How Does the Media Frame Corporate Scandals? The Case of German Newspapers and the Volkswagen Diesel Scandal

Despite the importance that the media has in regard to influencing people’s perceptions of wrongdoing, organizational scholars have paid little attention to how the media reports wrongdoing. This article starts to address this gap by considering how the media frames corporate scandals. We empirically examine how four different German newspapers reported on the Volkswagen diesel scandal. We inductively identify the constitutive elements of a general corporate scandal frame. Then, we analyze how each newspaper framed the scandal through combinations of different elements.

We identify from our dataset four frames of corporate scandals that newspapers applied: legalistic, contextual, reputational, and scapegoating. Our article testifies to the importance of cross-fertilization between research on mass communication and political science on one side, and organizational research on the other side and, more generally, it calls for more attention to be given to the media in the study of scandals and organizational wrongdoing.