Keeping up the traditions of Youth Time, the journalism students at Anglo-Saxon University in Prague, who have also attempted to solve the mystery of “personal” opinion, conducted an amateur social experiment with a hint of academic research especially for us.
Their small experiment was based on the analysis of four articles that had appeared at different times and in different media (the Russian TV channel “Russia Today”, the British newspapers “The Independent” and “The Guardian” and on the American television channel CNN) covering a common topic: the events surrounding Edward Snowden, former CIA and the U.S. National Security Agency agent. We would like to remind you that a year ago Snowden revealed secret information to “The Guardian” and “The Washington Post” concerning the matter of total surveillance, conducted by U.S. intelligence, on civilians around the world. The participants in the AAU experiment had to familiarize themselves with the following material:
Russia Today: Manning 2.0? Former NSA consultant behind massive US surveillance leak, June 25, 2013
The Independent: Edward Snowden is a ‘self-publicizing narcissist’ who committed treason, claims former defense secretary Liam Fox, April 16, 2014
CNN: Albright says Snowden leaks ‘hurt us very badly’, October 24, 2013
The Guardian: We want Edward Snowden as our rector because he stands for democracy, January 23, 2014
Six people of different ages and occupations were presented with these articles and were asked to read and discuss them. Although the opinions varied, they all seemed to come to one conclusion: the media doesn’t necessarily create an opinion but rather tends to reinforce it.
Meaning, those who already have a point of view might discount sources that state an opposite opinion. If they don’t discount it, they consider it to be biased. Those, whose initial opinion was that Snowden did the right thing and was a “good guy,” preferred articles that agreed with them. If articles stated an opposite view, people perceived them as biased. Another conclusion of those interviewed was that mass media often chooses quotes in articles based on how they reflect the “agenda” of particular media.
International relations student Julie commented on the word usage in the article by Russia Today, where the Obama administration was said to “aggressively pursue” Snowden. “It seems like they try to sway you by using these words,” she said. She also came to the conclusion that certain media expresses its own opinion by choosing certain people to quote. The example is the article by The Independent, where Dr. Liam Fox is quoted saying, “Edward Snowden is a ‘self-publicizing narcissist’ who committed treason.” This quote is used as a headline of the article, which Julie found to be “a good headline to draw you in.”
On the contrary, Dr. DeAnna DeRosa, a university professor, found the headline to be “completely inappropriate” and “extremely judgmental.” “It has no place in the news article,” said DeRosa. She made the point that many readers only scan through the article while the headline is what stays with them. The article she preferred was one by The Guardian, which used the term “whistleblower” when talking about Snowden. “I feel it is the correct form,” she said. She also liked that the article included “powerful groups” (and not only the “Obama administration”, as did Russia Today) into those who use “immoral practices,” such as spying.
Will Tizard, a university professor of journalism, saw it from a different perspective. He found The Independent article to be a “fairly straightforward coverage of a biased person.” Constantly quoting Dr. Liam Fox seemed to him “almost gleeful.” He stated that the coverage of events, apart from Fox’s statements, transmitted this article into “the realm of the bizarre.” Tizard summarized the article by calling it a “random agglomeration of everything related to Snowden (…) without much point or insight.”
To him, the most “fairly straight-forward” and in focus was the Russia Today article which called “Manning 2.0? Former NSA consultant behind massive surveillance attack.” He thought it explained who Snowden is and what his motives might be. However, he said, “It wasn’t necessary to propagandize this particular story on Snowden.” While focusing on the article by CNN, where Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was quoted saying, “Snowden leaks ‘hurt us badly’,” Tizard agreed that despite Snowden’s motivations, he is “technically” a criminal, who was fully aware of his actions. “When you violate your security by releasing classified documents, this act is technically a crime and one Snowden realized he was committing,” he explained.
Stepan, an international relations student, found CNN’s article to be the most influential, as he viewed Snowden’s act as a “’noble’ purpose with awful consequences.” He believed that Snowden revealed nothing, as knowledgeable people already knew that surveillance was happening. “He had only little impact,” he explained. Stepan thought that Snowden must have taken a long time to plan his act, and still failed to add a new angle to it, as “spying is happening and will happen.” He added that he doesn’t view him as a “hero.”
Nino, a journalism student, said that each article had slightly different opinions and to her, “[Snowden] is not really a criminal.” She explained that he is defending the people’s privacy. She stated that there should be a free flow of information and “he wanted to provide it.” She viewed Russia Today’s article as “more balanced,” where Snowden’s opinions as well as counter arguments were presented. She thought that The Guardian, as well as Russia Today, “did not portray him as a criminal.” However, she added that Russia Today was “not that objective,” as you could see a certain degree of personal opinion that was included in the story. CNN in her eyes was the least objective, as it only presented a one-sided judgment.
An international relations student, John, said that the article in Russia Today was “attacking the United States,” especially because it brought up an example of Bradley Manning, which John felt was like “digging up the dirt.” “Honestly, before I even read it, I thought it was going to be biased since it is Russia Today,” he said. At the same time, he thought CNN was biased towards the United States. The article used a quote by Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, where she said, “Countries spy on each other.” John thought CNN used the quote as an excuse for the United States to spy. As for The Independent, John found that the article portrayed Snowden as a “traitor” by quoting Dr. Liam Fox, who said, “[Snowden] had successfully damaged security to the benefit of Mr. Putin’s regime.”
As mentioned above, the conclusion of this experiment is that people tend to discount sources with different points of view than their own. Out of the six people interviewed, those who viewed Snowden as a “traitor” tended to prefer articles by CNN and The Independent, where he was presented as such. They viewed the article by Russia Today to be biased, as it was “attacking the United States.” Those who thought Snowden was right about what he did thought CNN and The Independent came across as judgmental towards him.
From the editorial staff of YT: We, in our turn, would like to end this report on the experiment, conducted by the AAU students, not with a conclusion but with a question: considering that we cannot be born with our own, fully formed opinions regarding every issue, then who or what defines our primary “point of view”? We reckon that if it were possible to find the answer to that question, then we would instantly acquire immunity to any sort of manipulation e.g. political, economic, or from within our own households.