Due to the rapid pace of the modern 24/7 news cycle, one of the most difficult aspects of documenting how propaganda functions within that sphere of information is simply keeping track of how narratives are presented on a given topic across a large array of legacy media sources.
To that end, this will be the first of a series of posts which look at how different media outlets choose to portray breaking news events to their readers on their homepage (on the assumption that a large percentage of users only read headlines rather than the full article itself).
For those unaware, the Canadian election will take place next month (October of 2019). This week, a picture of current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in “brown face” surfaced in Time Magazine.
Setting aside the moral question as to if pictures from 20 years ago should be held against current public figures, and noting that this is far from the first time a well known person has been found to have taken pictures in blackface, the way in which various media outlets choose to present the story (and the related image) on their respective homepages does raise interesting questions as to how partisan political affiliation influences the flow of information in liberal democracies.
Here, I have provided homepage screenshots of the different outlets in alphabetical order. I have also provided a short commentary on the location and content of homepage blurbs about the story alongside each screenshot;
ABC news (bottom right front page, does not use photo itself, uses the word “racist”)- i.imgur.com/xNkg9Bs.png
BBC news (center of front page, main story, uses photograph itself)- i.imgur.com/gPmxHEX.png
CBS news (bottom of homepage, does not use photo, references apology)- i.imgur.com/h7O1xBE.png
CNN (text only tile, middle of front page, no picture of any kind, notes apology)- i.imgur.com/Vhwz2SU.png
The Guardian UK edition (top right front page, does not use picture itself, notes apology)- i.imgur.com/P8Fa2bA.png
Huffpost (bottom left front page, does not use the picture itself)- i.imgur.com/Qgpz0Tp.png
MSNBC (not covered on front page, small text story after scrolling 3 pages on right side of screen, no picture)- i.imgur.com/Hv6WRqy.png
NBC news (on front page, right side, picture itself not included, apology noted)- i.imgur.com/QUdFJRA.png
RT (no coverage)- i.imgur.com/GIsRAyn.png
Time Magazine (source of story, homepage, front and center, actual picture used)- i.imgur.com/Bl2lqJu.png
While I think there are many conclusions to draw from the way in which the various outlets featured above covered this story, I have intentionally attempted to avoid stating those conclusions in the interest of facilitating impartial discussion.
The subtle and nuanced nature of modern propaganda, however, was certainly on display in the above examples without question. That nefarious influence over the way in which information is able to flow in “free” societies directly threatens the foundations of our shared democratic will formation, and only through this kind of breakdown (which must be done for each subsequent news event) does the full picture of a given story begin to take shape.
As one final note; it is interesting to think about Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane in the context of the above insight. In that movie, the viewer learns about the life of the protagonist, Charles Foster Kane, by hearing 5 different people tell their own versions of Mr. Kane’s time on earth.
As Kane was famously modeled on newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, one is left to wonder if perhaps Mr. Welles was providing a mechanism to breakdown the conspiracy behind how propaganda functions in the context of large media outlets (a la what I have done in this post) all those years ago.
In any event, perhaps I have gone on too long at this point, but I am, nonetheless, grateful to those of you who took the time to read through the post.