News Images, Race, and Attribution in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

Eran N. Ben-Porath, Lee K. Shaker
2010 Journal of Communication  
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, race played a defining role in the public reckoning of the disaster. This study explores the relationship between the composition of images appearing in news stories, race, and attribution of responsibility with the events surrounding Katrina as the backdrop. Responsibility hinges, in this case, on the question of who is accountable for the human suffering that followed an act of nature. Using the context of a racially charged disaster -we seek to extend
more » ... e existing research on the mechanisms underlying attribution of responsibility, by focusing on the differences between Black and White citizens' attribution patterns. The two fundamental concerns central to this undertaking are: Do images of victims make people more or less likely to believe the government (or the victims, for that matter) were at fault for the human tragedy that followed the storm? And, could images affect White and Black people differently? News coverage is at the core of this discussion because it is the primary source of information that people have as distant events unfold. If we have theoretical reason to anticipate that people's perceptions about victims and their circumstances lead to predictable patterns in the attribution of responsibility, the construction of the media messages that shape these perceptions is consequential. Prior communication research clearly suggests that the way the news is told broadly affects attribution of responsibility by the audience. From this body of work, we draw upon the studies of news framing and attribution (e.g. Iyengar & Kinder, 1987; Iyengar, 1991) and previous research on news
doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2010.01493.x fatcat:exrfaztwrveqjliy4yxuufggbq