Reporting the News as You’d Like It to Be

August 31, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

The news media are supposed to report the news – things that actually happen, not things they would like to happen. That requirement – being factual – can be pesky, but it’s easily sidestepped. One effective head-fake is to put a statement in the form of a question. The question headline, a staple of supermarket tabloids, has a long history going back at least to the gossip columns of newspaper days.

In 2006, Jon Stewart skewered FoxNews’s Neil Cavuto for his extensive use of this technique. (The Daily Show clip is here).

But Fox doesn’t need to resort to the statement-as-question.  As long as it can find somebody somewhere to speculate, it can report crazy stuff as though it were factual news.  It’s not the Fox newsreaders or editors who are saying these things; it’s “some” people. 

I don’t know if there is any research on the effect of these techniques.  Maybe Fox viewers are more likely to ignore and forget these doubtful and hedged versions of “information.”  But I doubt it.  As the research by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler*  has shown, ideas, even false once, are remarkably resilient.  Corrections of false statements don’t do much to change perceptions and can even have the reverse of effect –  strengthening people’s belief in the original untruth. 

A blogpost by Nyhan with a link to news coverage and academic papers is here.


Arnie said...

Time to check out "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism"

Paulo said...

This reminds me of when I come across UFO shows on what used to be the History Channel and they start sentences with "Some researchers say..." At that point, you can make whatever totally ludicrous statement you want.

"Researcher" is actually a great term for this. It implies a degree of authority and expertise. It also implies that the person is a professional in the related field as opposed to a hobbyist.

If you read conspiracy theory books and interview people making wild claims, you're a researcher.