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Autor / María José CANEL CRESPO Professor. Department of Audiovisual Communication and Advertising II, School of Communication. Complutense University of Madrid, Spain.
Autor / Mario GARCÍA GURRIONERO Associate Professor. Villanueva/Complutense University of Madrid. Spain.
Otros autores:  1 2
Artículo / Framing analysis, dramatism and terrorism coverage: politician and press responses to the Madrid airport bombing
Contenidos /

1. Introduction

Terrorist attacks have heightened scholars’ concern with portrayals of terrorism, and in particular with issues such as the reactions of public authorities, definitions of terrorism, policy questions and the effects of terrorism media frames on public opinion (Papacharissi & Oliveira, 2008; Matusitz, 2012; Rane & Ewart, 2012). This research examines the portrayal of terrorism in the media as it is constructed by specific arrangements of words in speeches. It does so by examining dramatism Burke’s rhetorical approach, to elucidate conceptual tools that can help in the understanding of media framing contests (as conceptualized by Robert Entman) in conflictual contexts like terrorist attacks. In order to explore interactions between politicians’ attempts to persuade and media reactions to such attempts, this research tries to bridge gaps between approaches from the humanities and from the social sciences.

This paper first establishes what constitutes a media framing contest in the context of terrorist attacks. It then considers the concepts and approaches from both Burke’s dramatistic theory and from Entman’s framing theory to see whether connections can be made that help provide a better understanding of the phenomenon of interactions between politicians’ words and media reactions to those words. Conceptual connections are then applied to an empirical observation of two speeches given by Spanish public authorities in reaction to a terrorist attack in 2006—one by the Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez-Zapatero (who had started a process of talks with terrorists), and the other by the leader of the opposition Mariano Rajoy (who was critical of the Prime Minister’s counterterrorism policies). Finally, our conclusions elaborate on the meaning of the connections found between both theories.


2. Terrorism and the strategic dimension of framing

The introduction of terrorism, terrorists and terror within the ‘triangle of political communication’ (Nacos, 2002) has attracted researchers’ interest in the strategic dimension of framing (Entman, 2003 and 2004; Norris, Kern & Just, 2003; Woods, 2011; Canel, 2012; Tsui, 2015; Vucetic et al., 2015). As has been argued elsewhere (Canel, 2012), terrorist attacks may trigger processes of political communication that can become extremely complex, particularly in what Norris et al. call ‘two-sided contexts’ (when alternative views of a situation compete). In such situations, different communities dispute the meaning and interpretation of similar events (2003: 14).

Building on the work of various researchers, Pan and Kosicki (2003) elaborate on the strategic dimension of framing. They point out that to participate in public deliberation is to get involved in discursive practices of framing an issue, ‘both for one’s own sense making and for contesting the frames of others’ (Pan & Kosicki, 2003: 39). Hallahan, meanwhile, argues that strategic framing is used by politicians to control situations (2011).

Framing therefore involves political actors selecting a particular viewpoint, fighting for the right to define and shape issues, and skewing the flow of information and opinions to their advantage. Framing is seen as a strategic action in a discursive form, because it involves strategic decisions on matters such as which frame to sponsor, how to sponsor it, and how to expand its appeal. As a result, public deliberation can be understood as a framing contest in which frames succeed or fail and in which they become prevalent or disappear. People may take sides based on their own framing of events, or follow the frames of ‘leaders’ and/or voice opinions that reflect the arguments of the leaders. Who frames and for what purpose they do so, as well as the role the media play in framing contests, constitute worthwhile issues for analysis, particularly in contexts in which political discourse revolves around terrorist attacks.


3. Analyizing framing contests

Robert Entman’s cascading activation model (Entman, 2003 and 2004) provides a useful tool for analysing framing contests. It analyses whether, how and why governmental frames dominate public discourse. Within the model, the administration is located at the top of the cascade. The second level is ‘other elites’ (such as experts, lobbyists, and so forth). Reporters, columnists, producers, editors and publishers—that is, the network of journalists—constitute the third level. This level is followed by the ‘news frames’ level, which consists of framing words and images. And finally, at the end of the cascade, there is the public (Entman, 2003: 419).

Frames can spread from one location on the network to others quickly and with little trouble. Alternatively, conflicts may block the spreading of frames. The capacity of frames to cascade through different levels is measured by four variables, Entman suggests. The first of these is motivation—the purpose behind a specific framing. Second, there is the power to influence other elites and the media. Then there is strategy—the planned activation of mental associations—and, finally, cultural congruence. The more congruent the frame with the schemas that dominate the political culture, the more success it will enjoy. When matters are ambiguous, however, framing depends more heavily on the other variables (Entman, 2004).

