We look to the news to learn about the world — and the world is rarely black and white. But often the media gives us limited viewpoints on a particular story, either by downplaying or eliminating certain perspectives, or by leaving out key data that could have provided a more complete picture. Our Top 5 list this week explores missing points of view in media coverage from the Republican memo to the Polish bill on speech about the Holocaust.
1. House Republicans release the Nunes memo
What’s the news? U.S. House Republicans released a declassified memorandum that said there were “concerns with legitimacy and legality” in FBI and Justice Department efforts to obtain a 2016 surveillance warrant for a Trump campaign adviser.
One viewpoint in the media: It was wrong to release the memo, but as it turns out, the contents aren’t really significant, even though Republicans claimed the memo would invalidate the Russia investigation. For an example, see The New York Times.
Another viewpoint in the media: Republicans were right to release it. The Russian investigation isn’t valid because it began under illegitimate, politicized pretences, and the memo shows that. For instance, see Breitbart.
What’s missing in most coverage? Acknowledging there’s a lot of missing information and that the validity of the Russia investigation can’t be determined based on the memo alone. See The Knife’s analysis for more.
Why does this matter? Media outlets took a single memo and jumped to conclusions in a matter of hours, while the months-long investigation still continues. Instead of publishing premature and potentially damning conclusions, the media could focus on the contents of the memo and explore potential consequences from all sides, not just one.
2. Nassar sentenced to additional 40 to 125 years
What’s the news? U.S.A. Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to an additional 40 to 125 years in prison after pleading guilty to molesting girls and young women at a Michigan gymnastics club.
One viewpoint in the media: Nassar is a “demon” and is in “denial” about the damage he caused. For instance, see CNN.
What’s missing in most coverage? Looking at Nassar’s crimes and others’ through a responsible societal lens. It’s good to hold Nassar and the organizations accountable, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle: we’ve allowed our communities to develop in ways that make these crimes possible. Each of us bears responsibility, even if we never commit crimes like Nassar’s. For more on this, see The Knife’s analysis.
What else is missing in most coverage? Data and perspectives that help better understand violence, abuse and its causes.
Why does this matter? The odds of rooting out crimes such as these are low without a better understanding of violence and our participation in it.
3. Ryan tweets about worker pay increases
What’s the news? U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted about a secretary whose pay increased by $1.50 per week due to the recent tax cuts. He later deleted the tweet.
One viewpoint in the media: Ryan’s tweet was a “flub” and embarrassing. For example, see CNN.
Another viewpoint in the media: Ryan tweeted about other examples of worker pay increases, some of which were more impressive. For instance, see the Associated Press.
What’s missing in most coverage? Acknowledging that Ryan’s tweet may not be major national news, as it was treated by most sources.
Why does this matter? The media can direct our attention to an event simply by covering it. Similarly, it trains society to prioritize certain things and not others. There’s merit to reporting on Ryan’s tweets, but the sensationalism and overemphasis may be skewing the public’s view of what’s most important. See The Knife’s analysis for a deeper look.
4. Trump delivers State of the Union address
What’s the news? U.S. President Donald Trump gave his first State of the Union address, speaking on infrastructure investment, immigration, foreign affairs and other subjects for 80 minutes.
One viewpoint in the media: The Democrats were poor sports, resisting Trump’s call for bipartisanship and unity — they’re to blame for divisions in the country. For instance, see the coverage by Fox News.
Another viewpoint in the media: Trump was uncharacteristically “statesman-like” during the speech. Typically, he’s inflammatory and “raucous” — he’s to blame for the divisions. For example, read the Los Angeles Times.
What’s missing in most coverage? Focusing on the speech and its possible ramifications on policy, rather than on sensationalism, bias and opinion. The Knife’s analysis of the address distinguishes between news that informs and news that entertains.
Why does this matter? Because sensationalized news erodes our discernment skills and capacity to think critically. Who’d want that?
5. Polish senate approves bill prohibiting certain speech about Polish involvement with Nazi Germany
What’s the news? The Polish senate voted to approve a bill that prohibits certain speech alleging Poland was complicit in crimes committed by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
One viewpoint in the media: This bill is controversial — it breaches freedom of speech, distorts history and is causing tension between Poland and other countries. For example, see AFP.
What’s missing in most coverage? Examining the potential merits of the bill. See The Knife’s analysis and join the conversation.
Why does this matter? It’s simplistic and possibly arrogant to assume the bill is entirely without merit. If the media coverage presented its valid positive aspects and also its legitimate drawbacks, readers could better understand the different sides of the issue.