Five misleading implications in the Virginia election coverage | The Knife Media

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(The Knife Media) Critical thinking is key to scientific achievement, technological progress, problem-solving, and the general development of society and culture — and that’s why The Knife advocates for it in the media. One aspect of critical thinking is spotting potentially misleading implications or assumptions.

In the media, reporters can make such assumptions in their own writing, or they can cite public officials using them. There were many examples in Tuesday’s coverage of the Virginia election (we analyzed articles published before the results were released). Below, we examine a few examples and break down the implications and how they may include flawed reasoning.

Misleading implications in news reporting

The following are statements in a reporter’s own words that contain misleading implications or assumptions. (We’ve bolded the problem areas in the examples below.)

1. The GOP candidate “tested the president’s political clout against the Democratic front-runner in Virginia’s race” (Reuters)

  • Implies: the Virginia outcome is an indicator of Trump’s power — or lack thereof — to influence local elections.
  • People choose candidates based on a variety of factors, not just because Trump supports one of the candidates. Reuters’ statement may exaggerate the president’s influence in determining the outcome.

2. “The national importance of the Virginia race was underscored before dawn on election day, when President Trump… launched three tweets on behalf of Gillespie and sharply critical of Northam.” (Los Angeles Times)

  • Implies: Trump tweeting about something means it’s important to the nation.
  • The president has a lot of influence and his tweets often lead to debate or discussion, but just because he tweets about something doesn’t automaticallymean it’s of “national importance.” (FYI, Trump has sent more than 2200tweets this year so far.)

3. “Democrats and Republicans alike are eyeing the off-year race [in Virginia]… as [an] indicator of the country’s mood a year before the midtermelections.” (The Hill) And, the vote “will determine… answers for dilemmasfaced by both major parties as they head into a titanic battle for control of Congress in 2018.” (Los Angeles Times)

  • Implies: how people vote in a few state and local elections can be an accurate indicator of how the whole country feels about national politics, or how they’ll vote next year.
  • This is a generalization. The results of a few state and local elections don’t necessarily indicate voter sentiment for the country as a whole, or solve challenges the parties are facing for midterm elections.

Misleading implications by public officials

It may be useful for the news to quote politicians even when they use flawed or incomplete reasoning. But ideally, reporters would draw attention to these logical issues.

1. “Trump… wrote on Twitter the state’s economy under [Virginia’s Governor] McAuliffe ‘has been terrible.’ ‘If you vote Ed Gillespie tomorrow, it will come roaring back!’” (Reuters)

  • This may oversimplify what causes economic growth.
  • Of course, a governor can affect his state’s economy to some degree, but Trump’s tweet may oversimplify a complex system. Trump doesn’t disclose on what assumption he’s basing his conclusion, but it might imply that the governor is the most important determinant of economic performance. All sorts of factors affect Virginia’s economy, from legislation and regulations, to consumer sentiment, employment and the national economy.

2. “‘We watched a campaign in 2016 that was based on a lot of hatred, bigotry and discrimination and fear. So there is a lot of attention on Virginiaright now,’ Northam said to reporters at a campaign field office in Richmond.” (The Hill)

  • Assumes the 2016 campaign was indeed based on hatred and bigotry.
  • This may or may not be true, but it’s hard to determine because these terms are somewhat subjective and we don’t know what Northam is basing his opinion on.


  • Implies people are paying attention to Virginia because of the apparent hatred and bigotry last year.
  • This is a non sequitur — Northam’s second sentence doesn’t necessarily follow from the first. In order to make this work logically, we’d have to assume other premises that aren’t provided.

Written by Analea Holland and Julia Berry López

Edited by Julia Berry López, Jens Erik Gould and Rosa Laura Junco

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