AllSides Coverage of Trump Conviction

Marci and I happened to be lounging around the house yesterday afternoon when the news broke of the jury reaching a verdict in the New York court case involving Donald Trump. So, after our phones tipped us off to the fact that the decision was being announced, we quickly turned on the television and dialed in to our primary news outlet (Cleveland’s ABC affiliate, WEWS). They were broadcasting the national feed featuring World News Tonight anchor David Muir relaying the information that Trump had been convicted on all 34 felony counts. But after that piece of information, there weren’t a whole lot of other details to pass along. So, inevitably, the broadcast shifted to commentary and analysis as it awaited Trump’s exit from the courthouse and comments to reporters.

It felt a lot like cable news, which we generally try to avoid. But since we didn’t have a lot else to do on this evening, we kept watching for maybe ten minutes. And then I suggested that it would be interesting to see how a more conservative news outlet was covering the latest developments. So, we changed the channel to Fox News and watched their coverage for another ten or fifteen minutes.

It was a fascinating experience. And it made me think about the Emily Dickinson poem:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant —” (1263)

ABC News coverage used the phrase “convicted felon” several times, during the course of its coverage. Fox News used a variety of terms like “reversible” or “appealable” (referring to disputed points in the case) in its analysis. The ABC News coverage repeatedly showed a full-screen graphic featuring three columns listing the words, “Count 1,” “Count 2,” “Count 3,” etc. — each with a red box around the word “GUILTY” next to each item. The Fox News coverage didn’t use any full-screen graphics, but it featured a picture of Donald Trump in the top right corner with the word “GUILTY” in large letters beneath it. The ABC News commentary was provided by its Chief Washington Correspondent, Jonathan Karl, and a legal expert discussing the potential impact of the verdict on voter opinions. The Fox News commentary was provided by the host of one of its more popular (editorial) programs, Judge Jeanine Pirro, and a legal expert talking about the potentially-disputable points in the case that could be appealed.

The juxtaposition of the two different broadcasts reminded me of the importance of a “balanced diet” in news coverage (as in most other aspects of the human experience). Have you ever heard of the website / app AllSides? It’s useful because it pulls headlines from three different news sources for each story that’s in the news at a given moment. The three different sources are labeled on a five-point scale, showing each source’s bias on the Left / Blue to Right / Red spectrum. I’ve found it to be a really insightful tool for watching the way that American media covers national and global events.

Almost all reporting carries some level of “Slant.” We can look at that as malevolent and misleading, or we can look at it as kind and digestible. Or somewhere in between. But let’s all keep this in mind as we head into the November General Election.

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