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How the media cover outrage: The OOOOOPSI Model

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Honestly, I have no idea whether or not Arizona’s “religious freedom” bill — uniformly called the “anti-gay” bill in the media — would have actually protected religious freedom or not.

But it is an opportunity to trot out a theory of mine that would have been my dissertation, had I ever pursued that Master’s in Journalism degree.

I call it The OOOOOPSI Model of American Media Outrage Coverage. It’s just an unproven proposal, and may not apply to every situation, but maybe it’s a good enough template to post it now, while we’re in the middle of yet another cycle.

Here are the OOOOOPSI steps:

  • Opportunity: First, we need a hot-button event that is a proper catalyst for the cycle. Recent examples were supplied by Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby, Susan G. Komen, and now, Arizona’s proposed law.
  • Outrage: Next, those on the opposite side of the culture wars make a lot of noise about “fairness” and “bigotry” and “tolerance.” Maybe they have a point, or maybe not, but it’s an important step in the news cycle.
  • Opposition: Then, the national media by and large adopts the definitions brought to them by the outraged. For example, in this week’s Arizona story, the media labeled the bill “anti-gay,” without the scare quotes. Such labeling was a tremendous victory for the outraged.
  • Oversimplification: As a part of its coverage, the media fails to add any nuance to the debate or closely examine the actual facts of what’s being argued, preferring to cover the horse race of two competing interests beating each other up.
  • Overreach: At some point, a mainline media outlet gets too cocky and goes a step too far in its boosterism. Other media momentarily shrink back in embarrassment.
  • Pendulum: Prompted by this misstep, a few media commentators rub their chins and publish thoughtful analysis pieces that ask if everyone is being a little too hard on the accused. The accused is still wrong, mind you, but we can be nicer about it.
  • Silence: After this, coverage ceases as the nation’s attention runs elsewhere.
  • Introspection: Finally, months later, on a Sunday news program, journalists will gather and ruminate about how they unfairly overstated one side of the debate. They pledge to do better next time.

I think the pendulum will swing back soon, especially now that the bill has been vetoed and all momentum has been lost.

I haven’t tested the theory with any rigor, but I’ve seen this kind of media cycle run several times. Let me know if you think I’m making sense — or not. I don’t want to start an OOOOOPSI cycle of my own.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out my follow-up post, “The Post and the Pendulum: When do the media apologize?”

Photo found on Flickr and courtesy State Library and Archives of Florida

33 Responses to How the media cover outrage: The OOOOOPSI Model

  1. Dr. Octagon February 27, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    As a member of the media, I think this analysis is a gross oversimplification of the way the media works.

    We are only reporting on the story, the same way we reported on the civil rights tumult in the 1960s. And frankly, you have almost the same exact reaction that opponents of the Civil Rights Acts had.

  2. Jon Swerens February 27, 2014 at 10:33 am #

    “Criticism of me means you’re just like a ’60s bigot.”

    Well played, Doctor! Are you trying to confirm my hypothesis, or is that just a happy accident?

  3. Agent X February 27, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    Nailed it.

  4. Deano February 27, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    The good Doctors comment shows how ingrained they are to this process. Thank you for the article, Jon. Sounds like you have developed a theory that has real merit and should be included in all journalism courses. Naturally, it won’t be!!

  5. JerseyJeff February 27, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    In this case it’s more an OOOOS model — The first four ‘O’s are solid; the media isn’t self-aware enough to notice the Overreach or any pendulum movement; Introspection? — surely you jest; there is a brief Silence before the next outrage.

  6. Jackrabbit February 27, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    The good doctor would do well to go into the black community and see if his analysis is shared by them. I have not found any who consider a baker not making a cake the same as lynchings.

  7. RexMundi February 27, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    And exactly who were the opponents of civil rights back in the 60s? Southern Democrats. A whole lotta projection there from the “Dr”

  8. Dr. Octagon February 27, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    Your use of scare quotes is meant to inflame your readers against journalists and reinforce their biases against people of color and LGBT Americans.

  9. Jon Swerens February 27, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    Doc Ock: Now that you’re judging my motives, is this where I’m supposed to play the “Judge not lest ye be judged” card?

  10. Doogie February 27, 2014 at 11:48 am #

    Doc, you’re not exactly reaffirming my faith in the mainstream media.

  11. Daniel February 27, 2014 at 11:54 am #

    Dr. Octagon, you amaze me by your detailed knowledge of the inner thoughts and motivations of those with whom you disagree.
    I have to ponder the sources of this wisdom.
    Then I realize that, alas, you are only a human being, like me and like them. Thus your only information about inner thoughts comes from your own.
    Thus your statements about them tell us nothing about their thoughts but only reveal information about your own way of thinking.
    We learn that you feel defensive about the behavior of our Ruling Class Press, and have a need to vilify its victims in order to justify its behavior.
    Your readiness to accuse them of racial and similar prejudice also suggests that these are foremost among your own motivations, hence likely to be so among theirs.
    As you grow older and have more contact with ordinary people you will find them far nicer than you now imagine, and far more generous to others than you now are.

