A compelling third example of this issue may be found in the OZY Presidential Brief of October 17. https://bit.ly/2MV1HgE This email newsletter also reports on the Trump-Pelosi encounter:
Trump Has ‘Meltdown Over Syria Criticism
President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused one another of having a “meltdown” during a tense meeting yesterday about the U.S. troop pullout in Syria. Trump, at least, had reason to fume: Amid growing bipartisan anger, two-thirds of House Republicans voted for a resolution condemning his decision, which left the formerly U.S.-backed Kurds open to attack from Turkish forces. Democratic leaders ditched the meeting after Trump reportedly called Pelosi a “third-rate politician.”
The key words, that I bolded in the quote, are “at least,” a usage that in this context clearly implies that Pelosi had no reason to be upset. The deck is subtly stacked in favor of Trump, by suggesting that Trump’s unhappiness about the House impeachment is warranted in some undefined way. The unstated further implication is that Pelosi, the woman in the room, was being unreasonable. The language reinforces the title of the article, further supporting the message that Trump, and only Trump, was justified in having a ‘meltdown,’ removing the implicitly negative implication of the title as regards Trump.
The OZY piece was not labeled “Opinion.” It was presented as a news story. There is no particular reason to think that OZY supports Trump. The writer of this piece may not even be aware of the effect of the language choice.
Finally, another example from the New York Times. https://nyti.ms/32CAV3h Its title is: What, Exactly, Is Tulsi Gabbard Up To? The subtitle is “As she injects chaos into the 2020 Democratic primary by accusing her own party of “rigging” the election, an array of alt-right internet stars, white nationalists and Russians have praised her.” [bolding added]
Clearly there is a lot to unpack here. For present purposes, however, let’s just focus on what is being conveyed. The implication is that Gabbard is “up to” something big — accusing the Democratic Party of “rigging” the primary election. If true, that’s pretty important. Having been thus primed for it, you would expect the presentation of compelling evidence to support those claims.
The “chaos” supposedly being injected by Gabbard consists only of her threatening to boycott the next Democratic debate [she ultimately participated though her poll numbers barely scraped by the threshold]. Other than her apparent attraction for white supremacy groups, detailed in the article, there is no apparent reason to credit her with injecting anything into the debate process. Indeed, “Both Ms. Gabbard and her campaign refused requests for comment about her support in right-wing circles or threat to boycott the debate.” If she won’t talk about it, why is the press making a “thing” of it?
The article speculates that “There is potential upside for Ms. Gabbard: Drawing more attention could energize her donors and perhaps attract more supporters, extending her candidacy’s life span.” But the “attention” seems to be from the media, not from the Democratic Party. In attacking the media and suggesting election rigging, we are seeing a familiar refrain used repeatedly by none other than Donald Trump himself. In a masterful deployment of self-contradictory double-speak and exaggeration, the article says “In a moment marked by fractured politics, Ms. Gabbard’s nontraditional positions are a major part of her appeal for voters seeking to break out of polarized partisan divisions…. she is representing viewpoints that draw support from an array of people in the United States as well as abroad.” How one sees supporting someone claiming election rigging as way out of polarization remains a mystery. And, I remind you, she is polling barely above 2 percent, just enough to squeeze into the debates she is decrying.
But most disturbing is that the article describes the embrace of Ms. Gabbard by the Russian media that were involved in the documented and indisputable 2016 election interference, then, in language reminiscent of the Mueller Report, takes her off the hook with “but there is no evidence of coordination between these networks and the campaign itself.”
Here I remind readers of the truism that “the absence of evidence is not evidence of the absence.” And, whether or not Gabbard’s campaign is in cahoots with Russia, it’s more than a little curious that, using some of the same tropes as Trump in 2016, she has attracted the same support from an adverse foreign power and has not rejected it. Then, the article cites Franklin Graham, described as an “influential evangelist” saying, “This whole thing the Democratic Party has done by putting forward this false idea that there was collusion between Russia and Trump has hurt our relations in a huge way with the Russians.”
That’s the Donald Trump party line. Isn’t it strange that Gabbard’s ardent supporters are repeating the Trump mantra in defending her political position? Is she a Democrat or a Republican? It’s hard to tell from articles like this and her political platform. The article recites her attraction to Middle Eastern dictators, another trait she shares with Trump.
So, you may be asking, where is the evidence of election rigging that was the chaos Gabbard supposedly was injecting into the Democratic debates? There is none, at least not in this article. I remain puzzled as to the true purpose of this article. I understand that it has a byline but that, by itself, does not disqualify it as an attempt at providing news. If we accept it as an opinion piece anyway, what is the opinion? Gabbard is in cahoots with Russians to influence the 2020 election? There is evidence, though not conclusive proof, of that. There is also much “equivalency,” albeit in the form of endorsements from Republican enablers of Donald Trump, like Franklin Graham. It’s a mighty curious thing, all this circling of Republican and Russian wagons around the marginal, barely-alive candidacy of a woman with few actual credentials warranting a nomination for the top executive leadership job in our government. Am I being too hard on her? I don’t think so. It was easy for her to reject the support of David Duke of KKK fame but she still sounds like a Republican and a Trump Republican at that.
As consumers of political reporting and commentary, we must remain constantly on guard against priming, framing and other psychological biases that work their way into the language of journalism. Taken to extremes, these techniques amount to ‘gaslighting’ which is defined as,
a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality.… Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. [https://bit.ly/2Ep8mJV]
Over time, gaslighting erodes the public sense of what is trustworthy and leads to false equivalencies being accepted for blatantly untrue claims such as Trump’s claim that there were good people on both sides of the conflict in Charlottesville between pro-Nazi and anti-Nazi groups. Gaslighting eventually wears down people’s resistance to lying. Google “effect of indifference in politics” and you’ll begin to get an idea of how serious this is.