Sunday, August 29, 2010

Just the facts...Not!

"Conservative commentator Glenn Beck and Tea Party champion Sarah Palin appealed Saturday to a vast, predominantly white crowd on the National Mall to help restore traditional American values and honor Martin Luther King's message."

That was the first line of the Sunday AP story of the Beck rally in Washington. After I read that, my eyes darted back to the "predominantly white crowd" part of that statement and it got me thinking. Isn't it interesting how the use of one or two words can change the focus of a news article? While I should have been more focused on the rally itself, I couldn't help but think about the "predominantly white crowd".

One could argue that "predominantly white" was merely a factual description of the crowd and that it is a newspaper's job to report facts. If anyone did a demographics on the crowd, it is possible it was predominantly white. But the sentence in the article conveys the impression that conservatism and traditional American values appeal only to whites and that blacks aren't interested in the actions of our government.

But that's not all.

That first line was followed by "Civil Rights leaders who accused the group of hijacking King's legacy held their own rally and march".

Suppose the sentence had read: "Black civil rights leaders who accused the group of hijacking King's legacy, held their own rally and march."

Wouldn't that seem to convey the impression that only those who believe in King's message were black and that only blacks believe in civil rights? Of course you and I know that's not true, people from all walks of life believe in King's message and support civil rights for all Americans. But then if that were reported it would be boring wouldn't it? It wouldn't sell papers, wouldn't sell advertising and wouldn't cause controversy. And controversy sells news.

You may think it's a stretch but I'm sticking with it here. The strategic placement of a few words can spin an entirely different impression of the facts, detracting away from the real story and making relevant facts meaningless. This article is one example. How on earth do you go from a rally intended to unite Americans for the purpose of making their government more accountable to a black vs. white issue?

It's no wonder so many Americans are tired of the news and don't trust it. It's because so much of what is reported isn't really news, it's just spin, someone's opinion of what really happened. It seems, when it comes to news, the facts are no longer relevant.


  1. good catch, jess. and of course, it's important to never, ever, acknowledge that mlk & mlk, jr. were registered republicans. yeah, while we're at it, let's pretend it really was the democrats who passed the civil rights act in 1964 just because it was lbj in office. and let's pretend that the kkk wasn't a democrat social club... ugh. words mean something - and those in the media certainly do know it.

  2. It's so absurd how Fox personalities hijack famous events in history and twist them to work with their agenda. It's not honoring the event, it's disrespecting it. If they were really being revolutionary or doing something righteous and worthy, wouldn't they want their own spot on the calendar? It's almost like a sitcom with a laugh track; the writers don't believe they're funny enough to make us laugh when we ought to. Great post.