Perspective and Agenda

Occupy OaklandI have simple beliefs. I believe context matters and the omission of truth to sway a certain perspective is as much a lie as an untruth.

I believe a journalist’s job is to report the news not craft it. When I say crafting I’m talking about reporting the news and presenting a perspective that only shows bits and pieces of the story to support or defend the slant of whatever news outlet is doing the reporting .

Two of the biggest offenders on either side of the political spectrum are Fox News to the right and Huffington Post to the left. You could make the argument that HP is is a blog therefore not a news outlet and to a degree you would be right. Huffington has become so mainstream and the voice of so many it’s hard to ignore.

Here is a story put out by the Associated Press today. The AP Feed is found here which shows the full context of the AP story as it went out on the wire service.

The headline of the AP story read:

300 arrested in daylong Occupy Oakland protests

So, this story goes out on the wire and the news outlets get it and work their magic on it. They write new headlines and massage the story to fit their publication and put it out to their consumers.

Here’s the Fox News headline:

Police arrest about 300 Occupy Oakland protesters

The change is subtle but it shifts the focus from the protest to the protesters. It also makes sure you understand it was the police who was doing the arresting as if the assumption presented in the AP title was not good enough

Here’s the Huffington Post headline:

Occupy Oakland: Police Teargas Protestors, Use Flash Grenades

Nothing very subtle about the shift here. In this title the Police is presented as the bad guy. There is no way to tell how many protesters were involved. It could have been thousands. The fact that the police used grenades against the protesters seems to punctuate that the police were the aggressors.

In all three cases there was nothing to tell us anything about the protesters. For that information we would have to go to the news story. The opening paragraph of any news item tends to tell us a lot about the content. Let’s look at each of the three.

[box] AP Release:

Dozens of police maintained a late-night guard around City Hall following daylong protests that resulted in 300 arrests. Occupy Oakland demonstrators broke into the historic building and burned a U.S. flag, as officers earlier fired tear gas to disperse people throwing rocks and tearing down fencing at a convention center.[/box]

[box] Fox News:

Oakland police said they arrested about 300 people Saturday as protesters spent a portion of the day trying to get into a vacant convention center, and later broke into City Hall and tried to occupy a YMCA.[/box]

[box] Huffington Post:

Police were in the process of arresting about 100 Occupy protesters for failing to disperse Saturday night, hours after officers used tear gas on a rowdy group of demonstrators who threw rocks and flares at them and tore down fences.[/box]

If we consider the AP report is factual or at least a pretty accurate account of what happened, how are the other two stories being framed in their opening paragraph? The AP story is not presenting the Occupy Oakland protesters in the best light when reporting the demonstrators were “throwing rocks and tearing down fences.”

Fox News seems to give the protesters a little slack here by leaving out the rock throwing and fence tearing. Huffington on the other hand presented that fact. They also cut the crowd from 300 to 100. Why would they do that? Maybe it’s to present the police as the heavy handed player. It sounds worse when you say the police used tear gas on 100 people than on 300 people. They also presented “Throwing rocks and tearing down fences” as being rowdy.

I suppose throwing rocks at police and tearing down fences could be described as rough and disorderly.

Then there’s the things that are left out.

[box] AP Release:

Quan [Oakland Mayor] said that at one point, many protesters forced their way into City Hall, where they burned flags, broke an electrical box and damaged several art structures, including a recycled art exhibit created by children.

She blamed the destruction on a small “very radical, violent” splinter group within Occupy Oakland.[/box]

[box] Fox News:

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan during a news briefing late Saturday said protesters had forced their way into City Hall, where they burned flags, broke into an electrical box and damaged several art structures, including a recycled art exhibit created by children.

The nighttime arrests came after 19 people were taken into custody in Occupy Oakland protests hours earlier.[/box]

[box] Huffington Post:

There was nothing about breaking into electrical boxes, flag burning, or damaging art in the Huffington piece.

What was there – “In a statement Friday, Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana said the city would not be “bullied by threats of violence or illegal activity.” Interim police Chief Howard Jordan also warned that officers would arrest those carrying out illegal actions.

These statements were not in the AP piece.[/box]

So you can see how perspective and agenda can drive the way news is being reported. Foxes “Fair and Balanced” is a perspective skewed by the right-leaning politics of the network. Huffington Post, MSNBC, The NY Times and many others is massaged with the liberal slant.

Right, wrong, or indifferent I’ve never seen it this bad in a time when we need the cold hard truth. I’d rather hear bad truth than a good lie any day.

So to wrap things up with my perspective of viewpoint and agenda, let’s close with a look at which AP images the outlets selected to headline their respective stories.

[box] Fox News:

Fox Occupy Oakland[/box]

[box] Huffington Post:


That’s a very telling contrast and testament to exactly what I was talking about– Perspective and Agenda. Context matters and viewpoint defines content. That’s not really the role of journalist but that’s where we are.

Oh yeah, I almost missed. What was the image used on the AP feed?

[box] AP Release:

AP-Occupy Oakland[/box]

I’ve learned this and accept it as fact. There are three sides to every story. One side, the other side, and the truth. Is the AP image the truth? It’s the truth for those people at that moment but in context it neither defines or represents the movement. It’s one persons perspective of the moment. The message is much bigger than that.

[box type=”info”] I will also add this. I’m the author. I write from my perspective. I think every writer does. Politically I consider myself a shade right of center and my viewpoint likely reflects that.[/box]

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