When News Disagrees On What Is Important

Reuters

(Reuters)

Let’s take a look at four front pages from this morning’s news. Each covered different topics with blaring intensity. How does that impact our ability to communicate and reach solutions?

 

The New York Times:

NYTimes 10.18.17

The Times featured a profile on a veteran attacking a Portland restaurant. But the other major story was the compromise reached between a Democratic Senator, Patty Murray, and a Republican Senator, Lamar Alexander, to keep the ACA afloat. This is newsworthy because ACA premiums are expected to see double-digit spikes in the wake of Donald Trump’s decision to stop paying subsidies to insurance companies.

Also notice the story beneath – Trump has come under fire in recent days for stating that past presidents did not contact the families of fallen soldiers. There have been several news cycles debunking this bizarre claim, the latest engulfing General John Kelly, whose son was killed while serving.

 

Fox News:

Fox News 10.18.17

Now Fox is covering a morning tweet storm by Trump. The crux of it is a claim that FBI Director James Comey drafted a statement on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails before the investigation was concluded. Trump assumes this means the entire investigation was a scam.

Notice the other two major stories. One is following up on Trump’s fallen soldiers remarks. This time it has to do with a widow who said, through a Democratic politician, that Trump did call and said her husband knew what he was signing up for. Trump is countering by saying the widow is lying.

There’s also a story on North Korea as Fox tries to lay the groundwork for winning public support for a war with North Korea.

The takeaway for this news is that Fox adopts the President’s point-of-view on any story, then provides sympathetic context to fill out the article. Example: Trump claims the widow is lying. The story details the nature of Trump’s rebuttal (a tweet), and the circumstances of Sgt. La David Johnson’s death. It does not question whether Trump’s tweet is correct or not.

As a result, Fox viewers are often provided a portrait of a president who is combative against the world. They do not even raise the question of his truthfulness – an elevated topic nearly everywhere else.

 

The Washington Post:

WaPo 10.18.17

The Washington Post is covering the news from yesterday that a judge in Maryland has temporarily halted Trump’s newest Muslim ban. This follows the same order by a judge in Hawaii.

Other major stories include the continuation of Trump’s response to slain soldiers. The Post takes a different angle from both the Times and Fox by covering the 12 days of inaction from the White House before Trump reached out to families.

The Post also covers the Comey story. They diverge from Fox by including the important caveat that the Comey draft was written because the majority of the work was done and no criminal charges were expected to be filed. Before accusing the Post of being too one-sided, note that the story does end with a statement by Lindsey Graham suggesting things do not add up.

 

CNN:

CNN 10.18.17

CNN’s main story this morning was Trump’s outreach to veterans’ families. They mirror Fox News is zeroing in on the statements made by Myeshia Johnson. Unlike Fox, they tack on a number of articles, half of which are Op-Eds, that build a case against Trump’s relationship with veterans.

 

Why does it matter?

When working toward solutions, we need to know where others are coming from.

Here is what news readers will believe are important:

– The plans to save the ACA

– The travel ban

– The FBI handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails

– Trump’s behavior toward families of slain soldiers

This is just to underscore that there are a lot of different priorities. Even for those who check in with multiple sources, is it likely that they check in with all sources?

There are news aggregators which will give you a list of headlines for the day. Those can be beneficial for a snapshot of where things stand. But they can’t provide context. Each news organization develops its own narrative. Yes, Fox is featuring Trump lashing out at Comey. But a reader has to understand that nearly everyday Fox features Trump lashing out at someone and that Fox articles are heavily slanted in Trump’s favor.

 

What can be done?

First, understand that others are receiving different information in different doses than you are. Fearful of the ACA imploding? And so are your friends? Well there’s a big swath of the country not reading the New York Times. In fact, much of the country is not reading any political news today.

That does not mean most people do not care about healthcare/travel bans/veterans. It just means they do not share your sense of urgency if they have a different news context than you.

The most important thing one can do is speak reasonably about why the issues that matter to you are important. Pick any topic from any news source. When you are done reading, say “This matters to me (or doesn’t) because [reason].”

Then share that reason. For just today, share it with friends, family, or social media. Normally we target policy, but today we are doing an exercise in reason. The more familiar you become with speaking this way, the more comfortable you will be when reaching out to audiences that do not always agree with you.

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