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etc. - a little of this, a little of that - by Oliver Del Signore

Archive for October 10th, 2011


It’s all in how you say it

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s Comment Contest winner – Mechelle.


Media bias is well-known to everyone except those in the media.

Sometimes, the bias is overt, as when an outlet shamelessly cheers on a particular political candidate. Sometimes it takes the form of omission, deliberately ignoring, withholding, or downplaying information that might cast their candidate or cause in a bad (true) light, as happened in the last presidential campaign. More often, I think, it takes the form of a choice of word or phrase that shapes the story a particular way in the minds of some readers or provides a aeemingly innocuous code word. Take two stories from today’s left-tilting Boston Globe.

Optimism, candor boost Cain in polls

Herman Cain

 WASHINGTON – He’s more than Mr. Congeniality, popular for his straight-shooting sense of humor and powerful gospel-singing voice. Herman Cain, a pizza magnate, conservative talk-radio host, and the only serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination without prior political chops, has in recent weeks proved to be a candidate who some analysts say should be taken seriously.

Read the rest of the article here.

Did you see any bias or code words in that opening paragraph? If not, look again.

While the reporter, Tracy Jan, could have chosen to refer to Cain’s powerful speaking voice or just powerful voice, instead she chose to highlight his “powerful gospel-singing voice.” And it’s right up front where folks who just scan the first few paragraphs will be sure to see it.

That may not mean much where you live, but here in The People’s Republic, it implies Cain is one of “those people” — bible-thumping Christians. Now, he may or may not be, but of what relevance is that either way unless he’s come out and said he wants to run the country as a theocracy? Did he run his business empire that way? Wouldn’t knowing that, rather than what kind of singing voice he  has, be much more relevant information for voters to use in assessing his candidacy?


The second item features a phrase I see and hear used all the time by reporters and news readers.The item is short, so I’m reproducing it in its entirely

Amazon, Conn. in showdown over tax

HARTFORD – Connecticut officials are not giving up on requiring Internet sellers to collect state sales taxes, despite signs from that it won’t abide by the state’s new Internet tax law.

Amazon wrote to the state to say it is not obliged to follow the law because it lacks a physical presence in Connecticut. The state will press Amazon for taxes it says should have collected at least during the month when Amazon was affiliated with Connecticut websites. Amazon has cut those ties.

The state could expect up to $9.4 million a year in additional revenue if remote sellers, including Amazon, comply with the law, according to a legislative estimate. Connecticut plans to evaluate other connections Amazon has with people in the state and start building a case that may be decided in court.

At least six states have enacted laws similar to Connecticut’s, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. It estimates all states combined are losing $23 billion each year.

Did you catch the spin in the last paragraph?

The combined states are not “losing” $23 billion each year. To lose something, you had to first have it. None of the states ever had tax revenue from Internet sales.

What they are trying to do is grab more of their citizens’ money by forcing companies that have no physical presence in their state to begin acting as tax collectors for them.

I know most will think the turn of phrase is not a big deal, but to me it is, because it endeavors to place in the reader’s thoughts that Amazon is fighting to withhold from the state money the state is owed, just as if a Hartford department store decided to stop collecting sales taxes from its customers when, in reality, it is fighting to keep government weenies away from a technology that has transformed the world.

If states are really worried about businesses within their borders losing customers to the Internet, if they really want to level the playing field, they should slash the bureaucracy and spending and eliminate their state sales tax.

I hope these two examples will, if you do not already do so, cause you to begin reading and listening  more carefully, to start looking for the many subtle ways in which stories are slanted, and help to make you a better consumer of information and more resistant to propaganda from any direction.

So…what do you think? Am I seeing bad where none exists?

Do you have any other examples of how a simple word or phrase can send a message or change the slant of a story?

And what, if anything, can we do about it?






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