An unbiased look at news slants

Because of the nature of news and personal opinions based on what happens in the world of current events, it’s sometimes good to remind people periodically to stay focused on facts and to understand the implications involved in news reporting and how it balances out with how we think. Should Casey die? Is universal healthcare the answer? Should more American troops be sent to Afghanistan? Is Obama a good president? The ideas and opinions of people run incredibly strong and deep, and it’s just plain human nature to be this way. Here on blogs, we grow by engaging each other in comments. In the news, it’s not readily distinguishable because the brain doesn’t always comprehend what’s been absorbed, especially when it fits the bill on a particular topic. For example, FOX goes one way and MSNBC goes the other and seldom the twain shall meet. Rest assured, if one network is agreeable, that one is perceived as being fair and balanced and the other is up to no good.

This is an article I originally wrote in college back in the early 70s. I have updated it a couple of times and published it on the blog in 2005 and 2008. This is a new approach to an old post…

Every day in the news media we are bombarded by reports that lean one way or another. Pro-this, anti-that, so to speak. Very rarely do we read, see or hear any type of news that isn’t slanted. Even your relatives, friends and co-workers have said the coverage of a particular news item was so biased for or against a particular issue, they felt compelled to tell you about it. You may have sat there and thought, “Hey, I saw the same thing, on the same station, and I didn’t feel it was as bad as what they just told me.” Of course, each one of us has an opinion on just about everything, and sometimes we run into people who are just so animated over how the news is reported, they seem to lose track of exactly what they heard, saw or read, and, by inflection, they inject their own personal views that create a slant on the slanted news. Those who do the reporting tend to be pariahs in the minds of these viewers and they misconstrue what was actually said in the first place. A lot of it has to do with wishful thinking. As is the case now with Barack Obama, people either like him or they hate his guts with a vengeance, so out of their mouths come some pretty nasty words. Of course, kinder and gentler words come out of his supporters.

A lot of times, someone believes deeply in a cause. Save the Whales! Causes can be twisted into political agendas because conservatives interpret conservation and animal rights organizations and issues as being liberal, for instance. It works both ways. Over time, too many issues have been highly distorted and twisted into one’s own way of thinking, when, in reality, that should not be the case. Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican president and he is regarded as the founder of environmental conservation in America; a true protector of flora, fauna, and land. Was he a liberal tree hugger? Good question, but for some odd reason, we seem to get confused and downright mean over issues that may or may not impact us, depending on points of view. Just yell GLOBAL WARMING! in a room full of Democrats. Do the same in a room filled with Republicans. You’ll never hear so much passion, along with a heavy dose of bias and self-serving interpretations of science.

Slants take on many forms, not always of a political nature. They can delve into the philosophical or religious views of the author, too. They could be based on one’s own experiences. How many movie and restaurant critics have written bad reviews? Clearly, there’s nothing political about those. Maybe you saw that movie and ate at that restaurant and you liked both. Who is right here? You or the critic? Below are three different takes on the same fictitious event. One is a straight forward report and the other two are slants. Each slant will infer something different. Read between the lines.

(1) A two vehicle accident occurred on Wednesday, at the intersection of Main Street and Vine Avenue, in downtown Podunk around 11 PM. One person did not survive. Dennis Walker, 15, of Ruralville was pronounced dead at the scene. His father Michael Walker, also of Ruralville, was transported to Podunk Medical Center, where he was treated and released. The driver of the other vehicle, Scott Wilson, 22, of Podunk, and his passengers, suffered minor injuries and were treated at the scene. The cause of the accident is pending a police investigation.

(2) A 15 year old boy died in a two car accident on Wednesday here in Podunk. The accident occurred at the intersection of Main Street and Vine Avenue. Dennis Walker, of Ruralville, was pronounced dead at the scene. His father, Michael Walker, also of Ruralville, was flown by helicopter to the trauma center at Podunk Medical Center. The driver of the other vehicle, Scott Wilson, 22, of Podunk, and his passengers, suffered minor injuries and were treated at the scene. Mr. Walker had just pulled out of the parking lot of the First Baptist Church of Podunk, where he had picked his son up from a Boy Scout meeting. An officer at the scene was quoted as saying, “I can’t say for sure what happened, but empty beer cans and bottles were found in the other vehicle.”

