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Media Bias and Logical Fallacies

While we may believe our news media to be objective and trustworthy, that is not always the case. The following example was derived from a zombietime.com photo essay of the anatomy of a photograph.  Please scroll down the page to see the full information. Examine the following with your critical thinking skills:

On first glance this seems to be a very strong message representing a politically aware and active group who wish to "speak" out in public. The aggressive stare and raised fist imply a passionate or strong position while the slogan covering the mouth imply the voice/message to be heard.

The San Francisco Chronicle, which had the only mainstream media coverage of the anti-war protest in San Francisco on September 24, 2005 ran this photo on its front Web page as a teaser for their article about the event, so it was the one photo from the rally that was seen by most people.

The San Francisco Chronicle  included other original photos featuring family groups in order to convey a positive message about the rally and positioned the original photo first perhaps to imply that many residents attended and even politically aware teenagers were inspired to show up and rally for peace, sporting the message, "People of Color say 'No to War!'" and that served the Chronicle's agenda to enhance the idea that war is always unpopular to American citizens and "everyone"  wants peace.

Now, take a closer look at this image.

Here is a photo of the same girl just a few moments later. Looks practically identical, doesn't it?

But you might notice that this picture is lower resolution. That's because it's a zoomed-in portion of a much larger photograph. The photographer cropped off the other parts of the picture to get a close-up of the girl to "replicate" the published photograph.

But what would happen if he hadn't cropped off so much? Let's take a step backward and reveal contextual information not shown to the viewer by any of the photographs run with the news coverage.

Here's the same photo without as much cropping, revealing more of the context. You can see that the girl's protest contingent carried obscene/illiterate placards and Palestinian flags which seriously reduce the credibility factor for a thoughtful and sincere political movement.

Now take another step back for an even bigger picture.

Here's the full un-cropped original photo.  Now, we can see that the girl is just one of several teenagers, all wearing terrorist-style bandannas covering their faces. Who is the 3rd World Youth?  Do African-American teens have the authority to represent the voice of undeveloped nations or do they see themselves as the youth of a third world nation right here in the United States?  Why do they want to "Fuck Bush" and "Da System" in their stand against war?

As you'll notice, the bandannas are all printed with the same design.  Do the bandanas represent their oppressed silence or lack of a voice in our nation? (but they do have a voice and a forum for political expression at this and other rally/protests) Or are they convenient billboards for their ideology/message? Or are the bandanas there to hide individual identity behind?  Was this a grassroots protest statement some local teenagers had come up with all by themselves in an effort to participate in the process of free speech?

Let's take a look at another photo in the series, taken at the same time:

It looks like they're actually being organized by an adult who is giving them directions and guiding them toward the front of the march. But who is she? Is she part of their group or an official event director?

The last picture in the series reveals much more.

The woman giving directions seems to belong to one of the Communist groups organizing the rally -- if her t-shirt is to be believed, since it depicts the flag of Communist Vietnam.  Do the participants in this rally realize that it is organized and initiated by Communist groups?  Do they intend to align themselves with Communist ideology?

This simple analysis reveals a very subtle type of bias that occurs in the media frequently. The Chronicle did not print an inaccuracy, nor did it doctor a photograph to misrepresent the facts. Instead, the Chronicle committed the sin of omission: it told you the truth, but it didn't tell you the whole truth and it pulled an image out of context to create new/different meaning.

By presenting the photo out of context, and only showing the one image that suits its purpose, the Chronicle manipulates the reader's impression of the rally, and the rally's intent via visual rhetoric. Or at the very least is guilty of irresponsible representation and inadequate coverage of a news story.

Having the additional images help to reveal the fact that there is more to the story than implied by the cropped image presented by the Chronicle; however, those images simply raise more questions as to the full truth of the event and those who participated! Obviously at this point more research and fact gathering is necessary. 

The original photo essay contains obvious bias and inflammatory language so while it helps to bring attention to media bias, it's own credibility is weakened by not maintaining a professional, objective tone.  To see this photo essay in it's original, please click on this link: Anatomy of a photograph

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