“And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.”
(In the previous article under this title we set forth, from the lips of some of those in power in the realm of the news media, how they “frame and package the news” to “reflect the mind-set and values of the newsroom.” In addition we briefly examined three of the “essential eight,” i.e., the eight questions to ask concerning news reports that may be helpful in identifying media bias. In this article we will proceed to examine the last five of those “essential eight.”)
How Are the Characters Characterized?
Bias on the part of reporters is often easily detected by how they identify or label those about whom they report. What we are looking for here is the use of what is sometimes called “ad hominem” (attacking the person) and/or “poisoning the well” (name calling and/or labeling an individual or group). Look for labels such as “wing nut,” “Christian right,” “right wing,” “radical right wing,” “left wing,” “radical left,” “radical Christian right,” “lunatic fringe,” “dogmatic,” “hawk,” “dove,” etc. If these kinds of labels are used in reporting, it is often an attempt to dismiss the ideas of others without the use of substantive arguments to refute them.
A classic example of how this works is recorded for us inMatthew 11. Here Jesus castigates the Scribes and Pharisees for rejecting His message simply because He was, as they said, “a friend of publicans and sinners.”
Another example of the use of this tactic involves some of those who promote their thinking that global warming is caused by human activity. We mentioned earlier the ideas of CBS correspondent Scott Pelley, who labeled those who are skeptical of global warming as the equivalent of “holocaust deniers.” In Pelley’s way of thinking, his label of those who differ with him is ground enough to discard their ideas.
Former vice-president Albert Gore does something similar in an interview published in Time. In response to the statement by the interviewer: “There are many people who still doubt the science. Senator James Inhofe, head of the Senate’s environmental committee, has condemned global-warming science as ‘hoax,'” Mr. Gore responds, “…there are people who believe that the moon landing was staged in a movie lot in Arizona. Another reason is that some of the largest polluters are still putting millions of dollars a year to hire pseudo scientists to confuse people into thinking that this crisis isn’t real.”¹ Here Mr. Gore characterizes Senator Inhofe as the equivalent of a moon-landing denier, which apparently means that his arguments need not be acknowledged, much less refuted. Obviously, this can be a very handy way to field challenges to one’s position on an issue—especially if their arguments are difficult to refute.
What Is the Tone of the Report?
In addition to casting doubt on opposing arguments by labeling the messenger, there is the tactic of labeling the message and/or messenger by means of the tone of a news report. Often the tone of a news media report is a dead giveaway of author bias.
One example of an author’s tone is sometimes called “chronological snobbery.” In an attempt to discredit an opposing view he simply labels the position as “old-fashioned,” “puritanical,” or with some other derogatory label that suggests that it is not in keeping with the times.
A sarcastic tone also often gives away a reporter’s bias. An example of this is seen when much of the media was trying to link the Bush administration to the Enron scandal. Timemagazine had a lengthy article about the supposed connection, and in the process wrote the following: “It was one more intimate link between Enron and the Bush team, one more unwelcome story at a time when the President is hoping his big(emphasis CK) speech will change the subject….”² In this case, that one little word “big” betrays a tone that should give the reader cause to question the author’s objectivity. The reader might ask himself, “Why would the news writer use that word in this context?”
Adoration is another form of tone that is easily identifiable. Read news stories and editorials that relate to the female U.S. senator from New York and take note of the positive or negative adjectives used, and one will most often be able to identify a news reporter’s bias. Try this one for example: “It has become axiomatic (in this case because it happens to be true) that Senator Clinton is really smart. She has a sharp mind buttressed by an encyclopedic knowledge of key issues and a work ethic that is Calvinism on steroids.”³ Wow! After reading that, the reader would be wise to question the author’s objectivity on the subject at hand.
The April 3, 2006 cover story ofTime exemplifies another form of tone: namely hysteria. “BE WORRIED. BE VERY WORRIED.” “EARTH AT THE TIPPING POINT.” “HOW IT THREATENS YOUR HEALTH.” Those headlines, along with a front cover picture of a polar bear on a tiny iceberg surrounded by water, leaves little doubt about where the story is heading. Reader, beware! By all means read the article, but do so with discernment.
How Are Statistics Used?
When polls or statistics are cited in news reports, the reader would be wise to be somewhat on guard. The framing of the poll’s questions is all-important. Sometimes the one financing or conducting the poll has a preconceived notion concerning a desired outcome. If that’s the case, the poll questions will be framed accordingly. When reading news reports that include the use of polls, the question should be asked, “What position benefits from the results of this poll?” The reader should then consider if the framing of the questions in any way contributed to the outcome of the poll.
A case in point concerning the improper use of statistics to validate a position is the work of Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s. Recently it has been discovered that his work was seriously flawed. It seems that it was his intent to make it appear that the homosexual lifestyle was much more common than it actually is. Kinsey concluded, on the basis of his fraudulent work (primarily in the sample that he used in his study), that about 10% of the United States population was homosexual. That conclusion, combined with the old “bandwagon” fallacy (if a lot of people are doing it, it must be okay), significantly contributed to the success of the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s and the widespread acceptance of homosexual perversion in our society today.