The result of a framing contest ‘can be arrayed along a continuum from total dominance by one frame to a completely even-handed standoff between competing frames’. ‘Frame dominance’ is the extreme that describes one frame among all the potential ones for a situation dominating the media, thereby producing a one-sided version. ‘Frame parity’ is produced when two or more interpretations receive a relatively equal play. For a situation of frame parity to occur, a counterframe with an alternative narrative is needed (Entman, 2004: 418).

Entman’s model is useful for analysing the consequences of a framing contest: the continuum of frame contestation produces a picture of how effective a government has been in communicating by comparing how similar its frame is to those of other elites, the media and the public. As examinations of other cases of government communication in Spain have demonstrated (Canel & Sanders, 2010; Canel, 2012), this model produces new insights into the relations between the government’s preferred framing and the frames that actually appear in the news.

Here we attempt to approach this logic of cascading framing from the perspective of Burke’s dramatistic theory, which can supplement and enrich the analysis of a framing contest. As will be discussed below, dramatism allows different components of a specific frame and the relation between them to be identified. Moreover, by focusing on the analysis of motives, Burke’s dramatism allows scholarship to advance by considering interactions between the different variables suggested by Entman in order to account for the predominance of a frame and thus explain the motives people have to adopt or reject the frames used by societal leaders who seek to frame issues for various purposes.


4. What is the motive behind? Defining situations using dramatism

To date there has not been much literature on communication research that draws on Kenneth Burke’s writings on dramatism, though there are studies that apply Burke’s pentad to explore the motives behind speakers’ utterances (see, for instance, the analysis of Bao-Zhu, 2011) and to analyse conflict in video games (Bourgonjon et al., 2011).

Based upon Burke’s approach to rhetoric, Heath offers a rhetorical enactment rationale for public relations (Heath, 2001 and 2009). According to Heath, there are two relevant dimensions to dramatism. One is the logic that organizations and individuals enact and assert in the public arena, which constitutes a sense of self for others to adopt, accept, refine, reject, and so on. An organization becomes known through the enactment of this logic, which includes the ideology that is embraced through what it frames and how it is framed. The second key dimension is the ‘wrangle’—that is, the contest to see which of several perspectives prevail as organizations and leaders seek to enact their vision of key matters of public interest.

Burke’s conception of the ‘wrangle in the marketplace’ is used by scholars to attribute to public relations the function of establishing marketplace and public-policy zones of meaning. They understand Burke’s idea as the facility of rhetoric to present alternative points of view and thus build a forum in which enlightened choices can be made (Heath, 2009; Tod, 2009: 50; Taylor, 2009: 89). Moreover, several scholars view the Burkean notion of ‘identification’ as a key part of communication in general and of public relations in particular (Heath and Waymer, 2009, 201), and they have applied it to the study of organizational communication (Tompkins, 1987; Hoffman and Ford, 2010; García Gurrionero, 2013).

To lay the foundations for the present research, we use Burke’s dramatism theory (Burke, 1966, 1969, 1989) to identify a number of tools that we consider to be applicable to frame analysis. The essence of Burke’s proposal relies on his assumption that when communicating, people resort to symbols both to understand the situation and to make others understand it. A key point for this analysis is how Burke understands motives. When describing situations, people’s selections of symbolic expressions are based around their motives. Their linguistic choices are therefore not unintended; rather, they pursue a specific aim. As a result, the speaker’s motives can be analysed.

Burke provides different tools to examine motives—that is, to explore the ways in which a speaker sets the dramatic elements in a speech. One is what he calls the “pentad,” on the grounds that it is composed of five basic elements that can be found in every communicative act (enactment). The pentad responds to the question, ‘What is being done here?’ and offers answers to five subsequent questions that feature act, agent, scene, agency and purpose—the why of the enactment.

Act refers to what took place; it is the motivated action (Burke, 1969: 14). Agents are the characters mentioned (Burke, 1989: 157). The scene responds to the question ‘What is the context in which it occurred?’ The agency represents how the act occurs within a scene (Burke, 1969: 283). Finally, the purpose represents the ultimate goal of the communicator; it is the ‘why’ and ‘what for’ of the act.

There is a relationship amongst these five elements of the pentad that follows the logic of dramatism. According to Burke,


Dramatism centres on observations of this sort: for there to be an act there must be an agent. Similarly, there must be a scene in which the agent acts. To act in a scene, the agent must employ some means, or agency. And it can be called an act in the full sense of the term only if it involves a purpose. (1989: 135)


This relationship is demonstrated in speeches and other forms of discourse. Dramatism suggests that motives can be determined from the way a communicator labels an agent acting in a scene; the speaker tends to portray agents as engaged in actions in ways that promote the speaker’s motive. Analysis of speeches therefore allows motives that are behind a speech and that brought the speaker to interpret the situation in the way he or she did to be identified.


