Slant is a sneaky way to distort the news because it can be invisible. Writers cherry pick information by focusing on specific details while ignoring others, and not presenting adequate context. It happens behind the scenes, and you can easily be misled into thinking you’re getting the full picture, when you’re not.
The coverage of Trump’s address on Afghanistan is a good example. Let’s take a close look at the lead sentences in The New York Times and Fox News.
The New York Times: President Trump put forward on Monday a long-awaited strategy for resolving the nearly 16-year-old conflict in Afghanistan, but he declined to specify either the number of troops that would be committed, or the conditions by which he would judge the success of their mission there.
The Times focuses on what the president didn’t say, rather than what he actually did say. This is not a problem in itself; in fact, it’s useful to know that the president didn’t provide details. Yet the Times highlights this in the first sentence, does so after the word “but,” and doesn’t provide more info about the strategy. It also doesn’t include the reasons Trump gave in his speech for not giving details. Put all this together and the newspaper casts doubt on the strategy and the likelihood Trump will follow through on his promise.
Now, read Fox’s lead:
Fox News: President Trump outlined a comprehensive new strategy Monday night for achieving a “lasting peace” in Afghanistan – rejecting what he called “arbitrary timetables” for the U.S. troop presence, ratcheting up pressure on Pakistan to stop harboring militants and vowing to refocus the mission on “killing terrorists,” not nation-building.
After reading this, you’re more likely to think the strategy is positive: the strategy is “new” and “comprehensive,” is aimed at achieving “lasting peace,” rejects something “arbitrary” and seems to more aggressively pursue “militants.” Yet Fox doesn’t provide specific data to explain these vague terms, nor does it point out that Trump didn’t provide certain details.
Of course, it’s also important to consider Trump’s own slant. He emphasizes the perceived advantages of the strategy, as well as what he interprets as the downsides of previous policies—and he doesn’t present alternate perspectives. Regardless of this, it’s possible for news outlets to quote what he said in a data-based and balanced manner.
Slant is a natural aspect of human communication—it doesn’t just happen in the news, but in our daily lives. We will always be limited by how much information we can perceive and how our beliefs and experiences affect our perception. Still, we can minimize slant if we know how. The question is, are we doing our best to consider as much data and as many perspectives as we can? Or, do we allow our cognitive and emotional preferences to artificially select and distort information?
To be as balanced as possible, it’s important to be aware of our tendencies to slant, and commit to pursuing truth and objectivity over any need to be right about a particular position. It starts with a willingness to build and strengthen a scientific, critical thinking mind. This is what we do in the Knife. We support all the facts.
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