Personifying the Radical

How News Framing Polarizes Security Concerns and Tolerance Judgments


Heejo Keum, Department of Communication, University of Texas at San Antonio, 6900 N. Loop 1604 W., San Antonio, TX 78249–0643; email:


This study examines relationships among individual dispositions, news framing of civil liberties restrictions, security concerns, and political tolerance. We theorize that news frames condition the effects of individual dispositions on security and tolerance attitudes. To explore these relationships, an online-survey experiment was conducted with 650 respondents. This experiment presented alternative versions of news stories about domestic security policies following September 11, and the policies' implications for a fringe activist group. One factor was whether the activists targeted by the government advocated for a cause supported or opposed by the respondent; another factor was whether the story framed government actions against the activists at the individual or group level. Findings show that individual framing—as opposed to group framing—made participants less tolerant of radicals they opposed and more tolerant of radicals they supported. Similar effects were observed for political ideology. Implications of personification as a framing device are discussed.