5. Assessing quality of motives

Another tool provided by Burke is what he calls the ‘ratio’. The ratio indicates the element of the pentad which is prioritized by the speaker in order to allocate specific meanings to the rest of the elements. Ratios, which are explained in pairs lead to a specific interpretation of the whole situation. The first pentad term of the ratio represents what is prioritized; it thus controls the second pentad term. For instance, a ‘purpose-agency ratio’ would encourage the logic that the purpose justifies the means. Cragan and Shields identify a scene-act ratio in prochoice discourse: it is used to emphasize the scenic circumstances (rape, gang rape or incest) responsible for the unwanted pregnancy (that is, the act) (1995: 80).

                 Burke does not take ratios as casual relationships, but rather as speaking choices that are made in order to direct attention to specific angles when describing a situation. The usefulness of ratios is based upon the dramatic principle that ‘the nature of acts and agents should be consistent with the nature of the scene’ (Burke, 1989: 146). As a key aspect of pentadic analysis, the scene offers the rationale for why and how discussants adopt and reject different frames as they engage in various wrangles. The pentadic ratio is thus a tool which helps mapping the discourse and the motives which are behind  (Anderson & Prelli, 2001; Anderson & Althouse, 2010; McClure & Swar, 2015).  


6. Dramatism and framing theory: preliminary relations

There is scant research that combines dramatism theory with framing theory, despite Goffman’s use of Burke’s ideas (Mitchell, 1978; Collins, 1986; Boje et al., 2003). Goffman himself acknowledges the influence of Burke’s dramaturgy perspective in his conceptualization of the presentation of the self through social interactions (Goffman, 1959). Dramaturgy emphasizes expressiveness as the main component of interactions, a perspective which Goffman later used in his Frame Analysis (1974) to explore how people understand and describe situations.

‘Motives’ is scarcely a variable in the analysis of framing, and it is not found in analyses of frames and counterframe interactions (such as that by Van Gorp & Vercruysse, 2012), except  Slothuus and De Vreese’s exploration of how motives operate to incline citizens to follow a frame when it is promoted by their party (2010). No specific empirical research has applied Burke’s dramatism to framing analysis, though Johnson-Cartee’s work on news narratives and framing analysis involves, as she puts it when referring to Burke, ‘the process of crafting and explicating the theoretical linkages between symbolic interactionism, dramatism, and narrative theory’ (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 2005). Particularly interesting for this research is the conceptual proposal by Zurutuza (2010), who addresses the communicative dimension of terrorism, establishing a connection between Entman’s ‘cultural resonance’ variable and the ‘scene of communication’ (Burke’s notion) in which governmental communication takes place.

Based on this key fundamental link between Goffman and Burke, as well as on a review of both dramatism theory and framing theory, we identify several relationships that we believe are useful for exploring the dynamics of framing contests.

First, both dramatism theory and framing theory draw on the interpretative process involved in communication. From a dramatistic perspective, the universe of discourse is open to different but equally legitimate reality orientations (Anderson & Prelli, 2001: 80); for framing theory, a situation is open to different frames and angles. Both Burke and Entman take as a starting point that, when communicating, people undertake a process of defining the situation in order, first, to understand it, and second, to make others understand it. Dramatism and framing imply interpreting situations (Burke, 1989; Goffman, 1974; Entman, 2004).

Second, for both theories as well as for both authors, defining a situation means identifying it with something, which implies including and excluding—selecting, in other words. But in selecting, people prioritize, thereby judging the situation. Judgment of the situation is included in the ratio (Burke’s term) of the scenario that is depicted, and it is also included in the definition of the problem and in its causes, moral evaluations and remedies (Entman’s terms).

Third, for both authors, defining a situation and consequently judging it is a process activated by motives. For neither author are the choices made by people when defining situations free from intentions or interests. Dramatism places special emphasis on motives (the choice to direct attention to a particular aspect is a motivated act) and provides tools to identify the motives that are behind the symbolic choices made by the speaker and to assess them (through looking at the consistency of the pentad and at the ratio). On its part, framing theory also places attention on the motives (defined as the purpose which lead the speaker to promote a specific frame in a situation), and combines this variable with others (power to influence, strategy and cultural congruence) to explore how and why some frames (identifiable aspects of communication content) are more prominent than others. If the logic behind the pentad is valid, then frames are enactments that have pentadic and dramatistic implications, which can be used to advance the theory of framing cascades by explaining the five conditions or elements people use to position their discourse in the larger discourse field in which they operate.


7. Research question and methodology

Our primary research question is whether analysis of motives in the form suggested by dramatism helps to explain the process and outcomes of framing contests. This research question implies two more specific questions that refer to the connections between the conceptual tools provided by the two theories. The first of these is whether a relationship of some sort can be established between the four dimensions of a frame as suggested by Entman (definition of problem, causes, consequences and remedies endorsed) (2003) and Burke’s pentadic ratios. In the event that this question is answered in the affirmative, the second specific question is whether the tools suggested by Burke to analyse the quality of speakers’ motives contribute to the overall understanding yielded by the application of the four variables suggested by Entman (motivations, strategy, power to influence and cultural congruence) to account for the capacity of a frame to prevail in media framing contests. Our ultimate aim is to explore whether speakers’ motives can increase or reduce the strategic capacity and the cultural resonance of a specific frame in the context of a framing contest in the press.