Another example of questionable use of statistics involves the global warming debate. The July 24, 2006 Los Angeles Times featured an op-ed by Naomi Oreskes, a social scientist at the University of California San Diego and the author of a 2004 Science Magazine study. Oreskes insisted that a review of 928 scientific papers showed there was 100% consensus that global warming was not caused by natural climate variations. This study was featured in Al Gore’s film, which portrayed future disastrous consequences of global warming: “An Inconvenient Truth.” Apparently there is a problem with Oreskes’ study, however. In a critique by British social scientist Benny Peiser, we learn that theScience Magazine analysis excluded nearly 11,000 (more than 90%) of the papers dealing with global warming. Also pointed out was that less than 2% of the climate studies in the survey actually endorsed the so-called “consensus view” that human activity is driving global warming and some of the studies actually opposed that view.4
Statistics indeed! The only question for the discerning reader to determine is “Are they being used to reveal the truth or something quite different?”
Is Necessary Information Left Out?
More difficult than examining statistics and polling data is the task of determining whether or not all the available pertinent information on a given subject has been presented. Perhaps the best approach is to compare how different news sources treat the same event or issue being reported. By comparing, for example, whatTime, Newsweek, or The New York Times says with what World, Human Events, or The Washington Times reports concerning a given issue may be very helpful. Consider a few examples how leaving information out can distort the news.
In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina it was reported that more blacks died as a result of the hurricane than whites. That was true, of course. What was not often reported, however, was that when evaluated on the basis of the number of blacks versus the number of whitesliving in the affected areas, percentage-wise more whites died than blacks. In an apparent attempt by some to create a race discrimination issue, that fact was conveniently left out.
Standard Bearer readers who followed the Joe Wilson, Valerie Plame, Niger/Iraq, yellow-cake, and the so-called “outing of Valerie Plame” as reported by the mainstream media, very likely never heard that Plame was not a covert CIA agent, that she recommended her husband Joe Wilson for the trip to Niger, or that Wilson’s own report actually supported the likelihood that Iraq was seeking “yellow cake” from Niger5—all information that was conveniently left out to make it seem that Plame was “outed” in retribution for her husband’s exposing President Bush as a liar. By the way, as it all ended up after two years of accusations and innuendo, it was not the Bush administration, after all, that had exposed Plame, but a-no-fan-of-Bush-man by the name of Armitage. Whether one agrees with the president’s policies in Iraq or not, the credibility of a news source that leaves out critical information such as this, for the obvious purpose of making the administration look bad, should be questioned.
Another example of the withholding of information is seen in the present global warming debate as presented by much of the mainstream media. Have you ever heard from the mainstream media that there are credible scientists out there, as reported in the October 18, 2006 issue of The Berean Call, who disagree with them?
20,000 scientists, of whom about 2,700 of them are physicists, geophysicists, climatologists, meteorologists, oceanographers or environmental scientists, who are in a position to understand the global warming issues, have signed the following statement: “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”
Nor does the mainstream media inform us of their poor record when it comes to reporting climatic disasters in-the-making. They neglect to tell us of the February 24, 1895New York Times headline: “Geologists Think the World May be Frozen Up Again.” Nor do they tell us of the March 27, 1933 Times article, “America in Longest Warm Spell Since 1776: Temperature Line Records a 25-year Rise.” Then there is the December 29, 1974Times article on global cooling where it was reported that climatologists believed “…the facts of the present climate change are such that the most optimistic experts would assign near certainty to major crop failure in a decade.” Neither are we informed about the evidence that led many scientists to believe there was a time in the Middle Ages when it was so warm that the Vikings grew crops in Greenland.6
While the leaving out of information on the part of a news source does not necessarily mean their position is wrong, it should lead one to look for a bias, and maybe even question their reliability as a source.
Is False Reasoning Used in the Report?
The reliability of a news source also should come into question when false reasoning is present.
One type of false reasoning that the discerning Christian should be able to identify is what could be labeled “hasty generalization.” An example that comes to mind involves the recent case of Florida Republican Congressman Foley. The false reasoning by some in his case went something like this: Foley is a Republican pervert who attempted to seduce a House Page. Since he is a Republican, all Republicans need to share the blame.
Another example of hasty generalization used recently involved the Rev. Pat Robertson: Robertson says Hurricane Katrina was sent by God to punish the U.S. because we allow abortion. Pat Robertson is a Christian. Therefore all Christians who are against abortion are of the same mind.
“False cause” is another type of false reasoning that is often used in media reports. An example might involve Christians who preach against abortion. If someone murders an abortion provider, Christians are responsible because the murderer is merely acting in response to Christian anti-abortion teaching.
Another example of “false cause” involves the gruesome murder of Matthew Shepherd in Wyoming a number of years ago. Those who believe that homosexual behavior is a sin are the cause of the murder because the murderers were simply acting according to that belief. By the way, it appears that more and more of this type of reasoning is being used to malign Christians and their beliefs.
Furthermore, the global warming theory itself may be an example of false cause. The case for global warming as a result of human activity is built on some very tenuous arguments. Especially is this true when one considers past global climatic fluctuations, which included warming trends even before the existence of the internal combustion engine.
A Little Perspective
Clearly, modern-day Issachar must exercise care when evaluating news reports. The questions discussed above may be helpful in identifying media bias, but the presence of mediabias does not necessarily indicate the presence of mediadeception. As recorded in a former article, everyone has a bias. The question is, “Does the media reporter try to lead the reader to adopt his position by means of deceptive reporting?” Issachar, beware!
… to be continued.