A witness said that the other car had just pulled out of Bill’s Tavern, less than a block away, and was exceeding the posted speed limit of 35MPH. Blood alcohol levels have not been released and an official report will not be disclosed until the investigation is completed.

(3) An accident which caused the death of one person occurred at the intersection of Main Street and Vine Avenue in Podunk. Dennis Walker, 15, of Ruralville, died at the scene. His father, Michael Walker, also of Ruralville, was transported to Podunk Medical Center. The driver of the other vehicle, Scott Wilson, 22, of Podunk, and his passengers, were treated for minor injuries. There have been many accidents at this intersection over the past 10 years, according to state statistics. A witness at the scene said, “This is ridiculous. We’ve protested to state, county and city officials about this problem for years. We’ve signed petitions. We need a traffic light here now! No one heeds the 4 way stop signs. At least two others have died in the past three years.” An investigation is pending and weather did not seem to be a factor.

Do you see how easy it is to write a slant? You can slant a story any way you want to suit your own opinion and to get your message across. We see, read and hear it every day on the news. It’s not just news outlets, either. Today, the Internet is a bastion of unlimited free speech and there are millions of bloggers around the world who exercise that right, except for China, but it certainly doesn’t mean it’s all straightforward and true. It’s not just bloggers. There are tons of Web sites waiting to sink their fangs into our brains. It’s not just Web sites, either.  Governments love to indoctrinate their citizenry. Of course, I could go on and on and on, but I won’t.

You, the reader, watcher and listener, have to distinguish between what is real and what is a twist and even if you agree, it still doesn’t make it true. Remember that.

Of course, that’s my unbiased opinion.


57 thoughts on “An unbiased look at news slants

  1. Hi, Marsha – Thank you. I know how my father feels about a certain news organization and he says they are completely fair and balanced. No news outfit is without human conditions, and opinions are just a part of reporting. If not, then emotions were never real when the earthquake happened in Haiti. Those tears were real.

    Thank you for asking about our health. I feel pretty good today, but my mother is still pretty bedridden. Feeling better, but mending slowly.

  2. dave it’s funny how the mind works, huh? when i read your article, the first thing that popped into my mind was”just the facts, ma’am” dragnet with jack webb. let me assure you that dragnet was before my time, but i did see reruns when iwas a kid. lol

  3. Yes, midget48, it is funny. What’s not so funny is that I grew up watching Dragnet and it wasn’t in reruns back in those days of B&W TV with round screens. Gee, I remember before Dragnet was even on. Interestingly, the way news is reported hasn’t changed much over the years, except that it’s gone from news to entertainment. Sure, it’s still the news, but almost everything has a commercial spin or it’s more or less about Brangelina than it is about Afghanistan. I think people’s attitudes have changed over the years. Vietnam coverage had an impact, in my opinion.

  4. Point taken- we used to do exercises like this in Intro. to Journalism. I also worked for a survey-taking outfit (legit one) while in college and I was always amazed at how you can erode someone who starts out as a 10 on some issue or other, to a 6 or less after 30 odd questions depending on how they’re slanted. Also, things change- I remember when being pro-choice was a Republican position- it was the frequently Catholic Democrats who tended to be pro-Life. Someone in their 20s now probably couldn’t fathom that!

    Still eventually a consensus does takes form, when new data accrues. Let’s see how Rush feels when his yacht hits the remains of an iceberg in the Gulf! Hah!

  5. the era of the vietnam “conflict” had a pepetual impact over all aspects of life. i will leave it at that. so much to say, so little

  6. Nice post Dave. I am of the opinion that in a world where people are in mad pursuit to further their own agenda…that we can benefit from our differences…as long as we can maintain a decorum of decency.

    My tendency is to think abstract. When I hear those hoofbeats in the park…I think zebra. But I like the balance of working with someone who hears those same hoofbeats and looks for the horse.

