A framing analysis of the representation of the BP crisis in American newspapers: How do American news media frame the BP crisis?

Date01 November 2018
Published date01 November 2018
A framing analysis of the representation of the BP crisis in
American newspapers: How do American news media frame
the BP crisis?
Jinbong Choi
Department of Media & Communication,
Sungkonghoe University, Seoul, South Korea
Jinbong Choi, Department of Media &
Communication, Sungkonghoe University, 320
YeondongRo, GuroGu, Seoul 152716, South
Email: choi0126@gmail.com
This study aims to identify how American major newspapers frame the BP's Gulf of Mexico oil
spill crisis in 2 major daily newspapers, The New York Times and USA Today. In addition, this
study exams what kinds of themes are used in conjunction with news frames for covering
the BP oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. 489 articles were analyzed, 353 articles for The
New York Times and 136 articles for USA Today. In a pretest, this study identified 6 main
frames and 9 themes used by the collected news articles, and these 6 frames and 9 themes
were used to analyze the collected news articles. Among 6 frames, the most common primary
frame in the New York Times was attribution of responsibility, as compared to the most
common primary theme in USA Today, solution. On the other hand, the most common theme
in The New York Times was stopping the oil, as opposed to the most common theme found in
USA Today, politics.
On April 20, 2010, BP Petroleum's Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit,
Deepwater Horizon, exploded in Texas City, Texas, killing 11 workers
(www.reuters.com) and dumping an estimated 4.9 million barrels of
oil into the Gulf of Mexico according to U.S. government estimates
(www.restorethegulf.com). The disaster, deemed the worst oil spill in
history, impacted five states and damaged the Gulf's fishing and tour-
ism industries, costing BP an estimated $694 million to date in restitu-
tion according to the website (Reuters, 2011).
The U.S. news media covered the crisis on an hourly basis, with
24hr news shows featuring live shots from the leaking oil rig. The
topic remained a priority news item for 3 months while several unsuc-
cessful attempts were made to stop the leak.
In the meantime, fingers were pointed between BP, Halliburton,
and Transocean over responsibility for the accident, which came to a
head on May 11, 2010, when executives from the three companies
appeared at congressional hearings in Washington and placed blame
on each other's companies. According to Hall (2010), in a July U.S.
travel report, Oxford Economics indicated that after displacing thou-
sands of workers and causing severe environmental damage, the effect
on tourism due to the damage along the Gulf coast could last 3 years
and represent nearly $23 billion in lost spending.
BP tried and failed to cap the leak on a few occasions. The leak
was eventually capped on July 15, 2010, and the crisis ended with
BP president Tony Hayward's resignation. The news media coverage
was mostly negative, and much of it centered around the frames and
themes analyzed in this research, including what was the cause of
the explosion, who ultimately was responsible for the accident, the
impact on those affected by the deaths of the workers, the toll on
the environment and jobs in the Gulf area, capping the leak, and the
future of BP's business. During the 12 months after the oil spill, BP
launched a crisis communication campaign, including launching various
internet sites (e.g., www.restorethegulf.gov) and partnering with the U.
S. government to provide updated data and other information to
inform the American public about its efforts to clean up and restore
the afflicted Gulf region (RestoretheGulf.gov, 2011a).
The placement and specific way the BP crisis is covered in various
newspapers illustrates the efficiency of a crisis communication strat-
egy (RestoretheGulf.gov, 2011b). Previous studies have focused on
the coverage of crises to illuminate the success or failure of the crisis
communication campaigns. However, this research should help further
research works in the area of news media framing by providing a
content analysis of news media frames and coverage of the BP oil spill
crisis in major U.S. newspapers. This enhances understanding of crisis
communication efficiency and planning.
Therefore, the purpose of the study is to analyze how national
newspapers framed the BP crisis. This study uses a content analysis
to identify the different frames and themes used by news media for
covering the BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis.
Received: 30 October 2017 Accepted: 21 November 2017
DOI: 10.1002/pa.1691
J Public Affairs. 2018;18:e1691.
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/pa 1of6

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