Media framing of capital punishment and its impact on individuals' cognitive responses

Frank E. Dardis, Frank R. Baumgartner, Amber E. Boydstun, Suzanna de Boef, Fuyuan Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


It is well known that mass media have the ability to frame a sociopolitical issue in specific ways, which can have considerable impact on the public's thoughts and perceptions regarding the issue. Through analyzing coverage of capital punishment in the New York Times since 1960 and then conducting an experiment in which we assessed individual-level responses to differently framed news stories, we show (a) the dramatic emergence of a new "innocence frame" within the past 10 years that accentuates imperfections in the justice system, and (b) the much greater impact of this frame on individuals' thoughts-in particular on those who favor the death penalty-when compared to the traditional morality-based frame. We suggest that the latter finding can be explained because individuals tend to resist changing their interpretations of issues based on arguments that contradict their core moral or religious beliefs; however, they seem quite receptive to new information along dimensions that they previously had not considered. This research also implies that U.S. trends toward lower sentencing rates and eventual public opinion changes are likely to continue as long as media and public discussion remains focused on questions regarding flaws in the justice system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-140
Number of pages26
JournalMass Communication and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication


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