Some historians say that one of the big reasons Americans were solidly behind World War II but opposed to Vietnam is the pictures the public saw: During WWII we were fed photos of heroes raising flags over liberated territory, in Vietnam we got innocent Vietnamese children running from napalm.
Whether you agree with that or not (there were certainly other factors) you have to admit that appearances matter. A lot. We like to think we base most of our decisions purely on logic, but the dearth of non-manipulated personal photos on Internet forums and Facebook suggests that at least a lot of the time, we don't.
How Can This Be Used For Evil?
This isn't about the news media outright faking images with Photoshop (though that certainly has happened before). This is about the everyday choices editors make about which photo to run with a story, and where they choose to crop it.
For example, here's a photo of a politician helping prepare a meal for his loving family:
Here's a violent madman stabbing a butcher knife into something, probably human flesh.
Meanwhile, camera angles can be used to make a person look like Batman, or like Aquaman's smaller, pussier cousin. A lower angle makes a person look taller, while a wider, higher angle makes them look small and insignificant. This president will come to rescue you from zombies, and then steal your lady. And you won't even mind.
But this guy...
...is that one dude who always wants to borrow your stapler and then loses it. Also notice that the decision of which facial expression to capture is huge. Once again, no actual trickery or fraud is required; you just shuffle through the thousands of pictures available of a famous person on any given day, and pick the one that suits you.
Female politicians may get the worst of this, since you can add or subtract 20 years based on the facial expression and lighting:
As you hopefully know already, the English language contains two ways of describing an action, the active and the passive voice. For example:
An angry stripper suffocated John. (Active) John was suffocated by an angry stripper. (Passive)
Either way, John is boned.
You're technically saying the same thing, but the emphasis is different (the stripper in the first, her victim in the second). And in fact, in the passive voice you don't actually have to name the attacker at all. The second could have read simply "John was suffocated." You can totally let the stripper off the hook because your wording implies it could have been anyone--or no one at all. Dude could have passed out in a bowl of pudding.
We're not saying it was Cosby, but do the math.
How Can This Be Used For Evil?
It all depends on how you want the audience to feel about the stripper. Take the headline "Man Shoots Daughter's Boyfriend in Groin." The active headline makes clear to the reader that the man shot his daughter's boyfriend in a crotch-splattering rage, presumably deliberately and in cold blood. If they had run it as, "Man Shot in Groin Over Teen Girlfriend," it takes the dad out of the equation and makes it sound more like his own actions naturally led to the shooting, like, "Car Explodes After Running Off Cliff."
Or: Gold Pants Expose Gayness.
For that reason, when the shooting is done by law enforcement or somebody else who is allowed to shoot people on occasion, you tend to get passive headlines like "Men in Stolen Car Shot on AF Base." Hell, that almost makes it sound like the shooting is an unsolved mystery. It might have been the base security guards that killed them, or a wildly off-target shot from a local archery club (it was the first one). But when it's a bad guy doing the shooting, you get the active, "Man Shoots at Deputies, Ends Up Dead." You especially have to love the "Ends Up Dead" there. What, did he have a guilt-induced heart attack? Nope. The cops shot his ass. But you wouldn't know from the headline.
Watch for this in war coverage. Often the difference between the headlines:
"Dozens Killed in Bombing."
"Canadian Bombers Kill Dozens."
...depends entirely on how you want the reader to feel about Canada.
You've probably done this one in your everyday conversation just within the last 24 hours. Rather than just say what happened, you give yourself the freedom to speculate about what the other person was thinking. We could just give a short and accurate description of how some dude backed into our car at the supermarket, but usually we add details about how the guy probably wasn't paying attention because he was too busy thinking about his child-porn ring and how quickly he could get home to beat his wife.
But enough about Jay Leno. Zing!
How Can This Be Used For Evil?
Let's take a look at the same event, as reported in two different outlets:
You know, upstanding President stuff.
The first headline presents what Obama actually did. It's factually true; Obama did in fact pledge to press ahead on goals. Then you have the second, which gives him a motive and adds a backstory: the Democrat party is "beleaguered" and his supposed pledge to press ahead on goals is just an attempt to boost a political party.
Boring world stuff.
Now, some may say that the first one is just blindly repeating the politician's talking points, but the second is flat out mind reading. For a more ridiculous example, a newspaper in California sent a Freedom of Information Act Request to several tech companies to find out how many minorities they have working there. A few companies (including giants like Apple, Google and Yahoo!) refused the request. Headline?
Damn! When's the next Klan meeting, Steve Jobs?
You can read more from C. Coville at her site Bloodslides.Livejournal.com.
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For more reasons you shouldn't trust the news what-so-ever, check out 5 Things The Media Loves Pretending Are News and 7 Clearly Fake News Stories That Fooled The Mainstream Media.
Stop by our Top Picks (Updated Today! Shit!) to read about poor John and his stripper escapades.
And check out our friend's at College Humor who put together a fitting tribute to St. Patrick's Day starring Jack the Pumpkin (Ale) King.