Monday, February 8, 2016

Selective Release of the Truth to Shape an Impression

Here is a good example of a phenomenon I have been complaining about for a long time.

A snapshot of's front page as it existed 7 Feb 2016 
at 15:47:39 EST.  This image is used under the fair use provision of 
copyright law for the purpose of commentary.

Notice the story that appears centered just beneath the headline story:  "POISON PEN?  Paper to publish names, addresses of police officers".  For reasons probably better understood by those in the industry, the title for the actual story when one clicks on the link is somewhat different:  "Texas newspaper plans to publish names, addresses of police officers".  As far as I know, nothing in this story is untrue, nor do I wish to comment on the style of writing of the story.  My point is merely that its placement makes it clear that the folks at Fox News want everyone to notice this story; they apparently wish us to accept it as one of the most important stories in the world at the time it was written.

Because, of course, there are an uncountably large number of equally true stories that could have occupied that position instead.  For example, many councils of the Knights of Columbus will be having a fish fry on Friday, February 12 -- the first Friday in Lent.  That is a true story, but few people would regard it as one of the most important things going on in the world today, so of course it does not appear in a prominent location, or indeed at all, on Fox News' web site.

So we are supposed to accept the story as not only true, but also important.  What makes it important?  Its importance comes from an overarching narrative into which we are supposed to buy.  In this case, the narrative is made clear from the trend of Fox News stories, particularly over the past year or so:  The police, or at least the local police, are "the best and brightest", noble knights in blue of whom an ungrateful public is scarcely worthy -- even though the police are unionized!  (The narrative is much less clear regarding federal police forces.)

OK, obviously I am a bit skeptical of this narrative.  The truth is, I consider it hopelessly simplistic and a dangerous assumption for any democracy; there is, after all, good reason to fear any "police state".  However, all news sources have their favorite narratives.  They constitute a major part of the bias of which people complain.  

My point is that although these editorial biases may not result in lies or even misleading reports -- though the latter happens with great regularity -- by carefully filtering the news they can create overall impressions which are entirely false.  No doubt that is sometimes the intention, but even when it is not, editorial positions determine the news coverage.  "We report, you decide" -- but what they report is meant to guide you down a primrose path to a decision they have determined in advance.

So far I have mentioned just one article, but this is just an example of the trend that jumped out at me for reasons that will be clear at the end of this post.  But in exactly the same position -- front and center just beneath the main headline on the main page -- at 7 am on Monday,  February 8, has chosen the story "CARRYING CONFUSION:  Obscure law denies some ex-cops weapons permit"/"Arcane NJ law prevents retired cops from carrying concealed weapon".  What an outrage (we are supposed to think)!  Well, no, it's not an outrage.  The law does not target retired police in general to be treated differently than the general public, which is what the scaremongering headlines imply. Instead, the law seems to set aside retired state police for preferential treatment when getting a concealed carry permit, only the state of New Jersey does not really consider retired university police retired state police.  Whether or not university police should count as state police is debatable, but it is debatable, and losing that debate merely puts them on the same level as other New Jersey residents.  However, the reader is primed to read the situation as outrageous discrimination against police.

This editorial filtering of the news controls not only which stories are featured, but also which stories are suppressed. has its own set of narratives, but they share little overlap with those of  As a result, the story "Miami police union president doxxes woman for accusing cop of speeding" can be found on, but not  It advances an narrative (about how things are falling apart in America) but not the narrative (about how wonderful American police are) -- but note that the objectionable act is exactly the same, the only difference being who is doing it to whom.

Oh, and just to drive home the point a bit further, on this same Monday morning there is an article on that fits into their narrative:  "Cop seeks $10mn from family of black teen he killed, claims he’s ‘traumatized’".

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