Dramatic and vague terms can create powerful impressions, and when they’re coupled with an absence of data, the combination can be limiting because the impressions aren’t backed by facts. In logic, it’s called an “appeal to emotions” fallacy, which is attempting to win an argument by manipulating emotions, instead of using factual evidence and logical reasoning.
We found some of this in the articles we analyzed about the WHO’s nomination of Robert Mugabe as a “goodwill ambassador.” Compare the following two headlines and the impression each creates:
Shock as Zimbabwe’s Mugabe named WHO ‘goodwill ambassador’ (Fox News)
Robert Mugabe, under sanction for human rights abuses, is named a WHO ‘goodwill ambassador’ (The Washington Post)
With Fox’s you can get a sense that the WHO’s decision was bad, but you may not necessarily know why or what the supposed “shock” means — this is due to the absence of data. The Post’s, on the other hand, is data-based, allowing you to compare the concept of “human rights abuses” with “goodwill ambassador.” The impression might be the same (bad decision), but it’s informed by the discordance between the two concepts.
Here’s a final example from Fox: “The outcry rocketed around the world after this week’s announcement …” Compare that to the same information from our Raw Data:
Some countries and international organizations criticized Mugabe’s ambassador appointment; these included the U.S. Department of State, the British government, Ireland’s health ministry and the Non-communicable Disease Alliance.
Fox’s statement does inform, but with spin and subjectivity. The Knife’s Raw Data seeks to inform in a data-based way. To achieve this, we often do additional research to present a more complete coverage.
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