Last updated on August 29, 2021
I wanted to take a look at the local reporting of the recent Coos County Board of Commissioners meeting on 8/17/2021, mainly to show everyone how a few simple tricks can turn an otherwise truthful article into one that slants one particular direction. I have three examples, one from The World Newspaper and two from KCBY Television.
This article by David Rupkalvis, the Executive Editor of The World, is perhaps the most egregious. It is titled “Commissioners adjourn after being threatened”. This is an example of what is known as “framing”. The operative word in that title is “threatened”. Let’s look at why that word is TECHNICALLY correct but used to negatively frame one side based on the common perception of the word.
Threatened is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary thus:
past tense: threatened; past participle: threatened1. state one’s intention to take hostile action against someone in retribution for something done or not done.
2. express one’s intention to harm or kill (someone).
3. cause (someone or something) to be vulnerable or at risk; endanger.
Now, I’ve spoken to several people who were at the meeting and none of them, including me, remembers hearing ANY threats of violence. Two out of the three definitions above denote physical violence. When the average person hears “threatened” they think of physical violence. The only way in which the word “threatened” is remotely correct in this instance is that several people in the room, “threatened to have Commissioner Cribbins removed from office”. So, why doesn’t the article state this? Because they are using framing to make you think the meeting was violent when it was not. When you realize that the attendees at the meeting were not violent, Melissa Cribbins’ claim of fearing for her safety is immediately destroyed.
Next, let’s look at the first KCBY article which is on the exact same meeting:
The framing issue with this article is not in the title, but in the second sentence. There it states, “An angry mob showed up at the Coos County commissioners meeting Tuesday to protest the mask mandate, causing two of the three commissioners to walk out.”
First off, the phrasing of this sentence insinuates that the people who attended the meeting were acting angrily from the time they “showed up”. This is a blatant lie and KCBY should issue a retraction. I was there from the very beginning of the meeting and no one in the crowd showed any anger until the last 30 seconds or so, after Commissioners Sweet and Cribbins adjourned the meeting. Even after Commissioner Sweet read the new mask mandate, there were only a few jeers from the crowd and absolutely no threats of any kind that I could hear. The only anger occurred at the very end as the two Commissioners were walking out the back door. No one approached them, no one followed them. If you’d like the truth on this matter, just ask Coos County Sheriff Craig Zanni and Captain Gabriel Fabrizio, because they were sitting at the back of the room the entire time.
Second, to call the group an “angry mob” is yet another framing tactic. That phrase elicits a particular response when someone reads it. Once again, the Oxford English Dictionary comes to our rescue:
1. a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence.
1. crowd around (someone) in an unruly and excitable way in order to admire or attack them.
Notice the focus on violence? This is how the mass media uses framing and semantics to paint a particular picture of events. They’re not snapping an accurate photo or video of what happened, they’re going home and painting a distorted Pablo Picasso version and feeding it to you as the truth.
Lastly, I will give a bit of credit to KCBY because they wrote a second article on the issue that was much more even-handed.
In this article, the meeting attendees are referred to as an “unruly crowd” rather than an “angry mob”. Notice how they even out themselves by framing the same event two different ways just days apart? Strangely enough, both articles were from the same KCBY employee, Amanda Slee. How did these inconsistencies slip through the editorial process? Either because there is no editorial oversight, or the editors are biased.
This article also contains a bit of actual reporting, in that it provides react quotes from the other side. This is a cornerstone of proper journalism. You don’t just quote one side. Reporters who do are either lazy or have an agenda.
For anyone interested how this kind of stuff occurs in a newsroom, I’d recommend watching the 5th and final season of the HBO series “The Wire”. David Simon, the show’s Executive Producer worked The Baltimore Sun’s city desk for 12 years and he integrated his experience into a large arc of the final season. In it, you’ll get a glimpse of the editorial process at a major newspaper, and how old school journalists have had to fight the framing tactics and outright lies I’ve described above. A free press is a cornerstone of our Republic, but unfortunately is has been almost completely corrupted.
(WARNING: “The Wire” is NOT for children or anyone who is easily offended)
-Matthew Wilbanks (Editor @ Dailyresister.com)