You may be consuming opinion, rather than news | The Knife Media
(The Knife Media) On Jan. 11, the media had the difficult task of reporting on President Trump’s alleged disparaging remarks about Haiti and African nations. Since the Washington Post broke the news, media outlets have continued to write about it. We were curious: What did the Post and the New York Times have to say on Jan. 13 that wasn’t said in the original coverage?
The short answer is, not much. The only update reported in the Jan. 13 coverage was that Trump denied having used derogatory language on Friday, and that Sen. Richard Durbin confirmed that he had. Yet the Post’s article was 980 words long, and the Times’ 1267. What did the two outlets write about, then?
Opinion. The outlets’ and others’ opinions, to be precise. The Post’s follow up article contained mostly opinions about Trump’s supposed “personal political losing streak” and how “Trump does more damage to himself than his opponents ever manage to do.” Does that seem like the headline of an objective news report? Unlikely, especially since the article never cited the president on his supposed self-inflicted “damage.”
The Times’ follow up stacked historical data to suggest Trump may be leading the U.S. back to a time when immigration policy was seemingly based on race and nationality bias. The correlation isn’t objective news — it’s the Times’ subjective take on it.
The bias in all four articles was essentially the same, and while the Jan. 11 articles were also slanted and opinion based, the second set of articles were more slanted (meaning, they promoted a particular viewpoint over others). They all suggested Trump’s comments were “racist.” And by its Jan. 13 article, the Post no longer just suggested the idea — the paper actually stated it in its own words, describing the comment as “racist and vulgar.”
Here’s the thing: the comment was vulgar and disrespectful of Haiti and African nations, but to determine that Trump is “racist” would require defining the term and critically evaluating a large sample of his remarks and actions. Even then, we may not be able to definitively conclude that he believes “racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race,” because we’d likely need input from Trump himself. In any case, the Post didn’t explore these things, and the label is thereby the paper’s own opinion. This by no means defends or justifies the president’s comment, which probably most people would find derogatory and regrettable. It simply shows the opinions the media inserts into the news, in ways that are often invisible to readers.
Opinion, used in op-eds or analyses, does provide value by offering alternate perspectives on an event, and those types of articles are sometimes supported by additional data that you might not find in a news report. The problem comes when outlets write opinion as fact when reporting the news, without distinguishing the two. Had the Jan. 13 articles in this case been labeled as op-eds, for example, at least you’d know what you’re dealing with as a news consumer.
This kind of coverage also creates other problems. For instance, these and other articles were almost entirely focused on Trump’s comments and people’s responses to them. Given this singular focus, it’s easy to distract from more practical matters, such as the immigration policies in question, Trump’s position on them, and how the proposal may change after the meeting Thursday.
In 1971, the Nixon administration attempted to censure these same two newspapers after they reported on the so-called “Pentagon Papers.” The ruling defended the First Amendment of the Constitution, which ensures freedom of speech and of the press. Specifically, it upheld the papers’ right to publish the documents, which revealed that the Johnson Administration had “systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress,” according to the Times. Here’s part of the Supreme Court’s decision:
In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.
The First Amendment is a vital part of the U.S. Constitution, but with a “free and unrestrained press” comes great responsibility. News outlets reporting opinion as if it were fact may be an abuse of those freedoms. In the least, this type of reporting does a disservice to readers who think they’re consuming data-based reporting while they’re actually consuming something else.
The principles of journalism, as cited in the decision above, are not only noble, but necessary. Data-based reporting is one way the media can honor those freedoms.
Written by Ivy Nevares
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