  7. Dave, very interesting article. Wow, I can see how easy it is to slant. They do that every night on the news!!!!!! It immediately made me think of what we read about the Cummings and the Anthonys too. Also, with me–haha–when I watch the news, if I like what they say it is a good station if not then the news reporters are not good—AND dont know what they are talking about–

    Thanks for the article. Amazing how this was going on in the 70’s and is still relevant today—kind of like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. And yes I watched Dragnet on the b&w TV. My mom and dad were the first to have a color Tv in the small town we lived in. Strangers would come to our door to see it and we would let them in. That was in Kansas but we arent in Kansas anymore!!

  8. Sorry I missed your comment, Gerta. Thank you for enjoying the post. I agree with you and as a left-handed, artistic person, I completely understand thinking abstractly. I totally see your zebra way of thinking. That was a great way to put it.

  9. Sorry I’m late, martha. Thanks. I think these popular crimes are a good reason to pause and look at each one from different angles. I know my mother will sometimes dislike an actor for playing a bad guy. I always remind her that it’s just a role and she acknowledges that, but I guess it’s sometimes tough to break molds. John Wayne was almost always a good guy, like Jimmy Stewart. I’ve reminded her that Bruce Willis, one of her favorites, plays both good and bad guy roles. She agrees. I guess my point is that we like people on the news, too, for some reason. I liked Peter Jennings and certainly, Charles Gibson, who was a likable guy. I also liked Tom Brokaw, but Brian Williams isn’t nearly as good in my opinion. That has something to do with how we view the news.

    Believe it or not, we were the first ones in the neighborhood with a color TV way back when. I remember having my own TV, too, in my room. It was kind of big, but it had a small round screen. Boy, have we come a long way. Back then, we could leave the front door unlocked. I long for those days on one hand, but I want to see the future with my other.

  10. Good Evening Dave,
    I enjoyed your post. I understand how an event can be seen so differently by any number of people. I know this from personal experience with my loved ones. We very often do not even understand how the other person gets their opinions in the first place. I just don’t understand their way of thinking at all. Everyone sees everything through their own filters. I think the filters are a culmination of many of ones life experiences.
    Dave, I too am left-handed and artistic. Did you know ( I’m sure you do, it seems you know everything ) we are the only ones in our right mind? LOL
    It’s too bad that your Mom’s progress is so slow but as long as it keeps getting better that’s the main thing.

  11. Thank you, Frankie. One thing we can say with no bias is that everyone has an opinion. I find it rather difficult to understand when people are so quick to shut the door on other angles of a news story or anything else in life, but take Casey Anthony. Almost everyone thinks she’s guilty. On the other hand, take Ron Cummings and opinions run the gamut, but in his case, he’s never been charged in his daughter’s disappearance. People still feel strongly about him.

    Yes, I know all about being in the right mind. I’ll tell you, I always dream in super color, too. Everything is so vivid.

  12. i dream in color sometimes, and when i asked a friend if she did, she thought i had lost it. now, i know i am not a looney. thanks,dave. frankie, i agree with life experiences playing a part in one’s own perspective, as well as genetics. jmo

  13. dave, the one thing i don’t miss with the old tvs was having to actually get off the couch every time you wanted to change the channel or the volume. of course, there weren’t many channels back then. no couch potato in those days.

  14. Dave~~I dream that you have a full head of light brown hair with a touch of gray at the temples. So would my dreams be colored and slanted in your opinion?

    I also believe that Ronald Cummings is more guilty than he is less guilty.

  15. I agree with you Dave. My dear old dad who was a reporter fom the old days, told me that newspapers are history. News was his life and he had a innnate talent like you have, to put words on paper in a way that we understand and want to read more…. At the age of 87, he told me that newspapers are history, it’s time to move on into the 21st century. It was hard for him to say that.

    We’ve discussed this before, but I seriously hope that you take your god given natural talent and write as a journalist would. If you want to write novels, that’s okay too. Maybe stop focussing on your blog so much? It’s your choice.

  16. Wait!! Before anyone jumps on me, I don’t mean to suggest Dave shouldn’t keep his blog going. I just think he should consider focusing on writing. He’s a natural. If he was a talented painter, I’d be bugging him to paint.