We analysed two speeches and their press coverage from Spain to explore these research questions and provide an answer to them. Drawing on literature which takes Burke’s pentad as a cartographic device for mapping the universe of discourse (Anderson & Althouse, 2010; Anderson & Prelli 2001; Cragan & Shields, 1995; Birdsell, 1987) and on studies which qualitatively analyze four dimensions of frames (Entman, 2003, 2004 and 2012, to quote just a few) we elaborated a framework which allows, first, to map the speeches according to the pentad and the ratio; second, to identify the four dimensions of news frames; and finally, it enables to contrast the speeches with the coverage to ultimately explore the dynamics of the frames contest (see Figure 1). A code book was elaborated and applied to the front and inside pages and the op-ed pieces of each newspaper for our analysis.

The speeches are the official statement given by the leader of the Socialist government, José Luis Rodríguez-Zapatero, and the one given by the leader of the opposition, Mariano Rajoy (of the conservative Popular Party, PP), on 30 December 2006 after a van bomb had exploded in Terminal Four of Barajas Airport in Madrid. The three Spanish newspapers analysed were El País, El Mundo and Abc. These titles were chosen because they are Spain’s best-selling papers and because they represent the ideological spectrum of the national press: El País was closer to the Socialist government in power at the time, while Abc and El Mundo are right-wing newspapers.





Figure 1. Framework for qualitative analysis




Comparative analysis speeches/media coverage


Analysis of motives of the speaker. Burke’s ratio: Which element is prioritized?


Analysis of motives of the frames. Entman’s 4 variables of motivations, power, strategy and cultural resonance

Burke’s pentad:

Agent, Act, Scene, Purpose, Agency


ð  Comparative analysis of the speeches


El País

El Mundo


Entman´s dimensions of a frame:

Problem, Cause, Consequences and Remedies


ð  Comparative analysis of the coverage




      Source. Own elaboration


8. Data

We report our data through contrasting analysis of speeches (using Burkean tools) with the four dimensions of media frames (from Entman’s tools) that appeared in the coverage of the terrorist attacks. We analyse the speeches by identifying and evaluating motives, and we then look at how the situation was portrayed in the media. First, however, we will provide some details about the context.


8.1. Some details on the political context

On 8 December 2000, the two major political parties (the governing PP and the Socialist opposition) signed what was called the Pacto por las Libertades y contra el terrorismo (“Pact for Liberties and against Terrorism”). This pact was a reaction to a previous agreement signed on 12 September 1998 by all of the nationalist and proindependence Basque parties, which aimed to both stop terrorism and achieve sovereignty for the Basque Country. This aim was conveyed by the name of the agreement, which was called the Pacto de Lizarra (“Lizarra Pact”): Lizarra is the Basque name fro Estella, a town located in Navarre, a region that Basque proindependence groups claim as part of the Basque Country. The separatist parties’ choice of Lizarra as a meeting place therefore had a symbolic dimension.

The agreement of 2000 was an attempt to build solidarity between both major (and not pro-independence) parties in order to combat terrorism. Criticism of the Pacto de Lizarra and clauses that committed the parties to refraining from capitalizing on terrorism for political aims were included in the agreement. As expected, separatist parties rejected it. This agreement of 2000, more commonly called the Pacto Antiterrorista (“Antiterrorist Pact”), governed the policies adopted by the main parties in combating terrorism between 2000 and 2005.

But on May 2005, the Socialist Party, which by this point was in government, promoted a resolution on talks with the Basque terrorist group ETA, the goal of which according to the resolution’s wording was to start dialogue with ETA without making political concessions. Talks would not be initiated until a ‘clear will’ to stop using violence was expressed by ETA. This resolution passed Parliament by 192 votes to 147. The only group that was opposed to resolution was the Popular Party, which viewed it as a violation of the Pact for Liberties and against Terrorism.

On 22 March 2006 ETA issued a communiqué declaring a permanent ceasefire. The aim of the document was ‘to stimulate a democratic process for Euskal Herria,[1] through which a new framework that recognizes all the rights of Basque people and also guarantees any political option can be built’. (The mention of ‘any political option’ is a reference to Basque independence.) On 29 June 2006, and following ETA’s communique, José Luis Rodríguez-Zapatero, the Prime Minister, addressed Parliament to announce that the process for dialogue with ETA would be initiated. The process was approved by all political parties except, once again, the main opposition party, the Popular Party, which claimed that the communiqué was not sufficient evidence of a clear will to stop using violence.

