(The Knife Media) We’ve published a few analyses now on how the media is trying those accused of sexual misconduct in the court of public opinion. Matt Lauer, who was dismissed on Wednesday from the “Today” show for similar allegations, is no exception to this media phenomenon. However, some of the follow-up coverage on Lauer caught our attention, because it brought in events and opinions that aren’t related to the allegations, which could incriminate him further. Consider the headlines from the articles we analyzed:
(The Knife Media) Media outlets reported on the North Korean missile launch using dramatic, opinion-based language. But the facts of the situation may be concerning enough on their own without any added drama. So, let’s strip away the spin.
(The Knife Media) The New York Times’ profile on Tony Hovater, a self-described white nationalist, received criticism from readers as well as media outlets. The main criticism was that the story supposedly “normalized” hate in its various forms — racism, bigotry and ideologies such as Hovater’s. But the notion that the Times attempted to somehow condone or make hate okay may be faulty.
(The Knife Media) Forty-nine. That’s the number of men in entertainment, media and politics who have been accused of sexual misconduct since the Harvey Weinstein allegations were first reported last month, according to the Associated Press. The recent coverage of one of these men, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), demonstrated a bias that appears common among news outlets reporting on these allegations. That is, a bias that favors the perspective of the accusers and their supporters. Let’s call this the articles’ main perspective.
(The Knife Media) A lot can be missed when media outlets supplant data with spin, implication or other forms of distortion. We analyzed four articles covering the temporary successor to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) directorship. With two competing appointments (each supported by a different law), the situation is a first for the agency. But the media’s drama and distortion don’t add much in terms of informing us about the situation. Here are three takeaways from this coverage.
(The Knife Media) We tend to look for easy answers and clear-cut solutions. Unfortunately, when it comes to “net neutrality” there might not be any. Even more unfortunately, some media outlets suggest there are.
The media coverage we analyzed about the FCC plan to change net neutrality regulations was slanted, which means that outlets primarily promoted information and opinions that supported a single perspective on the issue. Three outlets favored the perspective that net neutrality is vital and should be protected by law, and the other mostly suggested that neutrality is stifling growth and it’s not government’s place to enforce it.
(The Knife Media) Based on the articles we analyzed, it would seem that Zimbabwe is in a state of “chaos” and “crisis.” Some in the country may indeed feel that way, and we don’t intend to downplay recent events there. But herein lies part of the problem — it’s difficult to understand what is happening when the articles provide readers with few facts and use colorful, vague language instead.
Our Spin ratings demonstrated the prevalence of such language: for The Guardian, BBC, The New York Times and Fox News, these ratings were 75, 54, 47 and 43 percent, respectively (the higher the percentage, the more spun the article). Here are three examples:
(The Knife Media) The national debate about sexual harassment has “come full circle” as it again involves President Trump — at least that’s what The New York Times writes. But there actually haven’t been new public allegations against Trump, and it seems to be the media itself that’s revisiting previous ones. So what exactly does The Times mean by “come full circle”?
(The Knife Media) NEWS ALERT! There’s been some more “collapsing” of plans and “plunging into crisis” in Europe — in Germany, to be exact.
If you’re not entirely sure what that means, it may be for good reason. Dramatic, subjective and vaguely defined terms like those in red create strong impressions that aren’t backed by much data. So if you were asked to explain what these terms mean, you might be grasping for straws. See how much drama that just brought in? That’s how spin works.
(The Knife Media) Implication • noun im·pli·ca·tion \ ˌim-plə-ˈkā-shən \ • A conclusion that can be drawn from something, although it’s not explicitly stated.
We often accept as true many conclusions made through implication. In fact, a lot of them are widely accepted in society, so we may not even think to question them. Let’s take a look at some potentially faulty implications in the coverage of the gun control bill introduced in the Senate on Thursday.
Jens Erik Gould
Jens is editor-in-chief and co-developer of The Knife Media, a digital publication that presents news without bias and rates media outlets on their level of objectivity.