Snake wrapped around branch

Don’t be Fooled – Headline Framing

It is easy to be fooled in an age of headline-only reading. But even if you read the full article or watch the full video, the persuasion has already been attempted, and has quite possibly worked.

As soon as a story is framed a certain way, usually via the headline, it has primed you to think that way regardless of what the actual story says. This is one of the biggest ways the media engages in fake news. They can then always point to story itself and shrug their shoulders in Edenic innocence.

The headline can highlight something that might only be tangential to the story. Or leave out important context. Fake news is as much as what is omitted. Sometimes the headline is pure editorializing. Sometimes it extends to the lede. The goal is to bias you toward a certain way of thinking before you even start to think about what you are reading.

Sometimes this priming is done by a photo next to the article, or above it. A photo is just a snapshot in time, and is always trying to convey a “correct” way to think about something. It always leaves something out, by design.

A recent framing example is the following headline and article.

“During coronavirus briefing Trump says he’ll consider pardon for Netflix star Joe Exotic”

Based on this headline (which is the only thing many people will read), what does the author want you to think about this story?

First, it makes it seem like Trump just volunteered this information without any prompting. It was part of his normal remarks and updates.

Second, it really wants you to think Trump is flippant about this crisis. Why would he be so callous and stupid? And in the middle of something that’s supposed to be serious!

Judging from the reactions to people sharing this article, most people bought the framing of the story exactly how the headline primed them to do it. Eye rolls and gleeful finger-pointing at how idiotic and inept Trump is.

They were a fiddle, and the author played them like a master violinist.

What really happened, however, as is clear from the video, is a journalist asked Trump a specific question about pardoning Joe, and the whole delivery was obviously intended to be a joke. Trump, who hadn’t seen the show, played along for a minute or two.

That’s it.

Other news outlets had more accurate headlines. Why was this one so different?

Remember, all media is narrative and rhetoric. They decide to report on some things and omit others. Every story is trying to get you to feel and think a certain way, and we should be wary before simply emoting about things. Especially Christians.

Be as shrewd as serpents (Matthew 10:16).

If you want a crash course in framing and its power, check out out this Periscope by Scott Adams. (language warning)

Photo by Prasad Panchakshari on Unsplash

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