Thursday, November 6, 2008

Explicating Fox News's "Black Panther" story (11/4/08)

Yesterday, I came across a Fox News report on potential voter intimidation at a Philadelphia polling place. My comments follow.

0:27 "... [O]ne of the two black panthers who was allegedly blocking the door..." - Verbal Shorthand
I have not been able to find any sources confirming that the two men being discussed in this report are actually members of the Black Panthers party. According to the video evidence, these two men were dressed in the traditional uniform of a Black Panther Party member, but this has not been confirmed as fact by any report I've read. This allegation is repeated throughout the report. (2)

0:46 "... [A]nd apparently the concern was that [the alleged Black Panthers] were intimidating people who were trying to go inside to vote..." - Framing
The reporter frames his statement in such a way as to give the impression that voters at the polling place were feeling intimidated. According to the reporter (later in this report and in an earlier report) and other sources, the claims of voter intimidation were actually made by Republican partisans. I have not been able to locate any reports where voters at this polling station have reported the two men engaged in voter intimidation. (1,2,3,4)

1:08 Eye witness report - Lack of balance
The eye witness, described by the Fox report as the "republican poll observer [who] actually called the police", is given ample time to state his opinions on the matter. However, his is the only opinion discussed in any detail. If there were no evidence for a dissenting opinion, this would not be an issue. After all, there are several issues where presenting both sides of an argument leads to false equivalency. However, has an interview with an Obama supporter who disputes many of the claims made by the Fox witness. Thus, the false equivalency argument against presenting both sides seems to be inapplicable in this instance.

1:10 "We got a phone call that there was intimidation going on... " - Potentially biased information
See comment at 1:08 (above). The reporter never asks who the call was from, a seemingly important piece of information to establish whether the reports of voter intimidation were made by voters or partisans.

2:01 "... [B]ut the implication is that you were telling me that the black panthers were there to intimidate white voters from coming to this location?" - Lack of balance / Framing (incendiary)
See comment at 1:08 (above) for lack of balance claim. The reporter is asserting analysis that imbues the two men accused of voter intimidation with a direct racial motivation that is not necessarily supported by the evidence.
Divergent interpretation:
It could be argued that this is an attempt by the reported to clarify the witness's comments. If so, I posit the reporter strays from a neutral voice.

2:51 "[T]hat is [the] situation, as far as we know it. " - Selective disclosure
In his original report, the reporter states very explicitly that there were no reports of voters being stopped from voting. This information is not clearly stated in this report. (3)

3:15 "... [W]e had a skirmish in front of the door... " - Selective disclosure
Pennsylvania law (Section 3060(d)) bars anyone other than voters and election officials from coming within 10 feet of a polling place." (5)

General thoughts:
Given the structure of the report and its lack of balance, viewers might be led to believe that there is only one valid side to this dispute. While the claims put forth by the witness may, ultimately, be shown to be valid and accurate, the fact that the viewer is never presented with a divergent perspective on a controversial issue is a red flag that this report is biased.

Supporting Evidence:

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