Six months later, at nine o’clock in the morning on 30 December 2006, a van bomb containing 200 kilos of explosives went off in Terminal Four of Barajas airport in Madrid. ETA claimed responsibility for the attack. Two people were later found dead. Just a few hours earlier, on 29 December, the Prime Minister had given a press conference that summarized the government’s achievements as they stood at the end of 2006. Referring to terrorism, he made an optimistic statement: ‘We are doing better than a year ago, and within one year we will be doing better than today’ (Rodríguez-Zapatero, 2006a).

In short, what we analyze below is a two-sided context. Different frames of the situation produced at similar events led to different interpretations by different sides, and as a result alternative views competed with each other.


8.2. The Prime Minister’s speech

This section applies Burke’s pentad to Zapatero’s speech and identifies a possible ratio (relation) amongst its components. The elements of the pentad appear in italics here. In his speech, the Prime Minister presents himself as a presidential agent—somebody who is able to take (and has already taken) all the required procedural actions: ‘I have instructed the Minister for the Interior to keep the public informed’; ‘I have thanked the state security forces for all their efforts’. He proceeds to portray himself as a consistent agent, involved in actions which follow a logic that has been approved in Parliament: ‘On 22 March, ETA declared a permanent ceasefire; on 29 June, I publicly declared that the government was ready to bring about an end to terrorism through dialogue’ (Rodríguez-Zapatero, 2006b). He specifies that he had acted on the basis of ETA’s declaration and ‘in those terms included in the parliamentary resolution’ (which were that ‘ETA had expressed an unequivocal will to abandon violence’). The rationale of Zapatero’s speech is that he had not violated this logic but that ETA had; and this is why the act that he associates himself with through his speech is a condemnation of the attack and a suspension of dialogue with ETA (‘I have ordered the suspension of all initiatives to develop this dialogue’) on the grounds that ‘the government regards today’s attack as absolutely incompatible with the permanent ceasefire declared [by ETA] nine months ago. Nothing is more against those principles established in the parliamentary resolution of May’ (Rodríguez-Zapatero, 2006b).

In his speech, Zapatero tries to show that, until this point, he had been acting in accordance with an established scene: it is unprecedented for ETA to kill while a ceasefire is in effect, he says, and the government has therefore been forced to act by modifying the route approved by Parliament in May 2005. However, he states that this resolution is still in force and that he still believes that an end to terrorism is attainable, though such an outcome would require a ‘long, tough and hard process’. This is why he calls for a ‘suspension’—but not for the breaking off demanded by the opposition, as will be seen below—of the process.

The Prime Minister depicts the scene in such a way as to suggest that everything that had occurred prior to the attack was valid. Conditions for dialogue were established; conditions were fulfilled by ETA; an unprecedented change had happened; and, looking ahead, the solution is to wait until things return to the established procedure.

The purpose of Zapatero’s government is to achieve peace. The agency is described by Zapatero as ‘reinforcing unity between every Spaniard in the defence against terrorism’ (that is, a sense of determination), and ‘abiding by the parliamentary resolution of May 2005’ (that is, letting the rule of law prevail).

Analysis of relations among the five elements of the pentad allows us to identify a purpose-scene ratio, within which the purpose of solving the problem of terrorism is prioritized to portray a scene in which the end of terrorism is still attainable.

It could be said that the Prime Minister’s motivation in arranging the speech as he did was to show that he had not taken an incoherent approach in the past and that things had not changed much with regards to the future, as the previously initiated process of talks with terrorists would continue.


8.3. The leader of the opposition’s speech

It should be recalled at this point that Burke’s pentad is an analytical tool to describe how different components of a situation are arranged by a speaker. In this case, the opposition’s speech describes a totally different situation. Mariano Rajoy depicts a scenario with an agent, the Prime Minister, who is naive (though this word is not used in the speech) and who has been deceived by terrorists over something that was clear to everybody. ‘This [attack] confirms what we already knew: that ETA is a criminal organization that is looking neither for peace nor for Spaniards’ freedom. This is the undoubted reality; these are undisputed facts’ (Rajoy, 2006).

The leader of the opposition connects this ‘deceived agent’ with a failing act: the Prime Minister is failing to fight terrorism. According to Rajoy, this failure has been revealed by the attack. The purpose of the agent in this failing act is a deluded one, which leads the agent to act out of (that is, to have the agency of) negligence.

The scene depicted by the leader of the opposition is the opposite to that depicted by the Prime Minister; it is a scene of thoughtlessness. Despite all signals pointing to evident harm and its possible consequences for the country, Zapatero, the leader of the opposition claims, did not want to admit to his thoughtlessness. He must now react and avoid the situation of politicians and terrorists sitting at the same table to negotiate; terrorists must be pursued rather than accommodated.

