We’ve all experienced news that’s clearly sensationalized. It’s easy to cut through all the unnecessary drama, right? Not always. Sometimes language can incite hype without it being so evident. This was the case in the coverage of Sessions and the Mueller investigation. Most outlets covered the news in a seemingly objective and data-based manner. But upon further review, The Knife’s analysts found subtle ways the outlets distorted the news that may affect how readers perceive the story.
For example, take a look at the headline from The New York Times, which was the outlet to break the story:
“Comey and Sessions Are Questioned for Hours in Russia Inquiry.” At first glance, it appears objective. Yet the phrase “for hours” adds a sense of drama to the news, suggesting Comey and Sessions had a lot to say. Coupled with a few other vague, emotional terms — such as saying Trump “unnerved” Comey — readers may get the impression that there’s something fishy going on with the president.
Again, this coverage was more objective than most other reports on the Mueller investigation have been, and our higher ratings reflect this. Yet it’s important to hold high standards of objectivity for journalists because media greatly affects our perception of key news events. The investigation itself will determine whether Trump or his campaign officials participated in wrongdoing. So, for media to lead readers towards a particular conclusion using subtle cues in language isn’t the best practice, and doesn’t foster a critical, well-informed society.
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