Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

How the news media try to shape your perceptions, Part 1

Posted by sanityinjection on June 18, 2008

A great example of this in a column today on Bloomberg.com. The subject of the column is the many Republicans who said derogatory things about John McCain in the past but are supporting him now that he’s the nominee, and now that his poll ratings are significantly better than Republicans generally.

Let me be clear: I am not alleging that there is anything incorrect or non-factual in this column. At first glance, it appears to be a perfectly good piece of political journalism. So where does the bias come in?

It’s in the way the subject is framed. Ask yourself this question: Has anything similar ever happend with a Democratic candidate?

Of course the answer is yes – many times. It’s happening right now as Hillary Clinton’s supporters go from criticizing Obama to campaigning for him. It’s a standard part of the process of unifying behind a party’s nominee. You may not love the person, but you sure prefer them to the candidate of the other party, so you bury your differences and find nice things to say about your new candidate.

However, the article, by focusing solely on McCain and Republicans, creates the impression that this is a newsworthy, and presumably unusual phenomenon. Without ever having to say so, the article leaves you with the impression that Republicans, and only Republicans, are two-faced liars who will say anything in order to win. (And maybe some of them are, but so are some Democrats.) By framing the focus of the article so as to prevent the reader from making a natural comparison, the authors shape the reader’s perception in such a way that the reader may never realize he or she is being deliberately manipulated. And the journalists can still hide behind the facade of “objectivity” since they never said anything that wasn’t true or stated any biased opinions.

This, my friends, is how they get you. By trying to limit the set of information you receive and use to make your judgments.

Judge for yourself if I’m off base on this one. The article is here: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=avgwOsPaqVk8&refer=home

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One Response to “How the news media try to shape your perceptions, Part 1”

  1. Sister Benedict said

    Journalistic bias is not always intentional. Everyone sees the world through the lens of their own knowledge and experience, and this can lead to bias.

    This isn’t always for a sinister motive, however. Ask a journalism major why they want to be a journalist and you’ll often hear “Because I want to make the world a better place.” You won’t often hear “Because I want people to know what’s going on.”

    Journalists are supposed to document history in the making and report the news, not make the news. Reporting the news is a sacred responsibility to your contemporaries and to future generations. Not only is there no need to manipulate the news, this works against your goal of helping people.

    Students, if you want to make the world a better place, major in business or political science or pre-med or pre-law or any other subject that will educate you and prepare you for a job in public service… but don’t strive to become a reporter unless you want to report the news faithfully and without bias to the best of your ability. Your diligent work will leave an honorable legacy, whereas if you try to advance an agenda your work will be sullied long into the future.

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