For Rajoy, the attack shows that the opposition is and had always been right and that as a consequence no changes need to be made: ‘Today, as ever, we are with all our compatriots, with all Spaniards who wish to see the end of these terrorists, who have suffered at their hands for more than thirty years and who have never accepted their blackmail’.

As a consequence, the scene requires a demand for the government ‘to suppress any contact with the terrorist organization ETA’, to ‘refrain from any bargaining with terrorists’ and ‘to return to the firmness of the rule of law’. It is therefore not only terrorists who have to change (ETA is still killing) but also the Prime Minister. Any contact or negotiation with the ‘terrorist organization’ needs to be cancelled.

It is possible to identify an agent-scene ratio here. The leader of the opposition needs to diminish the scene depicted by the Prime Minister. He therefore prioritizes a failing agent (a Prime Minister who, unable to control the situation, has been deceived by terrorists) to portray a scene of failure.

Rajoy is motivated by the need to show that the Prime Minister is incompetent and has involved the whole country in a fight against terrorism that has no chance of success.

Our analysis of the data so far has shown that both sides arranged their speech differently so as to lead to different interpretations of similar events. Zapatero tried to build a consistent scene, whereas Rajoy attempted to destroy consistency of the scene constructed by Zapatero. The following section focuses on how these different speeches led to different framing of the events by the press.


8.4. The coverage

We analyzed coverage of the speeches based on Entman’s four framing dimensions (which are italicized in the text).

El País: For this newspaper, the problem is ETA. Its front-page headline was ‘ETA smashes the ceasefire’, and this point is argued even more strongly in the op-ed piece’s headline: ‘ETA is to blame’. The causes of this problem are ETA’s van bomb. The main consequence is that Zapatero has been forced to order a suspension of the process initiated in June 2006 following the resolution passed by Parliament in May. The remedies called for by this newspaper to resolve the problem are implied in its positive assessment of the government’s decisions. Moreover, unity among all those who support democracy, backing for the government from all political parties, the strength of Spain’s institutions and the firmness of the state against violent people are remedies endorsed by this newspaper.

Abc: For this newspaper, the problem is the fact that the process initiated by the government of entering into a dialogue with ETA has not been broken up but only suspended (our emphasis). The paper’s front-page headline states: ‘Zapatero “suspends” but does not break up the “process”, despite the fatal blow given by ETA’. This problem is expanded upon in the op-ed piece: ‘Zapatero has only declared a suspension of the “process”, and he has refused to declare it broken’. The whole picture of the problem can be identified in the op-ed piece: the event is ‘the end of a false process’, with the newspaper arguing that the whole thing has been a farce. ‘This attack is the clearest refutation of all the government’s speeches’. The cause of this problem for Abc is the Prime Minister, who is unable to discern what ETA is and what it does: ‘ETA has only surprised unwary and stupid people who thought that etarras had decided not to be terrorists any longer’. As a consequence, the country is being led by somebody who is unable to lead: ‘In sum, the problem is the government’s inability to take on the responsibility of governing’. The remedies called for by this newspaper are expressed as follows: ‘It is essential that this attack at Barajas leads Zapatero to radically change policy in relation with ETA’.

El Mundo: This newspaper’s framing of the problem is very similar to that of Abc: ‘Zapatero merely suspends dialogue after the serious attack by ETA’ (emphasis ours). The cause of this problem is the Prime Minister, who is characterized as ‘naïve’ and ‘irresponsible’ (‘Will this irresponsible Prime Minister ever learn his lesson?’, asks the op-ed piece’s headline). The consequences are that the government incorrectly believes that the circumstances are still right for negotiating with a terrorist group. The remedies called for by this newspaper are to punish the Prime Minister through elections (‘We are faced with a clear case of political irresponsibility that voters should punish’) and demands for the government to definitively break off from dialogue with ETA, return to the Antiterrorist Pact and achieve consensus with all parties.


9. Discussion

Figure 1 places the speeches’ coverage within Entman’s continuum of frame contestation. Our research questions posed earlier were whether any relation could be established between an analysis of speeches based on Burkean pentadic dramatism on the one hand and Entman’s dimensions of frames on the other; and, if so, whether this relation helps to explain whether the motivation of the speakers to interpret events the way they did increased or decreased both the strategic capacity and the cultural resonance of their framing in the press. To answer these questions, we will provide a comparative analysis of the speeches and then of the newspaper coverage, before finally providing concluding remarks on the relation between dramatism and framing theories.