  17. Oh NosyParker~~you scared me for a minute. Dave cannot abandon us yet. The trial will be over soon and then the world can have all of him.
    I fully understand what you mean tho, when I read Dave’s stories I want more, more and this is not just the Anthony case stories.

  18. I think a lot of people dream in color, midget48. There’s nothing unusual about it as far as I’m concerned.

    Nope, there were no couch potatoes in those days. I grew up in NJ, halfway between NYC and Philadelphia, so long before cable, we got all of the stations from both cities. Occasionally, when the weather was weird, WNEW, Channel 5 in NY would be bumped off by a Washington, DC station. This was back in the day of outside antennas and rabbit ears, of course.

  19. Dave~~it’s showing now. I meant to say in my comment, Anthony posts not stories. I consider the posts, investigative journalism at its best. So there.

  20. I am thinking about different writing styles. I know we’ve talked about this and you’ve told me about your father, but I think I can still hone my skills a bit. I would really like to try my hand at writing short stories, maybe murder mysteries and horror. Of course, I still want to write this blog and I’m not really sure what direction to go in after the Anthony trial is over, but I may continue writing about missing children and crime stories in general. I’m not sure, but I sure do appreciate your confidence in my writing, NosyParker. Coming from you, that’s a real compliment. Thank you.

  21. Yes Midget48 it does make us unique. I just have trouble getting my head around some of the opinions some come up with. It’s mind boggling how some will latch on to an idea real or imagined and nothing in the world will change their mind no matter what. Some are a little too unique. LOL

  22. yeah, being too unique———–not good. some would call that being “hardheaded”, while others would label it as being ignorant. being ignorant is not a sin—staying ignorant is. ‘nite.

  23. Dave, I have thought of you as just a kid… Now you talk of TV’s with round screens. I haven’t even seen one of those. As for your three examples, Hmmm. Well, they don’t quite measure up to the SLANTING we see in news stories today. I have a huge problem with items that include filler wording that have little to do with the story. This is one of the reasons I find reading your posts. You don’t throw in fillers.
    Example being, the type of structure I live in has nothing to do with who I am or what might be expected of me. Thanks again for excellent posts.

  24. Hi Dave
    Hope you’re feeling great! I love your article it is so true!
    have a nice day. 😀

  25. Hi, Rita! How’s the weather in the Benelux area today? As a kid my family took ourselves over there- lunch only in Luxembourg, drat- but I have long harbored a desire to see it more thoroughly. My Dad’s German, came here as a kid then went back for the War. He was determined to cram in as many countries as he could manage in 3 1/2 weeks. Delicious lunch, too, as I recall! Hard to eat badly anywhere there though…

  26. Hi Karen,
    weather was bad yesterday, a lot of snow and generally in Luxembourg road are very clean to drive, but there is a shortage of road salt . It was quite an amazing mess all over the very small country. Today is ok it is raining, the snow is melting. Winter is not over and since a long time we did not have had such a snow! Luxembourg is a very small country, you can make the tour in 1hour with a lot of wonderful place to visit and very good restaurant to lunch!

  27. Dang, Rita- now I’m getting hungry! How well I remember those sweet little pork tenderloins, and wienerschnitzel, and dumplings and sauces, and…

    OK, having lunch now!

    But first, Rita, am curious- how closely is any of this Caylee/Casey business being followed across the pond? We’re all just biting our nails, waiting for something to happen and because things are sluggish on the Caylee front, and so many momentous events have occurred on the missing Haleigh Cummings case, we’ve been sort of involved with that the last few days, here at Dave’s anyway. Are Europeans following any of this- I know there are cases of interest there as well….

    BTW, Hinky Meter has a worthy post up, as usual, on Caylee.

  28. I’ve been busy today. This morning, I went back to the hospital for copies of the tests I had Friday. I have ground-glass opacity in my right lung. Never heard of it until now. Look it up. Also, it said this: Visualized upper abdomen and retroperitoneum are significant for cholelithiasis. In other words, I have a lot of gallstones. I have other things I’m keeping busy with, but the good news is there’s no lung cancer and the “previously seen infiltrate within the right lower lobe has been resolved.” Whatever was inside my lung has disappeared. I still have low readings on respiratory tests and a strong possibility exists that I have some COPD, but I can’t self-diagnose. The pulmonary doctor will have to tell me.

