Hours after the initial coverage on the Las Vegas shooting, the media reported on politicians’ responses to the event. The outlets we analyzed biased this coverage, and one of the mechanisms used was juxtaposition — meaning, they brought two or more points together, contrasting or relating them in such a way that they created an implication that wasn’t necessarily true.
For instance, NBC News juxtaposes two events, saying that, during his candidacy, Trump was “quick to bring policy into the fold in the face of tragedy,” but in this case the White House “advocated pausing before diving into a policy debate.” What’s the implication here? That somehow Trump’s response Monday was inadequate or possibly hypocritical, because it doesn’t match the past example. This, of course, is opinion and not necessarily true, but it leaves a negative impression nonetheless.
In the articles analyzed by The Knife, the bias covered both ends of the political spectrum. In either case, it’s limiting. The information presented directs readers toward specific conclusions and inhibits objective evaluation. Here are two examples from the sources whose ratings were the most slanted.
What Trump and Sanders supposedly did wrong
The Los Angeles Times twice juxtaposed Sarah Sanders’ statements with arguments that are “often heard from pro-gun groups and their supporters.” (Bear in mind that, as spokeswoman, Sanders is representing President Trump and his administration.) It wrote that “Sanders also warned against creating laws that ‘won’t stop these things from happening’ again — another argument often made by the [NRA] and other advocates of unregulated guns, who often are on the defensive after mass shootings.”
The takeaway? Trump/Sanders automatically sided with the NRA, and their points are both insensitive and invalid.
What Clinton and the Democrats supposedly did wrong
Fox News wrote that Sanders “chided” congressional Democrats for their “swift calls” for gun control, and Hillary Clinton for questioning the NRA and how the use of silencers might have impacted the shooting. The outlet added, “[Clinton] soon took heat from critics who called her remarks ‘ignorant’ and ‘irrelevant’ — noting silencers in this case probably would not been (sic) dampened the sound very much.”
The takeaway? Clinton’s points are uninformed and invalid, and it was inappropriate for Democrats to have raised the issue of gun control when they did.
Do either Fox’s or the L.A. Times’ implications leave readers with the desire to critically and equally question what each party had to say? Perhaps not.
If we examine what most politicians had to say about the shooting (while setting the subject of politics aside), it seems they’re looking for the same thing: preventing similar tragedies from happening in the future. These articles don’t bring this point across, and instead focus on partisanship and pitting one side of the political spectrum against the other.
Subjects like violence and gun control are very complex, and opinions about them and viable solutions to problems like Las Vegas’ are often divided. What’s needed is more information to understand the challenges involved, and especially the root causes that lead to shootings and other violent crimes. The media’s biases, in this sense, may further misinformation and polarization, and distract communities from focusing on the issues at hand.
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