When researching the media’s coverage of Tom Price’s resignation, it was hard to distinguish between news articles and opinion pieces strictly by their content. So we pulled together and compared two news articles from some of the most prominent news outlets in the country against two that were marked as op-eds or analyses.
The real revelation came with our ratings, which showed both news articles’ scores were within 2 and 4 points of the analysis piece, in terms of overall integrity (the op-ed scored lower). One of the news articles also scored the highest spin rating overall, and the two news articles were more biased than the two opinion pieces!
Now, can you tell them apart?
1. Which of these headlines is from a news report?
A. Trump’s breaking point with Price
B. Tom Price gave Trump a great excuse to fire him
C. Being called a ‘good man’ by Trump is sometimes an omen
If you had a hard time figuring out which is which, it may suggest that we don’t know what a real news headline is supposed to look like anymore. If you guessed A and C, you’re correct! A is Politico’s news article, and C is The Associated Press’. B’s headline is from The Washington Post’s analysis.
2. Which of these lead sentences is from a news report?
A. Sometimes it’s better not to be a nice guy.
B. Tom Price’s downfall was his penchant for pricey jets.
C. Less than an hour before Donald Trump accepted the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, the President made very clear why his Cabinet secretary was being let go.
In the best case, an article’s lead sentence provides the news in a nutshell. Are you surprised that the answer to question 2 is both A and B (AP and Politico, respectively)? These examples show that factual news itself doesn't always make the lead. Option C is from CNN’s op-ed, and although there is opinion, there’s at least the fact that Price resigned from his position.More and more, journalism blurs the line between fact and opinion to the point where the two are indistinguishable. And opinions are valuable, but it’s problematic when they’re not owned as such and presented as fact instead. As readers, if we’re not able to tell the difference, it literally blurs the line between what may be true for one person or a few, versus what’s testable and verifiable objectively.
How do you spot opinions? One telltale sign is spin — look for words or phrases that are dramatic, vague, ambiguous, imprecise or subjective (meaning, they’re subject to personal interpretation and aren’t objectively measurable). Another way is to look for logical fallacies and speculation, because as far as we know, no human has mastered predicting the future. And another way is to check your gut: what impression are you left with after reading an article? In most cases, the answer is the outlet’s bias.
The better you become at identifying these mechanisms, the less opinion can limit the way you think and make decisions. Identifying opinions teaches us about others’ thinking and perspectives, helping to differentiate our own. It also sharpens our ability to approach information critically and question facts directly. Really, there are only upsides to increasing this skill — at least in our opinion.
Want extra credit? Test your skills with this last set.
Which of these excerpts is from an opinion piece?
A. It’s not the first time Trump has offered praise just before or after showing someone the door … Not long after, Trump spoke with reporters on a rainy tarmac, where he repeated his “good man” kiss of death … As for Priebus? “Reince Priebus, a good man,” Trump repeated, sounding like a tombstone engraving.
B. All of that said, we may soon find out just how much this was actually about private travel. Other top Trump administration officials — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and now Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — have all had their noncommercial flights come under scrutiny in recent days and weeks … If another official gets a pass where Price didn't, that would be a pretty good indicator of Price's greatest sin.
C. Price was fired not because of the more than two dozen private flights he took at taxpayer expense. He was fired because he violated Trump's first principle: Never, ever make the boss look bad -- especially in the press.
D. And the private-travel scandal allows the White House to argue that this wasn't about the health-care failure, but rather about Price's personal foibles. It looks less like a shake-up and more like a personal failing … If another official gets a pass where Price didn't, that would be a pretty good indicator of Price's greatest sin.
Believe it or not, A and D are news articles, from AP and Politico, respectively. The correct answer is B and C, which are from the Post and CNN, in that order.
Written by Leah Mottishaw and Ivy NevaresEdited 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