKK or other protestors might create revolt because of this. These protestors are used to frame the event as a racial issue.

Over on CNN, there are about 300 stories on the confederate flag after June 17th 2015, with at least 5 stories generated per day on the topic. Before that, stories on the confederate flag only occurred once or twice a month. Before the shooting of June 17th, stories that mentioned the confederate flag didn’t go into much detail about its racial significance, although sometimes briefly mentioned how for some it was racially divisive and for others a symbol of heritage.

After June 17th 2015, the flag is pointed as being a symbol of racial segregation. There are mention of stories about the history of the flag and its significance against racial diversity. There are statements in articles explicitly saying that the flag was designed for racism: “The White Man’s Flag” ( There is a strong agreement to taking down the Confederate Flag. Overall, CNN frames the issue of the Confederate Flag as a strong racial issue that needs to be resolved, and should have been resolved long ago.

Our findings suggest that while all networks covered the story extensively, their different framing scheme results in representation of the story in quite different lights. Resorting more often to the people’s response, MSNBC did not make a clear stance. Trying to sever ideological issue of racism from the politics of confederate flag, Fox News disapproves of removal of the flag as a response to Charleston shooting. CNN expressly frames the shooting as a racist issue, thus taking a more leftist stance. Hence, audience who view these different discourses would conceivably form different views of the issue, as the facts and opinions presented vary greatly.


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