"[Media] sets the agenda for public discussion and this sweeping power is unrestrained by any law," wrote presidential campaign historian Theodore White in 1972. "It determines what people think about and write about, an authority that, in other nations, is reserved for tyrants, priests, parties and mandarins." Technological advancements have all but eliminated the barriers of time and distance that once made politics personal and social affairs. The rise of mass media slowly eroded the political forums, mass rallies, parades, community debates, and political picnics that formed the core of political discourse in early America. The invention of the telegraph, followed by undersea international cables, radio, and television (and in today's age, the development of satellites, personal computers, and the Internet) redefined the practice of politics.
The ability of social and political movements to communicate their agendas through mass media was not lost on the activists of the American Indian Movement (AIM), which understood the importance of television in placing federal American Indian policy on the national agenda. Unlike the Black Panther Party that organized a Ministry of Information to handle interaction with the media, the American Indian Movement (AIM) never developed an official organ to voice their goals. Instead, drawing upon lessons learned by observing the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and other Indian activists, AIM used high-profile forms of dissent to draw attention. The Trail of Broken Treaties caravan and subsequent six-day occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in November 1972 thrust AIM into national headlines. National television and newspaper news covered the event in significantly different ways. Television focused on the sort of changes in federal Indian policy the activists wanted, while newspapers were more concerned with the government response to the activists in the building. AIM leaders adopted the politics of confrontation to challenge institutions they were trying to change, and in so doing undermined their position of authority as the media focused on the spectacle rather than the message.
Framing refers to the way news is packaged, the extent of its exposure, the placement within a newspaper (front page, lead story), the tone of the writing (sympathetic or critical), visual effects (headlines and photographs), and vocabulary. Analyzing newspaper coverage of the American Indian Movement and the Trail of Broken Treaties is broken down into separate narrative elements. These narrative elements identify important themes and concepts to understand the relationship between print media and the American Indian Movement's political activism. These narrative themes will be further developed over time in Framing Red Power to allow a deeper understanding (both textually and visually) of how the event was portrayed in public discourse.