Politics and Deception (Part 3)

In Part 1 of Politics and Deception we discussed about the possible deception that occurs when media outlets “report” the news. In Part 2, we continued our discussion, with the purpose of raising awareness of how bias/spin/deception may occur and influence our thinking.

In this week’s blog, we continue the theme from the previous two weeks about possible deception and the media and outline the difference between lies of omission and lies of commission.

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Politics and Deception (Part 2)

By Humintell Director Dr. David Matsumoto

In last week’s blog we discussed about the possible deception that occurs when media outlets “report” the news. This week we continue our discussion, with the purpose of raising awareness of how bias/spin/deception may occur and influence our thinking.

Media writers and editors are well aware of the impressions they create with the words they choose (or not choose) to “report” their stories. Some cynics may even suggest that the impressions (or narratives) are pre-decided even before stories are written, and stories are then written or reported in a way to support the pre-decided narrative. For example, take a look at these two headlines about Donald Trump’s recent selection of Mike Pence as his vice-presidential running mate:

NY Times

NY Post

In the NY Times headline, note that the selection is making its debut after a “chaotic rollout.” In the NY Post headline, note that the event is labeled simply as “Trump chooses Mike Pence as running mate.” Clearly, the words were carefully chosen in order to craft an impression on the readers.

If we define deception as “the intentional or willful act, without prior notification, of creating in others a belief that may not be true,” it certainly seems that “media spin” is awfully close to lying.

Actually, there has been tons of research on the effects of words on how we think and process information. Much of this started in the line of research on eyewitness testimony. These studies showed that how questions/statements/claims are worded are very crucial because even slight changes in specific words can create very different impressions on the receiver. In one experiment, for example, participants viewed films of an automobile accident and were later interviewed about what they saw. The interviews were the same for everyone except for one difference. Some participants were asked “about how fast were the cars going when they hit each other?” Other participants were asked, “About how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?” (italics added.) Participants were then asked to estimate the speed that the cars when they hit each other. Those who were told “smashed into” gave higher speed estimates than those told something else.

These effects have been repeated across numerous experiments that have showed that minor changes in wording can sometimes produce big differences in impressions and memories left by the words. For example, another study demonstrated that same effect with the questions “Did you see the broken flashlight?” vs. “Did you see a broken flashlight?”

As we mentioned in the previous post, media plays a crucial role in a democracy by keeping government honest. But it can only do so reporting the facts accurately to the people, so that people can make accurate determinations about its government. If the media does not do so, then it’s up to the people to become better aware of potential bias/spin/deception on the part of the media. Hopefully this brief blog continues to draw some attention to this very important topic.

Politics and Deception (Part 1)

downloadWritten by Humintell Director Dr. David Matsumoto

This month welcomes the national conventions of both the Democratic and Republican parties of the U.S., and like any political season the news is often dominated by politics. Over the years, the American public (as in many other countries) has grown to be quite wary of less-than-truthful claims by politicians, and lying, credibility, and character seem to be especially crucial themes in this year’s political cycle.

In this blog, however, we draw attention not to the lies of politicians (because we simply don’t have enough space or time to discuss all of them!), but to the possible deception by the mass media. During this political season, it is very interesting to note how different media outlets “report” on the same event. Using different words, phrases, analogies, metaphors, and other linguistic and grammatical features, media outlets can create different appearances for the very same set of facts. They can also subtly influence (some may say “manipulate”) appearances by omitting things to report.

For example, take a look at these two headlines by two different media outlets about a recent government report (8 July 2016) about the economy.

In one, jobs “roar” back with a gain of 287,000, “easing worry” about the economy. In that report, the unemployment rate, which rose by 0.2% (from 4.7% to 4.9%), was attributed to the fact that “more Americans rejoined the work force.”

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The other report merely started with the bland headline, “U.S. Added 287,000 jobs in June.” The unemployment rate of 4.9% was characterized as “partly retracing its drop from 5.0% in April.”

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Clearly these two reports, and especially the headlines, give very different impressions about the same set of facts. The consuming public has become used to digesting such stories as “media spin.”

Scholars generally define deception as “the intentional or willful act, without prior notification, of creating in others a belief that may not be true.” Is “media spin” the polite, socially appropriate euphemism of saying “deception?” Has society made such deception more palatable by calling it “spin?”

Media plays a crucial role in a democracy by keeping government honest. But it can only do so reporting the facts accurately to the people, so that people can make accurate determinations about its government. If the media does not do so, then it’s up to the people to become better aware of potential bias/spin/deception on the part of the media. Hopefully this brief blog draws some attention to this very important topic.

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