Figure 2. Continuum of Frame Contestation

Source: own elaboration with data from the analysis


9.1. Clashing motives

If we examine the speeches on a comparative basis, we can see that both communicators arrange their speeches with contrasting ratios. We can identify in both leaders’ speeches a ratio in which the Burkean scene is the second term and is controlled by another element of the pentad. The Prime Minister tries to control the scene through prioritizing the purpose (peace), thereby offering a scene in which the end of terrorism is still attainable (purpose-scene ratio). In the leader of the opposition’s speech, on the other hand, an irresponsible agent (the Prime Minister) is used to construct a scene of thoughtlessness (ratio agent-scene), and to depict a tainted scene in which the guilty party is the government. The two speakers offer clashing interpretations of the situation that compete with that of their political rival rather than with that of the terrorists.

This rivalry is confirmed by the analysis of motives based around the components of the Burkean pentad. The two leaders have opposing motives. The Prime Minister looks for support by attempting to make everybody else see the scene as he sees it. He thinks there is solution to the problem of terrorism; he thinks he can contribute to this solution; and he thinks that bringing terrorism to an end is an attainable goal. He needs everybody to trust him and, to that end, he tries to promote the consistency of the scene that he has constructed. In contrast, the motive of the leader of the opposition is to deconstruct the scene depicted by the Prime Minister. Rajoy thinks that Zapatero is deluded and entirely wrong. Through portraying a flawed agent, the scene constructed by the Prime Minister appears in the opposition’s speech as inconsistent and tainted by a complicit government.

Analysis of speeches has therefore helped us to identify what motivated the speakers to interpret the situation in the way that they did. The Prime Minister framed this terrorist attack in ways that justified his past actions with respect to ETA, and Rajoy framed the attack and the government’s actions toward ETA in ways that undermined any such justification. It is difficult to assess whether these two different interpretations of similar events constitute sincere arguments or politically self-interested manoeuvring designed to advance the cause of each side. How these two contrasting interpretations were framed in the press (Entman’s terms) and whether subsequent implied motives (Burke’s terms) help us to understand the dynamic of the framing contest are the next questions that we address.


9.2. Contestation framing

Our analysis shows that neither of the frames constructed by the speakers came to completely dominate the coverage in the three newspapers. Both communicators’ frames were contested by a counterframe. This is why in both cases the three newspapers’ frames are situated at one of the extremes of the continuum (see Figure 2). Broadly speaking, it could be said that, as expected, El País (a left-wing newspaper) supported the Socialist government’s frame while counterframing that of the opposition, whereas El Mundo and Abc (right-wing newspapers) counterframed the government’s frame while supporting the conservative opposition’s frame.

Instead of covering two opposing positions out of journalistic impartiality, all the newspapers reacted by taking a side. Indeed, the newspapers’ support went beyond their corresponding official versions.

El País reproduced the government’s frame (the problem and its cause is ETA, as the Prime Minister said; and the consequences and remedies are those endorsed by the government). The Prime Minister’s purpose-scene ratio seems to have succeeded in framing the problem. But this newspaper went further in its support for the government, as it was more explicit in its claims about a possible electoral capitalization on terrorism by the opposition than the Prime Minister was. While these were not explicit elements included in the Prime Minister’s speech, it could be said that they are interpretations that could be derived from the ratio used in this speech. In sum, not only did this newspaper support the government’s official version, but it also reinforced the frame with explicit associations that cast a level of suspicion on the opposition that went beyond even what the government might have wished to suggest. This progovernment newspaper was more critical of the conservative opposition than the Socialist government was.

The right-wing newspapers El Mundo and Abc, meanwhile, produced a counterframe to the government’s frame that pointed to the government as the problem. This defining of the problem (with its corresponding causes and remedies) reproduced the scene as Rajoy had depicted it: the problem was an irresponsible and incompetent government. But we should add that these newspapers went further than the leader of the opposition when focusing on certain details of the problem. For both newspapers, the problem was that the process has been suspended instead of broken up (a point that the conservative leader only referred to in a very indirect way). We might have concluded that the ratio used by Rajoy’s speech may have successfully stimulated associations in the newspapers that supported him; but these publications went even further by interpreting the situation in a way that cast suspicion upon the government. Overall, then, these two newspapers were more critical of the Socialist government than was the conservative opposition.

Rather than presenting the frames in a descriptive way, all three newspapers evaluated the situation. Following Norris et al.’s terminology (2003), what is represented in Figure 1 could be called a ‘two-sided context’: a complex communication situation in which two communities—in this case, not only two major parties but major newspapers—dispute the meaning and interpretation of similar events. Previous analysis of coverage of terrorist attacks in Spain (for example, the attacks of 11 March 2004) (Canel, 2012) in which Entman’s cascading activation model was applied resulted in a continuum similar to that represented here. In 2004, the government failed in defining the problem with an initial intended frame in its reaction to the terrorist attacks; as a consequence, different newspapers reacted in different ways as they framed an ambiguous situation. However, their different reactions could not be explained by professional motives (that is, the need for good stories) alone. They were also the product of the party-political orientation of the different newspapers. The frames of the media coverage of the conflict paralleled divisions between the two political parties.

