Politics and Deception (Part 1)
Written 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.”
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.”
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.