The Pessimistic Viewer

The type of subtle media manipulation technique that I have noticed lately is “False Balancing”. False balancing occurs when a media outlet presents an argument with more support for one side of the argument than the other. In this form of manipulation, the opposition to the intended viewpoint has to be present. The key is limiting the input that the opposing viewpoint has on the audience. This is similar to cult idea of separating the audience from the outside world. This strategy helps reinforce the outlet’s viewpoint by creating an illusion. This illusion may be the idea that the media’s viewpoint has a majority of the support or the media’s viewpoint is more logical. False Balancing hinders the viewer’s ability to make an informed decision about the topic . It allows the receiver of the media to feel fully informed; rather, than partially informed. This false idea of being informed will lead him to no longer search for more information about the topic.

Mark MayOver the summer, I noticed this technique on multiple news stations. Fox news happened to use this technique the most. As I was forced to watch the O’Reilly Factor, I noticed that Bill O’Reilly used this technique in his discussions with the “experts”. He tended to talk to the more conservative guests more often than the more liberal or democratic guests. This allowed the more conservative viewpoint to get more time and better inform the viewer of their viewpoint. In addition to major news using this strategy, I believe that ESPN used this strategy while trying to promote college football. Mark May a college football analyst, and USC lover, was frequently invited to share his opinions in open forums. In this clip, from College Football Live, Mark May and Lou Holtz overwhelm the viewer with praise about USC. Lou Holtz only presents a small piece supporting Washington, but most the clip is supporting USC’s. This increased attention and hype about USC comes days before they play on ABC, ESPN’s sister network. This attempt at False Balancing is used to promote a team that frequently plays on their network.

This style of manipulation is not always affective. It is very easy to support one side too much which allows the strategy to be recognized or ignored. The O’Reilly Factor tends to over support their viewpoint which disengages the viewer. I feel that ESPN implements this strategy a little better. Fox has become recognized as a biased station, so viewers are prepared to combat this by finding new sources of information and commentary. On the other hand, ESPN is the major source of sporting news so viewers are forced to put more stock into their opinions. In addition, viewers to ESPN are typically unaware of any information biases. For the strategy to be successful, the viewer needs to be unfamiliar to the bias and complacent with the information given.

For an audience member to be immune to this form of manipulation, he needs to understand media cannot be taken at face value. Most media has underlying goals and messages. He should believe that every form of media is biased. To combat this, he should be searching for multiple opinions and sources of information. Media receivers need to be proactive on important issues. Overall, I think with more sources of information or commentary, the more accurate conclusion the receiver can draw.

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1 Response to The Pessimistic Viewer

  1. mmetrics1 says:

    I very much agree. As I have studied news programs, false balancing is used extensively by certain programs. “Anchor biasing” is also commonly employed, wherein the news anchor either helps emphasize certain points of view, or challenges and interrupts those that are in conflict with their own.

    The lines between hard news and editorializing have blurred. It may look like a objective news … and it may feel like objective news … but it’s really an opinion piece.

    Barry Hardek

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