  12. Mollie February 27, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    This is great. Except, as Dr. Octagon so ably helps us see, silence and introspection never seem to come around …

  13. Amazed_475 February 27, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    While I think the first part of your theory makes sense I don’t think you are correct on the following:
    “Overreach: At some point, a mainline media outlet gets too cocky and goes a step too far in its boosterism. Other media momentarily shrink back in embarrassment.”
    While there is overreach, usually earlier rather than later, I don’t believe the remaining media shrinks back, but rather continues to pound on the story.
    “Pendulum: Prompted by this misstep, a few media commentators rub their chins and publish thoughtful analysis pieces that ask if everyone is being a little too hard on the accused. The accused is still wrong, mind you, but we can be nicer about it.”
    Can you give any examples of this? I don’t recall the media ever saying that they judged the tea party too harshly.
    “Introspection: Finally, months later, on a Sunday news program, journalists will gather and ruminate about how they unfairly overstated one side of the debate. They pledge to do better next time.”
    Again, I don’t think the media usually goes back to say they unfairly overstated on side of the debate. Did that happen with gun control, amnesty, the “shutdown” of the federal government? Did any of them apologize to Ted Cruz or Rand Paul for their portrayals of their filibusters?

  14. SineWaveII February 27, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

    Hey Dr Octagon. Now might be a good time for that “introspection”

  15. Hal February 27, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    Jon? It’s not an “unproven proposal” anymore. It’s been published, in a “peer-reviewed” publication. That qualifies it as hard science nowadays. Look up “climate change” for ways to cash in.

  16. RexMundi February 27, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    This is a great demonstration how so many the left never get beyond the outrage phase. Either they cannot by their own efforts, or they may actually live for it. And when they are surprised to not find any – they will invent it.,

  17. Dr. Octagon February 27, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    I am not judging anyone’s motives, I am simply calling a duck a duck.

    If someone uses scare quotes to denigrate LGBT people, then it’s obvious that the person is bigoted against LGBT people.

  18. Dr. Octagon February 27, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    And I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to note that it is people with a conservative, not progressive bent who opposed (and still oppose) public accommodation laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    I am not saying this to tweak conservatives, but just to point out that the very philosophy of conservatism requires an adherence to the status quo and a resistance to social change.

  19. Jon Swerens February 27, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

    Doc Ock: And since I also put “religious freedom” in so-called scare quote in the very first line of the post, what do your tea leaves say about me now?

  20. Jon Swerens February 27, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    @Amazed_475: That’s actually a very good point that deserved some clarification on my part. Looks like a second blog post will be in the works tonight.

  21. Tim Valentino February 27, 2014 at 8:33 pm #

    Don’t forget the final step, Jon. Ten years later, Camille Paglia chimes in to remind us how ridiculous her side was in the fray, and how the culture is now diminished because of it. But, of course, she’s eleven years too late.

  22. Vegasguy February 27, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    Doc Ock, you really need to bone up on history. A higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for the civil right act. I think it’s also safe to say that the vast majority of Jim Crow laws were written by Democrats and every one of those sheriffs that water hosed and arrested civil rights marchers were Democrats as was presidential candidate George Wallace.

    Daniels analysis was spot on.

  23. Robert Jay February 28, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    chech your history Dr. Octagon it was the progressive Democrat party that opposed the 1964 civil rights bill.

  24. Hoya1 February 28, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    Speaking of scare quotes, I find it interesting that an alleged “journalist” is actually uninformed enough to think that conservatives –who are in fact the prime voices against the status quo of increasingly engorged government and the authoritarioan bent of its supporters–require “an adherence to the status quo.” It would seem mor likely that those who toss the word “bigotry” around as substitute for insight are far more firmly entrenched in today’s “status quo.”

  25. DejectedHead February 28, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

    Dr. Octagon can’t be serious, right? He’s portraying a parody of how the media would respond, right?

    He’s gotta be a member of the media writing at the Onion.

  26. DejectedHead February 28, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

    Robert Jay,

    We know what the journalistic parody Dr. Octagon will say to the “Democrats are responsible for the Jim Crow laws” history lesson.

    He’ll say They’ve changed and that Republicans swapped places with Democrats.

    It’s not like Democrats still push for racial solidarity. NOooooo…that’s not true anymore.
    It’s not like Democrats still push for overburdening state control. NOooooo, that’s not true anymore either.

    The party swap is the very reason why Lincoln was actually a Democrat.

    I have not heard the reason that FDR remains a Democrat however or that McCarthy remains a Republican.

  27. Dr. Octagon March 12, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    Some interesting, illuminating replies here. Kind of a deep-dive into the conservative psyche.

    Look, I’m not trying to be a pest, just pointing out that the conservative philosophy that stood against the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and early voting among minority populations is the same conservative philosophy trying to put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to marriage equality. That is, it is a philosophy that resist social change and attempts to uphold traditional status quos.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. ESPN host on Arizona’s religious freedom bill: What’s next, gays wearing yellow stars? « Hot Air - February 27, 2014

    […] the way, before you watch the clip, read this post by Jon Swerens on the media’s “ooooopsi” approach to moral panics and try to identify which phase Kornheiser’s at. He’s the fifth “O,” […]

  2. NewsSprocket | ESPN host on Arizona’s religious freedom bill: What’s next, gays wearing yellow stars? - February 27, 2014

    […] the way, before you watch the clip, read this post by Jon Swerens on the media’s “ooooopsi” approach to moral panics and try to identify which phase Kornheiser’s at. He’s the fifth “O,” […]

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