An important news story this week is the development of Russia’s possible involvement in the American election process via cyber-hacking, or in a more subtle way through influencing voter opinion on Hillary Clinton—the wikileaks. There are probably very few people in America today who have not heard of this complex relationship and the rhetoric flying around Clinton and Putin’s mutual dislike; coverage from various angles has been intense in the media. President Barack Obama addressed this issue directly this week, in a White House press conference with coverage from CNN; also, in an NPR publicized interview in which the same story was discussed.
For the average viewer, it may be hard to distinguish whether the two clips are actually from the same interview because President Obama says almost exactly the same thing; the difference is in how the information is presented by CNN and NPR—a noticeable distinction from even the headlines, which is further carried out throughout each clip. These two clips, carrying essentially the same information, show how each journalist who actually writes the text to go along with the interview, can easily manipulate the audience one way or another without actually being inaccurate. “Mass media reports fulfill several important functions during political campaigns and elections, including setting the political agenda and providing information to individuals” (Endersby, 2011, p. 2). It is more a sense of picking and choosing which parts of Obama’s speech will be included, so the media bias may be quite subtle for the audience.
An example of this effect is especially important during the first few seconds: “‘The information was already out there’” (Liptak, 2016) is the opening presidential quote which CNN media chose to include from President Obama’s December 16 CNN press conference in reference to the wikileaks. Obama then openly discussed the situation from all sides, in a seemingly well-thought out manner and without holding back his opinion—and really in no way did he all but named Putin as the headlines had blatantly suggested. It is not that far of a stretch for the average reader to read that as all but blamed Putin; at any rate, these are the kinds of subtle rhetorical influences that give a journalist reporter a high level of influence in making headlines, attracting reader audiences, and generally moving away from the concept of fair, accurate, and unbiased journalism.
The visual representation of public figures, especially in political campaigns, adds to this effect through mass media—an issue that has been around at least since the early 1970s when television was at its peak. During the 1972 presidential campaign between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat George McGovern, those on the democratic side felt strongly that there had been too much television coverage of the incumbent president, Nixon, who was seeking a second term in office. At that time, when Nixon won in a landslide victory against McGovern, media bias and especially television coverage favoring President Nixon was blamed for McGovern losing the election. “…a growing apprehension by some Americans that the nation’s news services are not to be trusted. Experienced practitioners and serious students of the subject have voiced uncertainties about the adequacy and reliability of news programming” (Hofstetter, 1976, p. 3). So it is interesting to compare these kinds of issues over the course of several decades; and even though the “growing apprehension” has progressed in the American culture to a general cynicism where most people recognize these biases, they still have a very strong influence on the outcome of an election. It almost seems to the point of absurdity that in the 21st century, that people are pointing a finger overseas to another country for our own election process. People do know how the manipulation of the media occurs, they see it every day when they turn on their computers.
Nearly six weeks after the 2016 election, the news continues to focus on the questions behind president-elect Donald Trump’s surprise victory. There have been protests, legal re-counts, and other daily reports by media sources that somehow this election, for the first time in history, was rigged, biased beyond measure, and numerous outcries about the veracity, or lack of veracity, in the 2016 presidential outcome. The CNN coverage of all these stories seem to be somewhat overplayed on a daily basis, feeding fuel to a fire that seems unnecessary at many levels of human inquiry. Additionally, there are opinion slants away from Obama and towards Trump, including a link over to another page. In reference to Obama, the reporter claims that “Despite his assurances, his White House has increasingly been engaged in an escalating rift with Trump’s transition team over Moscow’s intrusion into the US vote” (Liptak, 2016). This seems to be another unnecessary comment; the general public neither knows anything about an escalating rift, nor needs to have words used which sound confrontational and even downright alarmist.
Headlines are important in gaining the reader’s interest, and the comparison between the two articles is also noteworthy. The NPR headline quotes Obama saying, “We need to take action. And we will” (Inskeep, 2016). The interview itself presents President Obama in a much more positive light, as if they are two friends chatting together about various issues in the world. For example, Obama goes into great detail about the issues of cyberattacks online, how the next ten years or so will all be strategized through various government concerns, and does not bring up the election other than as a starting point for discussion. election” (Inskeep, 2016). Although this is basically saying the same message, NPR presents the news in a calmer, more intellectually oriented manner.
- Endersby, J. W. (2011). Fair and balanced? News media bias and influence on voters. News Media Bias and Influence on Voters.
- Hofstetter, C. R. (1976). Bias in the news: Network television coverage of the 1972 election campaign.
- Inskeep, S. (2016, Dec. 15). “Obama On Russian hacking: ‘We need to take action. And we will.’” Npr.org. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2016/12/15/505775550/obama-on-russian-hacking-we-need-to-take-action-and-we-will
- Liptak, K. (2016, Dec. 16). Obama all but names Putin as behind hacking, told him to “cut it out.” Cnn.com. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/16/politics/obama-final-2016-press-conference/index.html