Slanting a story: The basics

So how exactly does one slant a story to skew the facts one way while acting as a legitimate columnist? The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund provides a good example and we’ll go through parts of this column to give an example of how you can tell one side of a story and make it seem like you are trying to be fair.In all fairness, you can find similar stories while reading liberal columnists about the same story.

Let’s start with Fund’s lead:

“Three weeks ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill restricting the power of public-employee unions and increasing what their members pay for health and pension benefits. But the law hasn’t yet taken effect—and its opponents have found a judge to issue a highly questionable ruling threatening sanctions against any official who implements it. It seems “Wisconsin Nice” is now gone with the wind.”

Fund opens the story by mentioning Walker’s legislation. Fund does not mention the controversy surrounding the bill or the divisiveness the bill caused in the state of Wisconsin. His lead frames the story as well-meaning governor signs bill and the bad Democrats went out and found a judge to issue a “questionable” ruling to stop it.

Paragraph two provides background in the following way:

“Unions bused in thousands of members and supporters to protest it. Death threats were made against several legislators (on Thursday, felony charges were filed against one woman for allegedly emailing legislators about plans for “putting a nice little bullet in your head.”)”

No one should issue death threats against politicians for unfair practices. Actions like that should be prosecuted at every opportunity. At the same time, liberals are not the only ones issuing death threats these days. Second, the paragraph implies that all of the protestors were from out of state. That isn’t true.

Paragraph three states that “After four weeks, Republicans finally passed the bill after amending it so it required a smaller quorum.”

That’s not exactly how it happened. The bill was changed from a bill about budgets to another section and passed without proper notice, an illegal act. Fund follows with facts from Supreme Court cases:

“Legal analysts say it’s preposterous for a judge to enjoin publication of a law before it has even taken effect, as citizens don’t have standing to challenge a law until they are subject to it. In a similar case in 1943, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that a judge had no such authority. In 1977, another state Supreme Court opinion reiterated that under separation of powers “no court has jurisdiction to enjoin the legislative process at any point.” Rick Esenberg, an assistant professor of law at Marquette University, says he is “speechless” over the fact that Judge Sumi “has failed to articulate why she has the authority” to issue her ruling.”

The argument being made has nothing to do with citizens and everything to do with procedure, which makes Fund’s opening sentence in this paragraph misleading at best.

The next two paragraphs cover the fact that the battle for the Supreme Court of Wisconsin has become politicized. Fund writes that if current judge, David Prosser, loses to JoAnn Kloppenburg, the state’s judiciary will lean left instead of right. He follows by writing that Democrats are doing everything possible to win this election.

“Liberal groups are doing all they can to politicize this judicial race. An American Federation of Teachers local has sent a letter to its members asserting that “a Kloppenburg victory would swing the balance (on the court) to our side. A vote for Prosser is a vote for [Gov.] Walker.” It is time, the letter says, “to get even.” Ms. Kloppenburg certainly isn’t discouraging such thinking. She told the Madison Capital Times that “the events of the last few weeks have put into sharp relief how important the Supreme Court is as a check on overreach in the other branches of government.”

And Republicans are what – wringing their hands? Fund forgets to write that Republicans are pouring money into the race as well. Republicans are also politicizing the race. In fact, the race has the stink of a political campaign instead of a judicial campaign, something that has its own group of problems journalists should deal with.

Fund finishes the column by writing that this all has to do with union dues and political power for the right, without ever mentioning the fact that the idea of breaking the union has little to do with the budget and much more to do with breaking the political power of the unions, which lean left.

This is a wonderful story for someone who only wants to hear the story from the right. It doesn’t even mention the facts from the other side. That’s a lie by omission. It’s not an honest story. Not only that, but without both sides of an argument, without both sides of a story, Fund is doing everyone a disservice.

The press has been heading toward a more subjective view of reporting but that doesn’t mean that writers should forego fairness. This column was not fair. Again, this could easily be done from a story on the left and they’re out there. Liberal columnists who completely ignore the other side of the story are not serving their readers either. And by concentrating on the politics, the true problem of the story was overlooked. Places on a Supreme Court should not be for sale.

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