There are different ways to slant or bias information. But any way you cut it, it’s limiting because slant only shows you a part of the picture, not the whole. And it’s what we found in the coverage of Priti Patel’s resignation from her position as Britain’s aid minister.
Here are four ways the outlets we analyzed slanted the information, and how each can limit the way we understand and evaluate the news.
The bias in these articles is that Patel’s resignation reflects negatively on Prime Minister Theresa May and her abilities as a leader, but the outlets don’t substantiate it with data and they don’t provide alternate perspectives either. Without these things, it’s difficult to evaluate the accuracy of this point of view. One way to create bias is through implication. Consider this subhead from The Guardian:
Theresa May loses second cabinet minister in a week as pro-Brexit international development secretary departsIf you compare it to our raw data, what’s the difference?
Priti Patel resigned on Wednesday as U.K.’s Secretary of State for International Development.Even though The Guardian’s statement is data-based (meaning, it doesn’t contain spin), it brings our attention to two things: the prime minister, and the fact that it’s the second resignation in a week. This could suggest maybe May isn’t a good leader, or maybe there’s a problem with her government in general that these things are happening. Sound similar to the way the media reported on recent resignations in the Trump administration? It’s more or less the same.
How spin supports implication
Spin is a departure from the measurable facts — it’s language that’s vague, emotional or dramatic. As noted above, spin doesn’t always have to be present to create bias. In fact, The Guardian’s article was the least spun and the most slanted of the four. When spin is introduced, it can exacerbate the slant. Look at this statement from Reuters:
It is the second resignation in May’s top team in a week, underlining her weakness at a time when she faces the complicated task of unravelling more than 40 years of ties with the European Union and holding a deeply divided party together.This takes The Guardian’s data-based implication and adds drama. The terms are subjective and not easily measured. For instance, how does Reuters measure May’s supposed “weakness” or the “depth” of her party’s “divisions”? Spin can create powerful impressions that aren’t backed by data.
CNN juxtaposes a series of recent events. Here’s our abridged version of that, using some of the spin the outlet included:
Patel’s resignation will throw May’s government into further chaos after the Defense Secretary resigned (he became embroiled in a growing Westminster sexual harassment scandal). Adding to the turmoil, Damian Green denied allegations that “extreme” pornographic material was found on his work computer. In another development, Wales’ former government minister was fired last week after undisclosed allegations about his conduct. He was found dead on Tuesday, possibly by suicide. Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was forced to backtrack comments about an individual after an outcry from her family and other lawmakers.When you put all this together it can seem the British government is falling apart. But CNN doesn’t specify how or whether these events are linked. Which brings us to…
There’s no disputing that Patel’s resignation, as well as the others mentioned, will affect the U.K. government — these events didn’t happen in a vacuum. But where’s the data that supports the notion that the effects will only be negative? Is there information to the contrary? None of the outlets included this.
The outlets didn’t include data that might point to May’s success in leading the country or Brexit. They also didn’t portray May as a leader holding her subordinates accountable, which, considering the infraction, may be good. Such data could counter the supposed “political storm” CNN says May is facing, so omitting it serves to strengthen the outlet’s point of view.
As readers, we stand a better chance at accurately understanding an event if the reporting is data based and unbiased.
Written by Ivy Nevares and Sean Sweeney
Edited by Ivy Nevares and Jens Erik Gould
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Jens Erik Gould
Jens is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News