How media bias effects reader perception

Graphic by Kash Patel

A dog sneezes, causing him to fall down the stairs.

The way this tragic event is reported in the news affects the way it’s perceived by the public, which has direct real-world consequences.

Maybe the story is framed blaming the owners of the tumblin’ dog, with the headline: ‘Where Were the Owners? Terrible Masters Leave Dog Unattended, Resulting in Injury.’

Communities would hunt down the dog owner’s social media pages and make them infamous. Some would contact the owner’s employers and demand that they be punished or fired. Animal rights organizations would respond with vitriol in reaction to the owner’s negligence, and they would be condemned in the court of public opinion.

Other dog owners would witness this public shaming and be extra careful, putting their dogs on hypothetically and literally tighter leashes.

However, a completely different approach to the story could shift the blame from the owners to the sneeze itself: ‘Is a New Illness Epidemic for Our Pets on the Horizon?’

Suddenly, pet owners would be flocking to the stores to buy doggy face masks and medicines. Firms would fill this demand and create need for even more products — while you’re at it, you might as well buy dog sanitizer, soap and immune building food, too!

Propitious pet companies would attempt to continue the ‘dog illness epidemic’ narrative by lobbying politicians to make it a central issue and placing guileful, well-meaning warning ads on billboards and city buses to keep the fearful spending train chugging. The population would soon fear even touching a dog for worry of contracting a disease.

In a society filled with an overwhelming amount of available information, it’s difficult to narrow down the objective truth. However, the effort must be made to avoid a society prone to fear-mongering or radicalization from politicians trying to persuade you into giving them your vote.

Perhaps the story is framed blaming the dog himself: ‘Dogs are Clumsy; Do High Vet Bills Make for an Expensive Pet?’

This perspective could cause a decline in the demand for dogs. Those who were considering buying a dog might decide on a cat or hamster instead. Dog food and pet toy companies would see their sales decline in correlation, as would individual breeders. The ‘pet market’ would take a massive hit because of one clumsy fur boy.

What if instead of blaming the owners, an illness or the dog, reporters were to blame the stairs as the perpetrator? ‘Stairs are Dangerous and Must Be Outlawed!’

The ramp industry would jump a few points overnight. Affordable, hand cranked elevators would be installed in every house containing a beloved pet, and those who didn’t go through the trouble would be publicly shamed for being so careless.

Stair building service companies would go bankrupt, slashing thousands of jobs. In the future, houses would be built as simple bungalows, as the cost of stair alternatives would send prices far too high to be worth the investment. Within only a few decades of a dog falling down some steps, the very architecture we know today could be changed forever.

The goal of any reputable news source is to inform citizens while attempting to remain objective. After all, the news frames the issues in our world, and these issues influence the way we vote. Therefore, the media is the most important political tool in modern times.

Yet the media is under constant threat of bias. Considering the producers, writers and reporters of each news story are human beings with individual political perspectives, it’s important for the citizens of a democracy to form critical thinking skills.

Understanding the possible motives, biases and reasoning behind every reported event is just as important as learning about the event itself. With this information, an individual can piece together what an issue means to them, and view the world accordingly.

In a society filled with an overwhelming amount of available information, it’s difficult to narrow down the objective truth. However, the effort must be made to avoid a society prone to fear-mongering or radicalization from politicians trying to persuade you into giving them your vote.

By the way, the dog was okay.

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