Tuesday, December 22, 2009

News and propaganda

Here's an interesting bit of evidence in the ongoing debate about whether Fox News is fundamentally a news organization or a propaganda organization. Revisions to GDP estimates are a fairly routine sort of story. They aren't emergencies or surprises; they happen at regular times in regular places, and, like sporting events, their news value depends in part on how much the actual outcome diverges from the expected outcome.*

What distinguishes this example is not the data itself but the way it's categorized for Fox readers. GDP growth is an objective element in the happiest sense of the term: there's an agreed definition and way of measuring it, so you can report it without accusations of bias. But at Fox, it's not a biz story or an economy story or a national story; it's placed under "politics."

Notice something else? Comments are enabled. Readers don't get the chance to "speak up" or "join the conversation" on every story at Fox, as they do at many other news outlets. I don't know if anyone's established a conclusive pattern yet, but it looks as if Fox doesn't bother with comments on stories that don't fit a kind of ritualistic, let's-sit-at-the-bar-and-bitch-about-the-old-days function.

The capture above shows no comments so far. If I were the betting sort, I'd bet that the first comments would be from these general categories:

How's that HOPE and CHANGE working out for you now?
10% unemployment doesn't feel like a "recovery" to me.
Worst and most corrupt administration in history.

For you media-effects fans out there (or Language Log visitors who kept up with the weekend's framing discussion), this is a highly testable bit of media framing: Does it make a difference in attitudes or depth of processing to categorize a GDP story as "politics" rather than "economics"? Under the right circumstances, it probably does. I don't think Fox knows that, in the sense that it hasn't tested the effect among 160 extra-credit-seeking undergraduates in a survey class somewhere, but that doesn't mean it isn't a deliberate ideological choice.

* NB: The story has moved up to the No. 2 position, with the hed "3Q Growth Marred By GDP Slowdown." As is often the case at Fox, it's hard to tell whether the hed reflects dishonesty or simple incompetence. The GDP didn't "slow down"; it didn't increase as much as the initial estimate had suggested. Funny thing is that at Fox, that category of error only happens on one side of the aisle.

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1 Comments:

Blogger steegness said...

For the record, comment #1:
"How can it be strong when all Obamalama has done is grow government and entitlements?"

1:44 AM, December 23, 2009  

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