By M.K Sullivan
At the beginning of my senior year in high school, my AP Language and Composition teacher (we will call him Mr. Johnson) gave a lengthy speech about the greatness that is rhetoric. He said “Rhetoric is power!” with a twinkle in his eye and began to tell us all the ways we could be lied to. I remember he ended the speech with something that still strikes me to this very day. “If you walk away with anything from this class, let it be that I taught you how not to be a sucker.”
Mr. Johnson did make me think about how people talk to me, how the T.V. talks to me, how presidents talk to me, and so on. I learned about all the ways logos, pathos, and ethos affect the facts being communicated, be it in the newspaper or on the television. It changed how I see everything I am told — be it a crazy government shutdown, our great presidential orange’s new controversy, or even the silly cartoons I watch to fill the voids those things create.
Everything we read has a thing called “spin.” How someone “spins” something is how they present the information to another. An important book I read in my AP Lang class is “UnSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation,” by Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. It’s a petite little book from factcheck.org that teaches you how to identify logical fallacies and how to pick them out of the media you consume. I would suggest picking it up if you care to be more sensible about the information you’re taking in.
For me, though, I found this book helped me think about context on top of the information. Thinking about the previous actions and statements of an organization/person and what their motivations might be can change how you see everyone. Your little sister wants a cookie. Your little brother is allergic to eggs. All the cookies are gone the next day. Who did it? If you have half a brain, you just deduced that your sister doesn’t care about the rules despite her “spin” on the story.
This sounds all pretty obvious, but there wouldn’t be a problem today if people didn’t overlook these things. CNN is undoubtedly a left-leaning source. Fox news is definitely the opposite. It is fair to make the assumption that both are going to have biased and different takes on any situation, be it about the president or the Olympics.
So now you’ve learned how to look at the big picture. What next? Well, reader, I’d ask if you’d look inward for a second. “Do I ever actually go out of my way to hear other perspectives in the news that I consume?” is what I’d like you to ask. Because if you do make it a habit to do this, then you have the ability to see past the spin and see what the actual story is about. Whatever station you’re on, be it right or left, whatever information that is repeated by both of them is usually what the truth is. Anything else is usually biased and unnecessary in informing you what is happening in the world.
Lending an ear to both stations, but taking their truths with a grain of salt might lead you away from confirmation bias (when someone only seeks out the information they want to, based on their values). Overall, just make sure you have your senses about you, to question everything you hear, and to understand that every organization or station has their own agendas and pursuits.