“The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” – Malcolm X
Everyone has heard the term “fake news”, and it’s certainly become well known that an endless number of totally made-up stories are created or forwarded on the Internet every day. But what are about our mainstream news sources that are supposed to be all about truth, justice, and real journalism? All sources in the media have their biases, and everyone occasionally makes mistakes, but as long as they report the truth, it’s not a problem, correct? As I’ll show in this article, there are ways the media twists their reporting to push their own agenda and manipulate the thinking of their audience regardless of whether or not they’re reporting facts.
1. Providing only one side of a story
Journalists seem to forget there are two sides to every controversial issue, otherwise it wouldn’t be controversial! For example, if they’re covering a story on climate change, they cite some stats or bring on some experts to confirm human-made global warming, but they never cover the thousands of scientists with alternative beliefs or cite any counter-scientific evidence. If you Google pros/cons of virtually any issue, you can probably compile five or more arguments on each side. Compare that list to what is covered in a typical “news” story. My guess is the majority of stories will contain little or no mentions on the opposite side of the issue they’re trying to push.
2. Using anecdotal evidence
This is a method where reporters use one or two vivid examples as “evidence”, rather than cite any statistics or scientific studies. The problem is that you’re using a small sample size that may in no way reflect the larger statistical population. For example, the horrific Parkland school shooting was pushed for weeks to “prove” growing gun violence and school shootings. However, nationwide, gun violence has been declining and is usually highest in places with strict gun-control laws such as Chicago. Another example is the 2018 tax cut plan. Despite the fact that 95 percent of the population is paying the same or lower federal taxes, the media played several weeks of stories of small select groups of people were paying slightly higher taxes.
3. Cherry-picking research and statistics
One of the beautiful things about Google is that you can likely find thousands of stories to “prove” or “disprove” virtually anything. For example, if you query pros and cons of the minimum wage, you can easily find many stories that “prove” it decreases jobs available, and many others that “prove” it increases jobs available. Reporters that want to push a higher minimum wage simple cherry pick stories on the increase-jobs side and use them as “evidence that proves”. Rarely do journalists cite their sources in articles; rather they’ll say things like “experts say”, “evidence shows”, or “it’s been found that”.
4. Choosing only certain stories to run or emphasize
Reporters show their biases not only by how they cover stories but by what stories they choose to cover. The Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and other liberal outlets are sure to cover every hint of a negative story on Trump, but you rarely, if ever, saw them run prominent stories on scandals of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Another example–issues such as climate change depend on scientific studies. If a study is released that provides evidence of global warming, you can be sure it will be covered. However, if a prominent study shows evidence of no warming, or if past evidence of falsified warming evidence is found, you can be sure it will be ignored by liberal outlets.
5. Using “anonymous”, unnamed “expert”, or other sources with questionable credibility
The beauty of this method is you can make up or exaggerate virtually any story you want, and if the reporter later is called out on his sources, he will inevitably squeal about “First Amendment” protection and nobly vow to protect his sources.
6. Using “critics say” to inject their own beliefs
Beware whenever you hear or read the words “critics say”. Journalists will often use these words to stir up controversy and to express their own beliefs. Watch for it press conference and interviews. The reporters will almost never name the supposed critics, so who exactly are they talking about?
7. Using biased polls or selectively reporting poll results
If you’re a regular watcher of cable news shows, can you remember a day when some new poll wasn’t presented? Polls open a whole new set of possible biases and manipulations. Polls can use leading questions, a small or unrepresentive sample size, sloppy recording methods, and dishonest poll-takers. The results can be displayed in misleading ways, and like all research, you can cherry-pick the polls to use. Polls these days are less about reflecting public opinion and more about shaping it. For example, virtually every poll showed Hillary Clinton easily beating Donald Trump in the 2016 election. The heavily-biased polls were meant to discourage Trump voters from showing up to vote and also create some doubt in their minds about their choice. It’s very difficult for the average person to stick to their opinions when the majority of their peers believe otherwise.
8. Releasing a false story and then later retracting or correcting
In the modern era of the web and 24/7 news coverage, being first is now more important than being accurate. And the minute a story is out there, it can go viral with re-tweets, shares, and other repeats in seconds. It doesn’t matter much when the story is proven false. Once it is echoed enough, the story becomes “fact”, especially when it comes from supposedly accurate outlets like the New York Times. Rarely are the corrections mentioned as prominently as the story itself. A front-page headline that needs to be corrected will be mentioned in a short paragraph of the back pages, usually many days after the story was originally released.
9. Controlling the timing of stories to do maximum political damage
The term “October surprise” is well-known due to the frequent use by reporters of withholding a story until right before an election so it can do maximum political damage. More recently, attack stories are released on a daily basis so that you can get a drip-drip of negative feelings for a person.
10. Treating an unproven story or rumor as fact
When the media is trying to destroy someone, they run stories on hearsay, rumors, overheard conversations, or outright lies from political enemies. What’s worse is that the media builds new stories on top of the questionable material. For example, a couple of Democrats say they overheard Trump call certain places sending immigrants “shithole countries”. Others at the meeting say they didn’t hear him say that. Regardless of whether or not it was true, the media ran stories over the next several weeks citing Trump’s shithole country remark as a proven fact. You never heard the words “Trump allegedly said…”, it was always “Trump said…”. Another example–in the 2012 election, Senate majority leader said he heard Republican candidate Mitt Romney didn’t pay any taxes the past decade. Many news outlets and commentators from that point on cited Romney’s non-payment of taxes as proof of his greed and corruption. Reid himself later admitted he completely made up the story, and when asked about his lie he said, “Romney didn’t win, did he?” Honest journalists wouldn’t have run with the story in the first place.
11. Using out-of-context or clipped quotes.
Virtually every Trump immigration quote in the run-up to the 2016 election was taken out of context to convey a different meaning. For example, the quote about Mexicans, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” was endlessly replayed. The message is very different when you hear the full quote, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Another example was how NBC edited a tape because they wanted to show George Zimmerman as a racist for killing a black kid. A 911 tape was altered. The tape released to the public showed Zimmerman saying, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” NBC cut out the 911 dispatcher specifically asking him, “…this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?”
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Written by: Joe Messerli
Last Modified: 8/28/2018