November 15, 2009

The Fort Hood Shooter: A News Quiz

in which the better you score, the worse off you are

hasan press.jpg
"so it was the Zoloft?"


I.

New York Times
MSNBC
NPR
Washington Times (NB: this is not the same as the Washington Post)
Fox News

Which news outlet published the following stories?  (Hint: What do the titles say, and what don't they say?)


Nov 5: Army Doctor Held in Ft. Hood Rampage

Nov 6: 'Good doctor' stressed out by deployment?

Nov 6: Army: Suspect said "Allahu Akbar" before firing

Nov. 6: Fellow Worshipers Describe Fort Hood Shooting Suspect as Devout Muslim, Troubled By Wars

Nov 6: Obama: "Don't Jump To Conclusions" on Fort Hood Shooting


Nov 7 George W. Bush Visits Fort Hood, Wounded Soldiers

Nov 7 George W. Bush Secretly Visits Fort Hood Victims

(NB: these are two different articles.)



Nov 7: Little Evidence of Terror Plot In Base Killings

Nov 7: Suspect Was 'Mortified' About Deployment

Nov. 7: Suspected Fort Hood Shooter Was "Calm" During Massacre, May Have Shouted "God Is Great!"

Nov. 7: Uncle: Fort Hood Suspect Loved US

Nov 8 A Doctor, And A Conflicted Soldier

Nov 11: Walter Reed Officials Asked: Was Hasan Psychotic?

Nov 12: EXCLUSIVE: Fort Hood Suspect contacted Muslim Extremists

Nov. 14 Obama wants to delay Fort Hood probe

II.

Two observations.  First, each title has an "angle."  At the same moment the NYT and others were pushing the doctor/deployment angle-- and deliberately avoiding the Muslim angle,  Fox and the Washington Times were featuring "Allahu Akbar" and minimizing any other factors.    You will observe that reading only one "side" or the other would be worse than not reading any articles at all: you would have accepted a prejudice as "news" level truth.  No outlet has a claim to the truth.

The second is about the phrasing.  On Nov 7, the NYT reported, George W. Bush Visits Fort Hood, Wounded Soldiers, but Fox News adds "Secretly." Both articles are less than 5 sentences long, yet Fox  uses "secretly" twice (in addition to the title) to convey the sense of a MacArthur coming to save the war.  The NYT never uses "secretly," nor does it explain that the Bushes specifically didn't want any media to know they were there-- a fact which itself could be newsworthy.  All four Fox sentences are about Bush; only two of the five NYT are.

Similarly, the "Obama wants to delay Fort Hood Probe" most certainly conveys a "do you see what this politically correct idiot is up to now?" Meanwhile, as the article explains, Obama really only wants to delay the Congressional probe until the FBI finishes its criminal investigation, which is not even a story worth reporting; Fox reports it only so they can attach that misleading title.  They're banking on you doing what you probably just did, which is read only the title.  You are left either with consonance with Fox ("Obama is an idiot") or dissonance ("I know Fox is an idiot, but I'm struggling with coming up with reasons why Obama might delay a probe.  He must have a good reason, right?")  Either way, they have caused you to think a certain way.

III.


What's very interesting-- read: depressing--  is how the news outlets protect themselves from the facts.  For example, it's probably no surprise that the major focus of the Fox News articles on Nov 5 concerned Hasan's relationship to Islam.  In contrast, on Nov 5, the two NYT articles do not once reference Islam.  Indeed, one article almost goes out of its way to avoid it, quoting from some file: "no religious preference."   It then postulates "much about his background-- and his motives-- are unknown".  

Yet the same NYT article that never mentions Islam does, incongruously,  include a denouncement from the Muslim Public Affairs Council.   It floats there, with no context within the article.   This inclusion makes sense only if you already come in to the article with some knowledge that Hasan was Muslim.   In this way, the NYT doesn't have to take any  responsibility in spreading the "gossip" of an Islam link, but can simultaneously take credit for showing both sides (or the other side) of an issue.

In another, 770 word article of that same day, the word Muslim does appear-- only once: "a U.S. born Muslim."  It's a fact no one would question.  But rather than simply reporting this fact, they attribute the information as coming from... Fox News.  Think about this: is the NYT  turning to Fox News for information?   Of course not; they're distancing themselves from the information.

IV.

From here:

Viewership for the cable news channels surged on Thursday afternoon as news [of the shootings] shocked the country.

What station had the most viewers?  Average viewers from 3p-12a:


Fox: 3.04M (usual 2M)
CNN 1.58M (usual 0.9M)
MSNBC  0.88M (usual 0.8M)

"The O'Reilly Factor" had 5M.

Discuss.

---

http://twitter.com/thelastpsych





Comments

Fox: 3.04M (usual ... (Below threshold)

November 15, 2009 5:13 AM | Posted by David Johnson: | Reply

Fox: 3.04M (usual 2M) CNN 1.58M (usual 0.9M) MSNBC 0.88M (usual 0.8M)

"The O'Reilly Factor" had 5M.

