Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Communication, Culture & Critique 2:1 (March 2009) pp. 83–109.

doi: 10.1111/j.1753-9137 .2008.01030.x


Copyright © 2009 International Communication Association; published by Wiley. Used by permission.


There were 7 assassination attempts on U.S. presidents between 1973 and 2001. In this article, we critically examine coverage of each attack in the New York Times and the Washington Post, describing how the coverage employs therapeutic discourse frames that position the president as vulnerable and portray the attackers as lonely and demented outsiders. Noticing contradictions in this pattern, we also identify counter-frames, including those acknowledging the political motivations of the assassins, the diminished public sphere that is a context for those actions, and the contradictions in a legal system that denies the insanity pleas of those framed so extensively as mentally ill. Political science, psychology, and law enforcement researchers have recognized that assassination attempts are often driven by rational political and economic concerns. Our analysis thus points to the need for further research exploring therapeutic framing techniques of other instances of political violence that may discourage publics from thinking critically about protest, violence, and tragedy in the United States.