Our impressions of what we read can easily be shaped by what data we’re given and what’s withheld. And unless you have prior knowledge of a news event, or a very critical eye, you might not know what you’re missing.
Saturday’s coverage of the protests in Russia provide useful examples of this slant mechanism. We compared two articles from the Russian state-run news agency TASS against three U.S. outlets. One of TASS’ articles, for example, reports on the protest in Moscow, saying “police officers show[ed] restraint” with protesters and made no detainments (the other three outlets reported there were a “few” arrests in Moscow). The impression or bias this article creates is that the protest was low-key, and the government showed leniency and handled the situation well.
But there’s a lot that this article doesn’t tell you, when compared to the other sources. For example, there’s absolutely no mention of:
TASS’ second article presents a different yet complementary bias, reporting on a Russian official’s opinion that “several” western news outlets used Putin’s birthday as an excuse to defame him and Russia. It vaguely mentions two articles (we’re guessingan analysis by The Independent and an op-ed by Bloomberg) which suggest that, at 65, Putin is past his prime to run for another term. So according to TASS, the western media and certain U.S. organizations are in the wrong, launching “personal attacks” against Putin and employing Cold War “methods” to negatively sway public opinion in Russia.
What was missing from the three U.S. outlets? Data about the Putin administration’s performance, why he’s remained in power, and why his approval ratings are over 80 percent. This absence of this information slants the coverage by suggesting the protests were in the right, which in some ways is equally limiting because it presents a partial view of events.
Comparing the three outlets, we noticed some missing data as well. (It’s important to note all the information below was missing from TASS.) For instance:
Of the three outlets, the L.A. Times had the most data, showing us that this protest didn’t exist in a vacuum. The greater context allows a better understanding of the protest and its potential impact, and the government’s response to it. And this is only comparing five articles against each other — if we expand the cross section, it’s likely we’ll find more missing data.
Now that you see the information these articles omitted, what do you think is missing in other news you read?
Written by Leah Mottishaw and Ivy Nevares
Edited by Ivy Nevares and Rosa Laura Junco
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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