In my previous post I focused on analyzing the different techniques politicians will make when giving speeches. It’s fairly easy to spot the speaker when they are avoiding the question or using shady techniques, as long as you know what those techniques are at least. But one way that people are commonly influenced by that we don’t think about as much is our source of news. If it is a talk show then it’s a little easier, if it is a news anchor it becomes trickier, and if it is a written text it is even more difficult. This first article will be from Reuters about the plane that recently crashed in the Papua region of Indonesia.
One reason that I like Reuters is because they readily give a list of facts about the initial incident, gives quotes from various sources to better explain the incident, and then go into background information about the story. That’s the basic structure I’ve noticed from their articles. It is usually a paragraph such as this that are a give away:
The airline has been on the EU’s list of banned carriers since 2007. Airlines on the list are barred from operating in European airspace due to either concerns about safety standards or the regulatory environment in their country of registration.
This occurs midway through the article. This isn’t part of the immediate story because it isn’t about the plane crash, but it is relevant to why the plane crashed in the first place. The article noticeably gets more political when shortly after it follows up with:
Trigana has had 14 serious incidents since it began operations in 1991, according to the Aviation Safety Network. Excluding this latest incident, it has written off 10 aircraft.
Airline officials were not immediately available to respond to enquiries from Reuters.
Indonesia has a patchy aviation safety record and has seen two major plane crashes in the past year, including an AirAsia flight that went down in the Java Sea, killing all on board.
See now the story doesn’t focus on the crash, it now focuses on Trigana. It’s important to ask what the relevance of this is. To me this is one of two things: the first to make a statement about the quality of Trigana and prompt them to fix it, and two for people to consciously decide to stop using the airline for safer means of travel. So in this instance an event was taken that was relatively unpolitical, being the plane crash, and made sem-political by putting part of the blame on the airliner.
In any news piece you can ask yourself: What relevance to the story does this have, and what would be the intent of adding this to the story? By doing this it’s easier to think about how a story is contorted to fit some kind of message. In this case it’s alerting people to bad airline safety.
And now just for fun we can look at a piece from FoxNews.com. This piece I found today is on the new regulations set by the EPA on the gas industry. I will say I chose not to use an article from the FoxNews opinion section because not only is it awful writing, but it is the most pandered opinion writing out there and I didn’t feel like getting that frustrated today. So I chose the news side of the site.
Consider just the name of the article:
EPA hits oil and gas industry with new methane emissions regs
Just by reading the title you already know what their opinion on the matter is. The most crucial thing when analyzing any writing is to look for the verb. The verb gives it all away. In the title the word ‘hits’ carries a lot of connotation to it. You don’t necessarily associate hitting with being a good thing do you? Here’s an alternate title, “EPA enacts new regulations on methane emissions for oil and gas industry.” It’s simpler that way and you don’t envision slapping the sacred oil industry in the face. Another thing is the use of ‘reg’ as slang instead of just saying regulation. Are they trying to appeal to a specific audience? Probably yes. What kind of audience would that be? Well the main audience for Fox News, from what I have observed, is usually white right-wing conservatives. The use of the word ‘regs’ could be to pamper to younger audience or somehow make the article more fun to read for the audience they already have.
The very second paragraph reads as:
The proposal, though, looked set to face stiff opposition from energy groups and Republicans lawmakers, who accused the administration of pandering to “the fantasies of the environmental Left.”
So again we see another bias. The phrase in quotes is obviously against the environmental left, but it is appropriate why they put that in at all. Objectively, it would have been more useful to just say it was a victory for the environmentalists instead of calling it the fantasies of the environmental left. Where did this quote come from? It isn’t exactly relevant so we can assume this was a way of Fox to insert their own opinion in the story by hiding behind some unnamed person who has no purpose at all. The quote says it’s pandering to the fantasies of the environmental left, but essentially it’s not the person saying that at all, it is just Fox News.
So Fox News is using the method of hiding behind quotations to push their message. If you notice even the first quotation in favor of the regulation, given by Administrator Gina McCarthy, is immediately followed up by the economic trouble this regulation gives by citing the cost being between $320 million and $420 million. It also adds it takes a toll on healthcare and worker benefits (As if Fox is at all worried about this outside the oil industry.) The positive quote is followed up by why the regulation is a bad thing so it especially sticks in a reader’s head all the negative aspects.
It’s also important to note that there are 3 quotations obviously against the regulations compared to the 1 that support it. This is the act of stacking the evidence against the opposition. They aren’t worried about giving the regulations a fair spotlight. They use the statistics and quotes that they pick out to prove their point while giving minimal evidence to the opposition. This is more of an opinion article than anything else.
Reading the right Fox News article will make a good day go sour for me. By asking what purpose each information has, what agenda is being pushed by the information, what connotation each verb has, and asking if the evidence is stacked, we can analyze the rhetoric behind a news story. Really it’s about finding a news source that works for you by covering the stories you find interesting in a way that suites you. My personal preference is Reuters but each source has a different strong point.