  29. Dave~~thank God, you don’t have to deal with that ‘C’ word. I have never heard tell of ground glass capacity. You know me, another thing for me to look up. Probably half the nation has COPD, in one form or another. I am amazed at how many people have breathing problems and using puffers/inhalers. Anyway, I am glad you are getting some answers, finally.

  30. Just home from lunch and popped in to eat and digest your article. Your superb article!

    I remember my mother was involved in a traffic accident and felt so sorry for the officer because 4 eye witnesses had 4 different accounts of what had just happened.
    To err is human.

    Glad to know you are having a good day and best wishes for your Mother’s speedy recovery.

  31. I need to say hello to Rita, Karen, and everyone I missed this morning.

    I am very glad you enjoyed this article, stpetesmj. Unfortunately, that’s what cops have to deal with when there are witnesses, though. It’s the same with everything. Our minds play tricks on us.

    Thank you for the good wishes. I will make sure to pass them on to my mother, too.

  32. I’ve been knocking on linoleum for you, on the lung front. I worked at Mass. Gen. for 2+ years, my Dad’s a retired MD, I used to read his JAMAs (and his Aspects of Human Sexuality! That can keep you a virgin longer than most of your peer group is…) for fun- I’ve never heard of “Ground Glass Opacity. Sounds like you quit smoking just in time…

  33. Hi, Karen. I hope I quit smoking just in time, but the best time to quit was in 1968, the year I started. What a fool was I. What’s interesting, though, is that my left lung is just fine. Christmas 2008 was when I had pneumonia and it was restricted to my right lung.

  34. Thank God you don’t have cancer! On with the wedding plans, LOL. I do hope you are feeling better now that you do not have to worry about that. Will you have your gall bladder removed? It was not that bad, just took a week or two before I felt like running again. 🙂

  35. Hi, Laura – Yes, I am thankful for that. As for the gallstones, I would like to try a homeopathic remedy first, with my doctor’s blessings, of course. My father had his gall bladder removed several years ago and he’s had problems ever since. He can’t eat spicy foods like he used to and his stomach gets very upset easily, creating other problems farther south. I bought some 10-grain hot cereal yesterday and I’m really trying to change my diet. I haven’t eaten a potato in weeks now, since the liver doctor told me no more.

  36. Dave~~there is a medication that can dissolve gall stones. My sister had a heart attack and it was too risky for her to go under the knife to remove the gall bladder and stones. I will call her and get the name of the medication. You can have gall stones without having a diseased gall bladder so , if the stones can be dissolved, you are all set. Watch your intake of cheese as there are certain foods that can help form the stones.

    from Dr Snoop

  37. Yes, Snoopy, please do call your sister. I found a home remedy online drinking dark olive oil and lemon juice all night at 15 minute increments. If your sister has something better, I’m all for it. Thanks.

  38. Thank you, midget48. Yes, knowledge is power. I just read online that a woman passed over 600 stones. That’s a tremendous amount!

    You have a great day, also. Thank you. I’m going to the library for an hour or so. I enjoy doing that.

  39. Dave~~the medication is Ursodiol. My sister takes 250mg x 4 daily. She has been taking it for about 3 yrs and it is helping. One problem, it costs $500 per month and that is Canadian price.

    Ursodiol is used to dissolve gallstones in patients who do not want surgery or cannot have surgery to remove gallstones. Ursodiol is also used to prevent the formation of gallstones in overweight patients who are losing weight very quickly. Ursodiol is a bile acid, a substance naturally produced by the body that is stored in the gallbladder. It works by decreasing the production of cholesterol and by dissolving the cholesterol in bile so that it cannot form stones.


    Medline Plus

  40. Dave~~drinking olive oil and lemon juice. Geez, you better be careful what you read online. You 25 feet of small bowel will collapse if you put it thru all that trauma. I wouldn’t take a chance on doing something like that.

