If there’s any downside to President Trump’s popularization of the term “fake news,” it’s that it gives mainstream journalists and their defenders an out. They can point back at their reporting (sometimes) and say, Hey, turkey, tell us where you see anything fake in this story! And you look at it (sometimes), and you’ll see they are right. All their facts are in order, and you can’t definitively say that anything they reported is untrue, per se.
Now, over the course of Trump’s presidency, this tether to the truth has grown frayed, granted. Even major papers like The New York Times are growing more and more comfortable printing “news” based on anonymous sources, dubious inferences, and outright fiction. So the term “fake news” is aptly used in those instances.
But for the most part, media bias is much more subtle, and Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley did an excellent job pointing it out with a tweet on Thursday.
“Media bias is real, it’s wrong, it’s dangerous, and it must be called out and exposed. Here are four @nytimes headlines and six clear, egregious examples of bias,” Gidley tweeted. “Can you spot more? (Keep in mind, these are JUST the headlines…we didn’t even post all examples IN the articles.)”
The headlines were related to the Times’s coverage of Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearings, and the first thing you’ll notice is that there’s nothing factually untrue on the page. There’s nothing you can point to and say, “Yeah, that’s a lie.” No, no, no, they are far too shrewd for that. Bias, when done “well,” is subtle and well-hidden. That’s exactly what makes it a powerful tool for propaganda.
Here’s the picture Gidley shared (right click->view image for larger view):
It is in using these sly techniques that newspapers like The New York Times convince their readers that the “other side” is living in some kind of alternative reality where facts don’t matter and Trump is a god-emperor who can do whatever he wants. But it’s relatively easy to defeat an opponent when he is a product of your own construction. These media outlets never present the actual arguments of the other side; they present their own twisted version of those arguments and then knock them down like so many bowling pins. Easy-peasy.
Good on Gidley for sharing this piece. Let’s hope it educates a few New York Times readers about the tricks they’re falling for on a daily basis.