How can this ‘cascading’ of the speakers’ interpretations of the events be explained? Do motives play a role in it?

To answer these questions we will apply the four variables suggested by Entman (italicized in the text). We do not have information about the government’s capacity to influence (first variable) its supporting newspapers. But what seems to be plausible is that there was a coincidence of motivations (second variable) between those who spoke (the Prime Minister’s motivation of showing the consistency of his message, and the leader of the opposition’s motivation of showing the inconsistency of the government) and their respective supporting media (whose motivation was to assert the consistency of their coverage of terrorism and antiterrorist policy). Perhaps for this very reason, the strategy (Entman’s third variable) was successful for both leaders and newspapers: in a situation of high uncertainty and ambiguity, the government and the opposition crafted their messages with a ratio that seemed consistent to their corresponding supporting media. The frames therefore resonated (fourth variable), even if they only did so in the speakers’ respective supporting media.

The present analysis has depicted a highly fragmented resonance for cultural congruence, in which the motives of the speakers were evaluated differently by two communities that strongly disputed the meaning of the events. On the whole motivations have shown to be a key variable interacting with the others and being determinant in building what we could call a “two parallel cascades” situation: that of the government and ‘its’ newspaper and that of the opposition’s and ‘its’ newspapers.


10. Conclusions

This research allows us to conclude that Burke’s dramatism offers promise in terms of its ability to enrich framing analysis, because it provides insights into the motives of the speakers. These motives drive the strategic capacity of frames, and they might contribute to the cultural resonance of messages. The notion of ‘framing’ offers the potential to bridge gaps between approaches from the humanities and the social sciences. Our analysis demonstrates the viability of the theoretical relations between dramatism and framing, and by way of a conclusion we re-formulate these relations in the following terms.

First, there seems to be an interesting relationship between the scene as a Burkean concept and the problem as a dimension of Entman’s framing. The scene, Burke says, is broader than the act and the agents, an observation that leads him to take the scene as a synonym for the situation. Entman, meanwhile, argues that the definition of the problem is the most important framing dimension in determining the outcome of a framing contest. We have shown through our analysis of Zapatero’s and Rajoy’s speeches that both communicators sought to control the scene, thereby making it an element of the ratio. We might conclude from this observation that a frame can be understood as a pentadic ratio; and thus, the success of a frame in the cascade is dependent upon the definition of the problem including a scene in which the agent, the act, the purpose and the agency are consistent, because this consistency allows motives that will be well received by a spectator (in this case, a newspaper) that has the same motives to be conveyed.

Second, the relationship between the Burkean pentad and ratio on the one hand and the corresponding causes and remedies of the problem (dimensions of Entman’s frames) on the other is worth commenting on. As has been seen here, defining the situation through identifying elements establishes a sequence which goes hand in hand with judging the situation and, therefore, categorizing the guilty party, victims and guilt. Our analysis of the press coverage shows that defining the scene played a key role both in defining the problem and (within the respective supporting newspapers) in fostering associations of guilt and victims. These relations between the Burkean pentad and Entman’s dimensions of frames show that the capacity of a frame—a story with winners and losers—to cascade through in the context of a framing contest is linked to the coincidence of motives between those who are either promoting or being exposed to a frame.

Third, carrying out an analysis of motives based on dramatism has helped us to explore interactions between the four variables suggested by Entman. Cultural congruence (and the capacity to resonate) relates to the motivation of the speaker (and the corresponding intention to achieve something) resonating with and being well received by the spectator. With regard to the case studied here, the ‘strategy’ of both leaders (the ratio in Burke’s terms) revealed motives that, because they coincided with those of their respective supporting newspapers, both blocked the opposing frame and activated intended associations. It would seem that in ambiguous contexts such as a terrorist attack, motivation seems to play a more decisive role than the cultural resonance of a frame.

With regards to connecting Burke’s dramatistic approach to rhetoric with framing analysis, it can be argued that by understanding the dramatistic aspects of discourse, we can in turn understand the motives people have for adopting or rejecting the different frames used by societal leaders as they seek to frame issues for a range of purposes. We can therefore understand, at least in part, how struggles to promote frames and gain support for them is a power move of substantial consequence. Emphasizing the motives of different sides as a key variable when analysing the predominance of a frame in a framing contest may help in formulating counterterror frames that resonate with citizens’ motives more effectively.

Finally, combining approaches from the humanities and the social sciences by emphasizing motives as a key variable for the dynamics of framing contests might open up interesting avenues within the ‘framing project’ to build models for research on media framing (Reese, 2007). At the same time, the ways in which motives shape frame selection should be incorporated into the agenda for framing research defined by scholars (De Vreese & Lecheler, 2012).










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[1] This is the term ETA uses to refer to its conception of the Basque Country. The territory covered by Euskal Herria includes the present-day Spanish Basque Country, Navarre and two regions in the South of France.

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