    A gallstone is like a heavy rock. When I was in hospital for minor surgery one time, of course once I was up and mobile, I visited all the other patients. One man had a big gall stone in a glass sitting on his bedside stand. He let me borrow it so I could show all the bedridden patients. It was as big as a large marble. I think they called those marbles, doughboys. This gallstone was heavy, round and smooth with all different dark colors.

    Even back then, I was a sleuth. LOL

  41. I remember a respected college professor (from the 70s) talking about unbiased reporting of the news. He said that if you wanted the straight scoop, check out the Christian Science Monitor. No hype or slant. I don’t know if it’s true because I never checked it out.

  42. Hello, blackitty. That’s interesting, because I have never heard of any newspaper not having a slant of some kind, but I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I will take a look at it. Of course, a lot could have happened between the 70s and today. For example, the NYT is more liberal (or is it less conservative?) than it was in the 70s. Could the Christian Science Monitor be similar, but perhaps less liberal (or more conservative) than it used to be? If we look at FOX, my father swears it is fair and balanced. I think it has more to do with how the person feels about particular media outlets. A liberal would feel the same way about MSNBC. I guess it depends on which way your professor swung when it came to politics, for instance, especially since the Christian Science Monitor caters to a national audience, not like my very localized fictional account. How could any American newspaper look at 9/11 without emotion?

  43. Dave, from living in Beantown a long time I’m very aware of the Monitor. It is first-rate and sets the right, sober, unhysterical tone. Run by the big Mother church of Christian Science, but they pretty much stay out of the editorial rooms. You can read it on a regular basis and not necessarily pick up on a slant, or even know they have anything to do with CS Church, but for the name.

    The Boston Herald is what you read to find out about local politicians’ shenanigans there or a working girl being decapitated in Revere. Think Fox, but a newspaper. Good Guys, Bad Guys, not many shades of gray. Lots of retractions as a result.

    The Globe you read if you want a 5 part series on the effects of global warming on the Azores that might someday win a prize, or an uplifting story about a West Roxbury community activist. You would have NO idea the extent of the crime there by reading the Globe- I call it a Chamber of Commerce newspaper. They fold 3 possibly related rapes in 1 24 hr period into one teensy story on page 7 or 8, under something like “Woman Assaulted near Charles River Footbridge”- you’d have to read the whole thing to find out its actually three separate events, all over the city, and one woman was left in a coma. It’s a cheat and they did it all the time when I was there- they don’t want to frighten the parents of all those fresh college freshmen.

  44. Hi to all,

    Karen I used to connect from work and around midday I usually go on CNN to read news from the other side of the world. I saw the first article about Caylee in July ’09 . I got a strange feeling about this mother not reporting her daughter missing (I’m a mother of two princess ). I wanted this little girl to be found and I try to found internet site to follow the case and found Dave 😀 .
    In Europe none of both stories (Caylee or Haleigh) were published in the news.
    I hope that the trial will bring the truth out or at least honor Caylee’s memory.

    Dave hope your health is getting better and you may found some homeopatic remedy tio help you. I try to use them as often as I can when possible.
    have a nice day.

  45. I am feeling better, Rita, but my gallstones are on my mind at the moment. I have to figure out what to do with them. Thank you for your kind thoughts. Please drop by when you can. Your presence puts a smile on my face.

  46. Hi Dave,
    many thanks for this kindness. For your gallstones, I guess Snoopy gave you a remedy with olive oil and lemon . My father got some gallstones and he took every morning lemon and olive oil to destroy small gallstones. It has worked for him. Now he is watching what he is eating to prevent them to come back. Hope you can find something.
    I cannot come as often as I would like to participate more actively but I really enjoy your blog!
    have a wonderful day 😀

  47. Good morning/afternoon, Rita – Snoopy gave me the name of a very expensive medication for gallstones. I read about the olive oil & lemon juice treatment online. Thanks for letting me know about your father. That’s very encouraging.

    I know you can’t come here as often as you like because of the time difference and your schedule, but your visits are very much appreciated and I look forward to reading your comments in the morning. We all do! Enjoy your weekend and please stop by when you can. Thanks!

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