Discuss.

Okey doke. Thanks for the link to O'Reilly, I hadn't known he quit working for Fox network. Given Fox had a total of 3.04M viewers and O'Reilly had 5M, maybe Fox can get O'Reilly back. That would really make their viewership numbers jump, wouldn't it?

Fox used the word "secret," the NYT used the word "private." The Washington Times, which used the title: "Army: Suspect said 'Allahu Akbar!' before shooting" unfortunately forgot to report any specifics or even mention the information contained in the title. Usually the body of the news article contains the ... well ... news. You do give the "'Good doctor' stressed out by deployment?" link to MSNBC, but then wimp out by failing to mention the article brings up Hasan's Muslim heritage and religious affiliation at least 8 times. Then there's the fact they went where the Washington Times either feared or forgot to go ... they actually source the 'Allahu Akbar!' quote from the army.

I'll stop there. No doubt many will follow me. I'd just like to close with an opposition to this canard of "false equivalency." From your post:

You will observe that reading only one "side" or the other would be worse than not reading any articles at all: you would have accepted a prejudice as "news" level truth. No outlet has a claim to the truth.
Then you use specific titles in order to advance your viewpoint ... fair enough. It's just that the actual articles I cited run completely counter to your conclusions drawn from titles. Hey, no prob ... everybody has an opinion. Here's the rub, though ... not everyone's opinion is informed.

Please do advance the argument that the Washington Times article is as informative and factual as the MSNBC article.

I sense a roast turkey in the making ... ouch!

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so what do we do when we wa... (Below threshold)

November 15, 2009 5:54 AM | Posted by jesus: | Reply

so what do we do when we want to read news but not have any stupid nonsense? which source can we go to?

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@ David - I see your point,... (Below threshold)

November 15, 2009 7:48 AM | Posted, in reply to David Johnson's comment, by J: | Reply

@ David - I see your point, but everyone knows that we read the headline, but not the article in many cases. I will bet the headline is the only part that MOST people will see.

I'll use myself as an example, I scan Drudge each morning, and 50% of the articles that don't interest me enough to read, I still read over the headlines. As misleading as they sometimes are (and I know they tend to be that way) - I will still come away feeling like I "know something". This is the way of things in an era with information overload.

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Fox reports it only so t... (Below threshold)

November 15, 2009 10:09 AM | Posted by Pat Delancey: | Reply

Fox reports it only so they can attach that misleading title. They're banking on you doing what you probably just did, which is read only the title. You are left either with consonance with Fox ("Obama is an idiot") or dissonance ("I know Fox is an idiot, but I'm struggling with coming up with reasons why Obama might delay a probe. He must have a good reason, right?") Either way, they have caused you to think a certain way.

- this a test, right? You are testing if your readers actually follow your links, and read the articles. You are linking to WP article and call it Fox. WP article is in fact just published Associated Press article, that was copied verbatim in about 700 other newspapers, according to Google News. It's all AP's fault.

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Pat:No, it's half ... (Below threshold)

November 15, 2009 11:59 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Pat:

No, it's half right--the link is to the Washington Times, a right-wing outlet, not the Washington Post (lastpsych slipped and attributed it to Fox). But the larger point he makes is exactly correct: the AP story has been reprinted in various places, and each venue produces its own headline. For example, Boston Globe (liberal bias) headlines it "Obama: Resist politics in shooting investigation" whereas Washington Times (conservative bias) headlines it "Obama wants to delay Fort Hood probe" which exactly makes lastpsych's point.

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J: You may come away feeli... (Below threshold)

November 15, 2009 12:00 PM | Posted, in reply to J's comment, by JHC: | Reply

J: You may come away feeling like you "know something," but if the only thing you read is Drudge report then what you think you "know" is only what the editor of Drudge report wants you to think. You pretty much become a Drudge report robot carrying the illusion that you are a free thinking human being.

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Jesus:Christian Sc... (Below threshold)

November 15, 2009 12:01 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Jesus:

Christian Science Monitor. If you can stay awake for it.

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David:Did we read th... (Below threshold)

November 15, 2009 12:05 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

David:
Did we read the same post? I thought the point was the use of headlines to spin readers, not what they would find if they carefully read the article while vigorously resisting the framing effects of the headlines.

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@ JCH - by putting 'know so... (Below threshold)

November 15, 2009 12:50 PM | Posted, in reply to JHC's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

@ JCH - by putting 'know something' in "quotes", I wasn't actually meaning that I literally thought I was well educated on whatever the article is referencing. I MEANT that like anyone, if you read something you digest it, and then it becomes part of the thing you "know" even if that is very little. If it confirms your bias, great, and if it doesn't you figure something will be wrong with the story. Which is the gist of the blog post today.

