SMPA Professor Wins International Research Award

SMPA professor, Robert Entman, will conduct research in Germany next semester.
December 15, 2011

Beginning next month, Robert Entman will study political communication in Germany.

By Ari Massefski, Class of 2014

GW Professor Robert Entman will be spending next semester at the Free University of Berlin thanks to the Alexander von Humboldt Research Award, which he recently won for his contributions to the field of political communication.

Dr. Entman, the J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Media and Public Affairs and professor of international affairs, will spend the spring researching economic inequality policies and politics in the United States and Europe.

“I am delighted to be the first Alexander von Humboldt Research Award recipient recognized for contributions to political communication scholarship,” said Dr. Entman. “I appreciate this acknowledgement of the media’s fundamental role in shaping politics and democracy.”

Originally from Providence, R.I., Dr. Entman wrote for Duke University’s student newspaper, the Duke Chronicle, while studying media and politics as part of his undergraduate degree.

“From that experience, I saw how substantial the political role of the media can be,” said Dr. Entman.

And so he began working as a journalist—writing for the Providence Journal Bulletin as a summer intern. But one summer was enough for him.

“That one summer convinced me I wouldn’t be a very good journalist,” said Dr. Entman. “I don’t like asking people aggressive questions. I don’t like prying.”

After a foray into the field of journalism, he decided to go into education.

“I like to think, and I like to write, but it’s a different kind of writing than a journalist does,” said Dr. Entman, who was interested in politics and the media, but didn’t want to be a journalist or a politician. “I’m not good at writing with a fast turnaround. This is my highest and best use, being a professor.”

In his fifth year teaching at GW, Dr. Entman is currently teaching the School of Media and Public Affairs senior seminar, which makes him an adviser to seniors while they complete their honors theses.

Dr. Entman earned a doctorate in political science as a National Science Foundation fellow at Yale University and a Master in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley. He’s also a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Duke University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science.

Dr. Entman’s research focuses on media framing and bias and the media’s influence on foreign policy, race relations and other important areas of American politics. His 1993 conceptualization of framing, or the attempt to spin a news story in a certain way, has been cited in thousands of scholarly works.

“It’s extremely fitting that Robert Entman was chosen for this award,” said SMPA Director Frank Sesno. “His trailblazing research is without peer in the political communication landscape, and his impact on other researchers and students has changed the way people study issue framing, media bias and political communication topics. We at the School of Media and Public Affairs are proud to count Bob among our ranks.”

When teaching about the way politicians communicate and the way the media reacts to certain developments in politics, Dr. Entman tries to incorporate current events into his lectures. For example, he gave a lecture last month at the University of Texas about the media’s coverage of Sept. 11.

“I try to keep my examples as up to date as possible so that I can connect them to things that students remember. I’ll show footage of President George W. Bush landing on an aircraft carrier to celebrate ‘mission accomplished,’ and we’ll analyze it to see what it might tell us about presidents’ management of the news and media responses to presidential media relations techniques,” said Dr. Entman. “My goal is to make students more autonomous thinkers.”

Drew Spence, a senior studying political communication in SMPA, said GW is lucky to have Dr. Entman because he’s “truly dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge.”

“Professor Entman has cultivated my academic experience at GW. He has provoked me to think critically about media and political science and has compelled me to pursue research in the field,” said Mr. Spence.

Dr. Entman’s research of the media’s role has led to multiple books, including The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America, which won Harvard’s Goldsmith Book Prize and reflects an interest that Dr. Entman says he has had for decades. This semester he is also teaching “Race, Media, and Politics,” a class that explores the connection between race and American politics. He said that the last time he taught the course, several years ago, he never would have predicted that the United States would elect a black president during his lifetime.

His 2004 book, Projections of Power: Framing News, Public Opinion and U.S. Foreign Policy, won the 2011 Doris Graber Book Award from the political communication section of the American Political Science Association, an award that recognizes a recent book that has had a continuing impact on the field.

Last month, Dr. Entman also received the 2011 Wayne A. Danielson Award for Distinguished Contributions to Communication Scholarship. The award is given annually to one scholar by the Jesse H. Jones College of Communications at the University of Texas. Other honors include the Murray Edelman Distinguished Career Achievement Award in Political Communication, the Woolbert Research Prize and a Distinguished Scholar Award from the National Communication Association.

Dr. Entman’s newest book, Scandal and Silence: Media Responses to Presidential Misconduct, is scheduled to be released in 2012. It challenges the common perception that the mass media are scandal hungry.

“I aim not only to protect people against propaganda but also to make them aware of ways that media communication can persuade you without your being aware of it,” said Dr. Entman.

When he’s not doing research or teaching, Dr. Entman is an avid wine connoisseur. He collects wine and regularly updates a blog about wine.

“Whatever else is happening, I know one good thing is happening: My wine is getting better, and it’s developing complexity and nuance. And I like to think that’s true of me as well,” he said.

When he applied for the Humboldt Award, Dr. Entman had no expectation of winning. He wrote a proposal solely as a training exercise.

“I had no hope of getting this award. It’s mostly given to scientists. I wrote up a proposal because I thought it was a good exercise to figure out what I wanted to do,” he said. “It’s very flattering that they think I’ve had this major impact on the field.”

But most of all, he feels his selection as this year’s recipient is a monumental achievement for his field of political communication.

“I’m glad I won,” he said, “but to me, the most important part of this award is the validation it gives to the field. This is a sign of it becoming a more recognized field among academia.”

And next year, he will focus exclusively on researching new areas of the field of political communication.