Bill selective reporting


It seems to me that the uproar over President Trump’s decision prohibiting folks from certain countries from entering the US is a pretty good demonstration of what I have long since called “selective reporting.” What this amounts to is when reporters, in both print and electronic media, choose to include some information in their accounts while either omitting, ignoring, or soft-pedaling other material that does not support their “take” on the situation. But rather than discuss this all-too- common practice in some academic way, let’s look at some examples.

Most reports have emphasized that this moratorium is on seven “predominantly Muslim” countries and suggested the order is religion-based directed at denying entry into the US for Muslims. What is omitted or ignored is the fact that the ban does not include about thirty other “predominantly Muslim” countries including Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Indonesia.

Nope, the order very specifically identifies only a few of the many “predominantly Muslim” nations around the world – the rest are not included. But these seven were arbitrarily selected for this action by the Trump administration, right? Actually, they were identified by the previous administration as hotbeds where “activists” are engaging in acts of violence that threaten not only their own nations, but the region around them and this country as well. This ban is designed to act on this prior assessment and to take action to minimize such a threat.

What else? Well, another largely ignored fact is that the ban is a temporary one designed to provide time for reassessment of the vetting procedures for would- be entrants from these trouble spots. And what about the reports of “chaos” at immigration checkpoints with huge numbers of travelers being detained or denied entry?

Well, during the first weekend of the ban, several hundred thousand folks entered this country without incident; about 400 were detained briefly and then admitted after their legal status was determined; and, only 109 were denied entry and their status was reconciled by Monday. These are only some examples of the many of “selective reporting” we encounter every day, but they serve the purpose.

This situation reminds me of something that happened about 40 years ago when I was teaching in a two-year technical college I’ll call “Itty-Bitty Tech” (IBT) because we were so small. Our building shared a campus with a branch of a very large university – which I’ll call “Giant State University” (GSU). Each year we had a slow-pitch softball game between our faculties as part of a joint IBT/GSU spring celebration. It was the only game for each team, but it was a fun thing.

A very nice young lady who was part of the IBT staff asked me if I could help her as she was responsible for writing up a short summary of the game for the IBT newsletter. She undoubtedly figured that since I was teaching a technical writing course that quarter I could give her some suggestions about handling the chore. I suggested one approach might be for her to write up two versions of the story in advance – one if IBT won and the other if GSU won. That way all she had to do was to insert the score.

The gist of the first would read something like, “We congratulate the IBT faculty softball team for finishing their undefeated season with a (score) win over the winless GSU faculty team.” In case IBT lost the theme would be “We congratulate the IBT faculty softball team for their great season having lost only their final game by the margin of (score) to the otherwise winless GSU faculty team.” She could then kinda flesh out the rest with a few comments. She responded that she thought this was deceitful, misleading, and biased, but I pointed out that everything was factual and this was simply a tongue-in-cheek entertaining example of “selective reporting”.

As it turned out Mother Nature intervened as the game was rained out and so I never knew what she decided. Well, we face “selective reporting” – commonly known as “spin” – just about every day as the news media, politicians, and even some businesses choose and expound upon whatever selection of information best fits their agenda, outlook, or position.

Opinion becomes intermingled with impartial reporting, half truths often dominate, and, contradicting information is discarded as irrelevant. You know, I suggested those two write-ups long ago to illustrate how “facts” can be presented to support almost any position. In no way did I anticipate how commonplace this practice would become. At least that’s how it seems to me.

By Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected].

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