A Tale of Two Lenses

Perhaps this is not so shocking to readers of this blog, but people develop vastly different world-views depending on which news sources they frequent. For most, politics is determined by their environment, not any sober-minded weighing of issues.

Here's an example: recently a Venezuelan referendum removed term limits for left-wing President Hugo Chavez. What does this mean? Is this a good thing for the people of Venezuela? For the rest of the world? Let's see what one prominent national newspaper says:

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez handily won a referendum on Sunday that will end presidential term limits, allowing him to run for re-election indefinitely and injecting fresh vibrancy into his socialist-inspired revolution.

The results, coming after voters had rejected a similar effort by Mr. Chávez just 15 months ago, pointed to his resilience after a decade in power, as well as to the fragmentation of his opposition, which as recently as November had won key mayoralties and governorships.

The vote opens the way not only for Mr. Chávez to run for a new six-year term when his current one expires in 2013, but could also bolster his ambitious agenda as an icon of the left and a counterweight to American policies in Latin America.

It also creates a new foreign policy challenge for the Obama administration, strengthening a leader who has made a career of taunting and deriding the United States, even though Mr. Chávez just this weekend seemed to open the door for a different relationship.

Suppose a high school student read this piece for a report on "current events" in his history or civics class. What would be imprinted on his impressionable mind?

  • Chavez is a vibrant, popular, powerful, resilient, and revolutionary leader
  • Socialism is popular
  • Those who oppose socialism are fragmented, and by implication weak
  • The Latin American left is powerful, strong enough to counter and challenge the United States
  • Something was wrong about America before Obama was elected that antagonized Chavez (who sounds like a swell guy!), but recently that something changed

As you might have already guessed, this piece appeared in The New York Times. It is a travesty that the editorial board does not get a commission everytime a Che t-shirt is sold.

Now, for contrast, here is the AP's treatment of the same news item:

CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez says a referendum victory that removed limits on his re-election is a mandate to intensify his socialist agenda for decades to come. Opponents warn of an impending dictatorship.

Both sides had called the outcome of Sunday's vote key to the future of this South American country, split down the middle between those who worship the president for redistributing Venezuela's oil riches and those who see him as a power-hungry autocrat.

"Those who voted "yes" today voted for socialism, for revolution," Chavez thundered to thousands of ecstatic supporters jamming the streets around the presidential palace. Fireworks lit up the Caracas skyline, and one man walked though the crowd carrying a painting of Chavez that read: "Forever."

Josefa Dugarte stared at the crowd from the stoop of her apartment building with look of dismay.

"These people don't realize what they have done," she muttered.

The implications of this piece are strikingly different. We are told:

  • Chavez thinks that the referendum is a mandate for socialism (The NYT stated this as a simple, objective fact)
  • For the first time we hear the opposition's voice. They are worried that Chavez is accumulating dictatorial powers
  • There was a crowd of people showing enthusiastic support for Chavez after the vote. One of their signs seemed to justify the opposition's worries of encroaching dictatorship
  • The result of this referendum has created uncertainty and anxiety for many people

This example illustrates the importance of forming your own powers of analysis, and not relaxing your critical mind even when reading from supposedly objective news sources.

Hat tip: The Corner

Share this


What a good comparison revealing the power of a non-editorial news article to strongly convey an editorial message.

"For most, politics is

"For most, politics is determined by their environment..."

And by genes:


How true, and how

How true, and how beautifully illustrated

The reasons why?

Perhaps, its because, contrary to public opinion, newspapers don't sell news, they rather, sell the news you want to hear. Thats why people buy brands, to be told what they believe is so obviously true, how can others not see just how obviously true, well, presumably because they waste their money on other, not so accurate rags.


newspapers don't sell news, they rather, sell the news you want to hear

Good point. As I see it, daily periodicals sell news not because it is somehow their essence to sell news, but because daily events are sufficiently numerous and sufficiently interesting that they provide plenty of material. Not even the greatest novelists could come up with so much interesting material so reliably. That the events actually happened is no doubt a plus, but if factual reality were so critical then newspapers would not be as sloppy as they are in getting the facts right, as any reader can see who happens to read an article about something that he independently knows something about. It is evidently more important that they get something into the paper, than that they get the truth into the paper.

Daily papers are going to fill their pages with whatever. They already do. They put in comic strips, they put in opinion, they put in puzzles, they put in personal ads, they put in whatever is going to move their product. If they could jam the paper with serialized novels and if people were into that then that's what they would do.

Of course readers want to be flattered. Of course they want their beliefs to be validated rather than challenged.