Once again, a news report tells a lie in the headline and first paragraph before giving the true story in the article. First let’s analyze the article in question, after which we’ll take a look at why such an approach is so perniciously manipulative.
Last Friday, Associated Press released an AP-GfK study on the attitude of likely voters towards the new federal healthcare law that Congress passed earlier this year.
The results of the study divided respondents into four groups:
- Those who think the law should be strengthened – 36%
- Those who want to leave the new law as is – 15%
- Those who want modifications to narrow its scope – 10%
- Those who want the law repealed – 37%
When we do the math, we find that 61% do not want the law repealed against 37% who do (the other 2% probably did not respond). In an election, 61% is considered to be a mandate.
But AP’s headline and first paragraph reported the story in a way that distorted these numbers:
Headline: “AP-GfK Poll: Americans split on health care repeal”
First paragraph: “First it was President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul that divided the nation. Now it’s the Republican cry for repeal.”
Huh!? Since when does a 61-37% landslide majority translate into a divided nation?
While the survey also shows that 52% still oppose the legislation, the headline and first paragraph do not talk about opposition to the law. They talk about repeal, and it’s clear that a vast majority of likely voters do not want to repeal the new law. (Keep in mind, too, that of the 52% who say they oppose the law, many and perhaps a majority oppose it because they want it to be stronger.)
As I’ve discussed before in OpEdge, most people skim the news, only reading the headline and first paragraph of most articles. That’s why reporters are trained to structured news stories as an “inverted pyramid,” which means that you put the most important information in the first paragraph and bury less important information lower in the story.
In other words, most people who read this article will come away thinking that the country is divided about repeal, when in fact only a minority of voters want to repeal the law. By pretending the country is divided on one of the Democrats crowning achievements of the past Congressional session, the Associated Press story is lying to the country in a way that helps the Republicans in the upcoming elections.
And a lot of people will see the story, since AP stories usually get carried in hundreds of newspapers across the country and appear on hundreds of websites. Moreover, this particular piece of propaganda was the lead story on the Yahoo! homepage for much of the morning of October 25.
And thus another right-wing lie will gain credence among the American people, with the help of the mainstream news media.