News coverage creates a tilted narrative, even where it’s ostensibly supposed to be neutral. If consumers were taught well how to infer an author’s point of view from the choices that he or she makes with language, Americans would have a clearer understanding of what’s happening in the world.
An Associate Press reprint in today’s Providence Journal illustrates the point very well. The opening paragraph of the story is actually unusually clear:
In a setback for the Obama health care law, a federal judge ruled Thursday that the administration is unconstitutionally subsidizing medical bills for millions of people while ignoring congressional power over government spending.
But on such matters of technical legal and political concern, the great majority of people will skim the headline and maybe the “At a Glance” summary, rather than read the text. Here’s the Projo’s headline: “Judge says Congress bypassed on spending.” Note the passive voice. “Bypassed” by whom? Read quickly, the headline might actually make one think that Congress has done something wrong, in that it “bypassed” something it was supposed to do.
That error almost seems deliberately intended when one turns to the first summary bullet:
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled Thursday that the Affordable Care Act unconstitutionally subsidizes health care costs without the approval of Congress.
That sentence doesn’t make logical sense, in the context. The Affordable Care Act can’t provide a subsidy against the approval of Congress, because if the act allowed for the subsidy, Congress would have approved of it by definition. What’s actually happened is that the Obama Administration has violated the Affordable Care Act in providing the subsidies.
Tolerating this sort of spin from their news departments is a big part of newspapers’ lost credibility over the last couple of decades. When readers decide not to tolerate it anymore, they just go elsewhere for information, and there’s no shortage of options, these days.