Graphics and the Media’s Mindfulness
On Sept. 1, CBS ran the following graphics to go along with its coverage of the FBI’s released documents from the Hillary Clinton email investigation:
They also incorporated Donald Trump’s reaction to the situation using the same graphic layout:
The network then revealed the following poll, which rival networks NBC and ABC did not include in their Thursday night broadcasts:
In contrast, ABC and NBC used the following graphics to explain their takes on the same situation, respectively:
Do visuals like the ones CBS designed help contribute to the public’s negative feelings of the candidates? And, could the media be fueling some of the fear and distrust of one or both candidates through these subtleties?
According to veteran political journalist Carol Marin, reporters often use subliminal techniques simply due to time constraints.
“Sometimes it isn’t the result of an attitude or bias,” she said. “Sometimes intent isn’t there, but it may be a lack of intent may raise the fact that we’re not mindful.”
And seasoned reporter and executive producer Soledad O’Brien said an “unconscious bias” may have also influenced the graphics.
“We’re human,” she said. “It’s not like there’s a group of people sitting around a table [plotting].”
What are the implications of a lack of mindfulness or unconscious biases in journalism?
Consider these two magazine covers of the same story, circa 1994:
Intentional or unintentional, the pictures—one altered, one left relatively untouched—triggered outrage; some charged that the Time cover reflected a more “racist” and “sinister” take on the trial than Newsweek’s.
This controversy ultimately resulted in Time pulling the cover altogether and changing the picture for later editions.
The power of colors and visual tools is indisputable. Studies show that the human brain interprets visual information at a 60,000 times faster rate than text. Cognitively, visuals help us store, interpret, and remember information, and emotionally, they affect our attitudes and interpretations.
In a network’s process of designing graphics and other visual media to accompany stories, what—if anything—counts as bias? Did CBS’s graphics go too far, or do they help illustrate widespread public attitudes in real time?
More from Carol Marin: “You would want Clinton to look serious and not smiling. I think that’s appropriate.”
“There can be a purposefulness to this. But more often than not, there’s not complete mindfulness to this.”
“You can be editorial. But I think you got to balance it.”
More from Soledad O’Brien:
“Graphics people are separate from newsroom people. They’re artists trying to match the tone or tenure of the story.”