Media Matters: How The News Media Tricks You by Framing A Debate

Media Matters is where I look at some current event or trend in the media and make fun of it, while at the same time possibly downplaying how serious of a problem it actually is because we would all be sad if I didn’t.

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In the days of old, the news media was considered the Truth. That’s in caps because I’m taking about the absolute Truth. Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America, all because his job was just to report the events of the day. There was no reason to refute the news, and there was nobody stupid enough to challenge it. Everyone just assumed it was Truth.

Fast forward to today. The Internet allows us unlimited sources for fact-checking, combined with people who are willing to sit all day at their computer arguing anonymously while looking up pictures of cats. Today we have a landscape of political biases and bullshit that has taken over the news cycle. The actual news we receive ends up being filtered through some kind of Disney-fier to the point where I half expect to see Matt Lauer wearing Mickey Mouse ears telling you with a smile that not as many people died in Afganistan today as yesterday, before subjecting himself and his viewers to another Youtube video of a squirrel riding a surfboard.

But the content of the news is a different story. Right now, let’s talk about how they frame a debate. We are conditioned to assume that everything has two equal sides to it, when the truth almost always lies somewhere in the gray zone in between. Today’s news keeps this assumption even when it’s evident that it’s not at all the case. Let’s take possible future Vice President Paul Ryan’s speech at the Republican convention a couple weeks ago. Despite the fact that a huge chunk of things that he said were outright lies, the media frames the debate outside of themselves so that the responsibilities that used to be part of the news media, i.e. fact-checking and getting at the investigative Truth, fall on this 3rd party, “the fact-checkers.” First, we can see this softness in the language that was used to cover the speech.

In this Politico article, the author says that the Obama Administration called Ryan out on some “inaccuracies” and uses the campaign’s video release as a reference. Here’s the Washington Post, in an otherwise good rundown of the speech, relying on the words “falsehood” and “dishonest.” In another good AP article, the headline says “factual shortcuts.” In the best coverage I’ve found, The New Yorker breaks down the speech point by point, but only calls them “hypocrisies.”

In every case, they completely shy away from the word “lie” and instead rely on soft euphemisms. It’s like describing college dining commons food as “technically edible.” The words mean the same thing, but have not nearly the same emotional impact. (What the hell is a factual shortcut, anyway? Does it get you to the truth faster by avoiding information highways?)

Now here’s where the framing comes in. Look at this NPR article. The first part makes it seem like the only people who have questioned Ryan’s speech are “fact-checkers,” whose jobs consist of checking facts. It becomes a two-sided argument from nothing. NPR in this case, presents a debate between “Republicans” and “Fact-checkers” that doesn’t exist. In this way, the newspeople can report the “inaccuracies” while at the same time completely removing themselves from any responsibility.

Do you see how fucked up that is?

The mainstream news media used to be the fact-checkers. Now, that duty has been relegated to others that do the news media’s job for them, such as Not to mention the euphemisms, and the fact that these stories tend to be tucked away in opinion blogs or special sections or separate sites set up for the very purpose of fact checking, when in reality there should be a front page headline everywhere saying “Good-Lookin’ Guy Lies Right To Your Faces, Is Officially Elected Vice-Presidential Candidate Immediately After, You Goddamn Idiots” followed by the second heading “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.”

And this doesn’t even touch any of the video coverage that looked like the Capitol’s Reaping Day in The Hunger Games. Everyone just laughs along knowing full well they are about to watch children murder each other for sport.

So why does this all matter?

Because this has happened before with the “debate” over global warming. The media reports skepticism as a legitimate opinion to hold, even though 99.999999% of scientists say it’s happening (I made that up but, like the amount of income I claimed on my tax return last year ($30),  it’s close enough (not $30)). If Global Warming is a lie, it would have to be the biggest collective scientific fraud in the history of the world. (Hey, skepticism is important, but it’s hard to argue against thousands of scientists who are way smarter than you). But just by acknowledging the possibility of the other side of the debate existing, the media makes it seem like the sides are equal in strength, and this made-up skeptic movement is enough to cripple perception of the seriousness of global warming. And if you think the euphemisms don’t make a difference, a recent study showed that 44% of Republicans admitted that “global warming” was happening, compared to 60% if it was framed as “climate change.” It’s the same thing, but the wording completely changes how people see it. So, the New News doesn’t really question legitimacy themselves anymore, they just present what they think are the facts and let you decide on which ones are true, which only causes confusion.

But let’s take a step back and honestly think about how profoundly incredible this Ryan situation is. A guy who has a good chance of at least being the Vice President of the country, and possibly the President in the future, stood there in front of an audience of millions of people with the power to vote for him, and either knowingly lied and based his entire speech on a bunch of made-up shit, or he doesn’t have a clue as to what he’s talking about.

The worst part about this is that this has nothing to do with disagreeing with policy. Everybody in the world has lied. The difference is that if you are a public figure trying to entice people to do something, the media can’t be afraid to call you out on bullshit. It doesn’t mater what side you are on. Bullshit is bullshit. But this guy stands up there, basically proclaims that he is going to lie right to you and still get the nomination, and then totally fucking does it. The amount of balls that that takes knowing that no one is going to give a shit afterwards is mind-blowing.

In conclusion, a guy who can’t even “remember” whether or not he runs faster than 97% of Minnesotans is one swing state and one yacht accident away from being the leader of the free world. See? This is why we can’t have nice things.

(top image source)

UPDATE: If you’d like to read more on this, there’s an article I just found from Mother Jones called “The Lying Game” by David Corn, which basically says that all this fact checking doesn’t even make any difference to the campaigns anyway, and that by just fighting back, campaigns actually diminish the integrity of these fact-checking sites. (Which is exactly how the global warming debate started. The scientists suddenly became bad at science, even though their careers depend on their science being accurate.) Unfortunately, the article is not available for free online. Damn Commies.

3 Responses to Media Matters: How The News Media Tricks You by Framing A Debate

  1. djforeclosure says:

    Did you not notice when truth became a question of popular opinion? When you have enough people say what they think is right, it becomes right. Regardless of things like “Facts.” Whoops.


  2. Could you please be more specific about what Paul Ryan lied about in the debate? I’d like to fact check it.


    • Chris Rio says:

      I linked 4 articles that break the speech down point by point – Politico, Washington Post, The New Yorker, and AP. My point was that even though these are “news” publications, they have these things tucked away in opinion blogs or special sections because they are “fact-checking”, even though that’s what the news is supposed to be doing anyway.


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