As anybody who has ever wistfully imagined Keith Olbermann and Bill O'Reilly fighting to the death over a pit of lava knows, most media outlets are biased. Usually it's not part of anybody's grand scheme to brainwash you, but rather just the result of newsrooms being staffed by fallible, opinionated humans.
The problem is they're generally not allowed to come right out and say they think the subject of their news story is a flaming douchebag, so they have to rely on subtle and sometimes downright dishonest methods to gently sway you one way or the other.
When you browse through the news today, keep an eye out for...
When someone uses language that implies a definite fact without stating it outright, they're using weasel words. The most common are when you attribute opinions to unnamed strangers. Ads include statements like, "Combined with diet and exercise, many experts agree that this pill could drastically increase the size of your penis and raise your credit card score." The "many experts agree" are the weasel words there.
How Can This Be Used For Evil?
If you're writing a news story, and want to insert your own opinion, you simply attribute the opinion to some unnamed person or group. Such as "many people":
The writers do not explain who is saying, asking or arguing. Their friends? God? The homeless man outside ranting about the government stealing his thoughts? Who are these people and how numerous are they? What are their qualifications?
We don't know, and in their own mind the reporter can always rationalize it with, "Well, surely there's somebody on planet Earth making that point. Why waste time actually finding them?"
Weasel words can also be used in another way, similar to the way a Straw Man is used in a debate: to introduce an anonymous but supposed common opposing argument which the writer can then rail against, as we have here:
Dude, that is not the reason we're against letting robots operate on us. It's because they'll rewire our brains and turn us into slaves, as we have plainly stated many times.
5Implying Without Saying
As humans, we want to know the "why" behind everything, and we get frustrated when we don't have it. We see two things--a good harvest after we've sacrificed a virgin to the gods, or our luck changing for the worse after that strange man gave us a monkey paw--and we naturally think they're connected. Where there's correlation, we want causation.
This is particularly the case with bad news, which we are usually desperate to find a simple explanation for so that we don't wind up thinking that we live in a random, Godless universe full of cursed monkeys. This can be used against you, however, since a lot of persuasion techniques involve letting you fill in that gap yourself.
How Can This Be Used For Evil?
If you play video games, headlines like this drive you nuts: "Boy, 13, Fired Shotgun Into Cousin's Face After Playing Gangster Game". The "Gangster Game" of course being one of the Grand Theft Auto games. Or perhaps it's, "Teenager Stabbed at Midnight Launch of Violent Video Game Grand Theft Auto IV."
Clearly influencing reality.
Nothing in these headlines is technically untrue, but in both cases you find out from the story that there is absolutely no indication that the video game had anything to do with the crime.
In the first one, you can replace "playing gangster game" with anything the kid did that morning. "Boy Fired Shotgun Into Cousin's Face After Eating Cheeseburger." "Boy Fired Shotgun Into Cousin's Face After Watching Spongebob Rerun." Oh, they're not saying the game caused the crime--they have absolutely no way of knowing or proving that. They're just wording it in a way so that you have no choice but to make that connection yourself.
Never mind that the majority of young males play video games on a regular basis. If the attacker had even one edition of the GTA series sitting out at home, that shit goes right in the headline, baby! Otherwise you get a generic headline like "Teenager Arrested Over Stabbing Death," because we fall back to the normal rule that what that teenager did in his spare time is utterly irrelevant to the story.
It's not that the news media necessarily hates video games, by the way. It's far more likely they just threw the video game aspect into the headline to grab attention, since it's just a random, boring crime story otherwise. Like when you see the headline, "Ex-prostitute 'still loves' Becks" ("Becks" being the cute tabloid nickname of soccer superstar David Beckham) you say, "Holy shit! Superstar athlete! Prostitute! Scandal!"
Only when you read the very, very end of the story do you realize that 1) only the woman claims to have had a relationship with him; 2) she wasn't a prostitute at the time and in fact; 3) had only been a prostitute once, for a couple of months, years earlier.
Not many people will read that far, which by the way brings us to another common technique...