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The Washington Times, which... (Below threshold)

November 15, 2009 12:51 PM | Posted by Blargh: | Reply

The Washington Times, which used the title: "Army: Suspect said 'Allahu Akbar!' before shooting" unfortunately forgot to report any specifics or even mention the information contained in the title.
---

Unfortunately, the Washington Times article actually does contain this information. It's a 3-page article, and Alone linked to page 2. It's got at least as much info as the MSNBC article, and is just as informative - but only if you actually read the whole thing...

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Watch and read mohammed T-s... (Below threshold)

November 15, 2009 12:57 PM | Posted by mohammed allah: | Reply

Watch and read mohammed T-shirt art from Sweden at,
http://www.mohammedt-shirt.com

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@J: You're right. I can do ... (Below threshold)

November 15, 2009 3:11 PM | Posted by Dave Johnson : | Reply

@J: You're right. I can do essentially the same thing when I'm in a hurry. There is some element within me which "thinks" it now knows something factual other than: a specific news organization is leading with this title about this story today.

@Anonymous: I was responding to an admixture of Section I and Section III. The latter quite explicitly includes the story beneath the headline. It also sounds like a lot of hard work for the reader to "carefully read the article while vigorously resisting the framing effects of the headlines." In the example I used, I had completely forgotten the headline by the time I made it through the 2 page article.

@Blargh: you are absolutely right and I was absolutely wrong. The example I gave was completely without merit re: the point I was trying to make. A less kind person might say I've essentially proved the point of this post.

I would.

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How You're Being M... (Below threshold)

November 15, 2009 5:57 PM | Posted, in reply to David Johnson's comment, by some random dude: | Reply


How You're Being Manipulated By Liberals, Conservatives and the Media: http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=153530890&blogId=485995634
knowledge

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Two phrases to describe why... (Below threshold)

November 15, 2009 9:01 PM | Posted by Basil Valentine: | Reply

Two phrases to describe why I don't read the news:

"Garbage in, garbage out"

"Bad money drives out good"

The second one is Gresham's law. It is very easy to dress up a story in journalistic hackery, pretending to contain the same quality of information as actual research, leaving the reader feeling "as if they know" something-- indeed, that they were right all along.

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all i learned from this is ... (Below threshold)

November 16, 2009 2:02 AM | Posted by randy: | Reply

all i learned from this is that "Allahu Akbar" means "god is greatest"...not "god is great" or "god is greater".

talk some more about sodini.

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great post... one note on t... (Below threshold)

November 16, 2009 8:22 AM | Posted by Jbow: | Reply

great post... one note on the cable viewing numbers though: different people consume news differently.

People who watch the news on TV watch FoxNews, but people who read the news online read CNN.com (http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/cnn.com you can compare to foxnews.com there).

So don't be fooled into thinking most people get their news through Fox

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Well, I don't know about al... (Below threshold)

November 16, 2009 1:50 PM | Posted, in reply to Dave Johnson 's comment, by Blargh: | Reply

Well, I don't know about all that... you could still have a good point (aren't I generous? :)), the WT article just doesn't support it, that's all.

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The point of the post wa... (Below threshold)

November 16, 2009 1:59 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Alone: | Reply

The point of the post was indeed that the titles, not the content, are biased one way or another. Certainly, most articles contain more meat in the body, but a) we don't always read the full article; b) that makes the misleading nature of the title worse-- they know perfectly well what "happened", but by spinning the title one way or another they can get the desired effect, and but also claim objectivity ("the article tells the truth.")

This is exactly what happens in medical journals, BTW.

And yes, many times these same exact stories come from the AP/Reuters but get a special title slapped on them.

The TV ratings wasn't to imply one is better or worse (seriously, is that what you thought?) but to show that in this story (shooter) people turned to Fox. Why? Is it because they suspected a Muslim link and felt only Fox would "honestly" report it? Asked another way: if you heard about a mass shooting on an army base, and your reflexive instinct was that mental illness was a relevant factor, what news outlet would you turn to? (Not Fox.) etc. People go to the source that meets their expectations, which is probably ok if you are at least aware of other perspectives. But scan the list of titles above: if you only read Washington Times, or only the NYT, would you really know anything?

a lot of people are getting their news from TV. You may also want to think about the scroll at the bottom of TV, which are only "titles."

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That's exactly why these bi... (Below threshold)

November 18, 2009 9:47 AM | Posted, in reply to Alone's comment, by caeia: | Reply

That's exactly why these biases are so dangerous -- we eseentially have our biases confirmed and thus create our own separate versions of reality. For half the country fed on the outlets that cater to their biases, the attack was yet another Muslim Terrorist attack; for the other half this was a case of stress causing a good man to crack ala Cho Sung Wi. That plus our habit of turning the other side in to "THE BAD GUYS WHO ARE DESTROYING EVERYTHING" I can't see much positive coming from this.

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