(Update – the title of this was changed on Oct 13, from “CNN really is a fictional news service” to “CNN uses manipulation techniques in news story”. Please see the added Afterword for more. CNN incorporated basic techniques of manipulation into their reporting about California wildfires in order to enhance the emotional impact of their “stories”, meeting Walter Lippmann’s definition of “yellow journalism”.)
(CNN) More than a dozen wildfires are scorching Northern California, aided by the state’s epic drought, low humidity and high winds.
CNN Unaware that Caifornia’s Drought Ended
CNN is unaware that California’s epic drought ended, with Sierra precipitation at twice normal levels. After California’s record precipitation last winter and spring, the state had a traditional hot and dry summer. A good explanation of the common summer and fall weather patterns with dry windy conditions, and long history of autumn wildfires, is here. A similar fire struck the area in 1964, when there was much lower population. Most blame high precipitation last season for strong growth of fuels, not an “epic drought”.
But California’s drought ending with a wet winter served as a double-edged sword.
“It seems like we can’t win when we have four years of drought and then we get all this rain and that fuels the plant growth that contributes to wildfires,” Cal Fire’s Tolmachoff said.
California’s wet winter fueled a boom in plant growth, especially the types of tall grasses that provide perfect tinder once they dry out in the fall. Tolmachoff said Cal Fire saw more fires in lower elevations, where the tall grasses grow and the subdivisions flourish.
(Bold face added to highlight keywords illustrating CNN’s erroneously reporting). Source: Why wildfires are describing so many homes in California – USA Today
FactCheck.org addresses the question is “[Global] Warming to Blame for Western Wildfires?” Their analysis is lengthy, detailed and cites references.
CNN Claims Hurricane Force Winds
CNN then claims (they added the bold face to the story)
The definition of a hurricane force wind is not determined by gusts but by sustained wind over 1 minute duration. See NOAA web page , NOAA definitions and NOAA’s PDF. Further, the 79 mph gust they note was on a mountaintop. Wind gusts were strong (50 mph typical) across the region. CNN created a fictional definition of hurricane force winds to exaggerate a story that does not need exaggeration.
CNN Uses Pejorative Wording
Writing “wicked hurricane force winds” in bold face is an example of pejorative wording and exaggeration to create a higher emotional impact to this story. (As if this story needs a greater emotional impact? Wow.)
CNN Adds a Dramatic Music Soundtrack to the “News”
If you watch their news video at the link above – its accompanied by a dramatic musical sound track to heighten viewer emotions. Stunning illustration of “news reporting” deliberately designed to manipulate your emotions.
CNN makes errors (in the first sentence!), uses their own definition of “hurricane force winds”, inserts bold faced pejorative wording, and adds a dramatic musical sound track to their news report. All of these are standard propaganda techniques.
In CNN’s case, their agenda (presumably) is to sell emotionally engaged eyeballs to advertisers. CNN has adopted the methods of online, for profit, fake news publishers (update – which is to intentionally uses emotional hooks to engage the viewer/reader).
When news reporters use the methods of propaganda to enhance the emotional response of the viewer, they are losing objectivity.
The news media sees itself as objective. But then runs a news report with an added musical sound track to increase the emotional response of the viewer.
Rather than letting the story tell itself, so to speak, CNN is intentionally manipulating your response with enhancements and exaggerations.
And its not just music, the use of pejorative wording such as “epic” and “wicked” and bold facing “hot” words in their text are examples of connecting the viewer/reader emotionally, rather than objectively.
Should objective news reports use methods of propaganda manipulation?
About 100 years ago, Walter Lippman (someone who had studied and applied methods of propaganda on behalf of the U.S. government in World War I) called for the adoption of objective methods of reporting:
“The modern notion of objectivity in journalism is largely due to the work of Walter Lippmann. Lippmann was the first to widely call for journalists to use the scientific method for gathering information. Lippmann called for journalistic objectivity after the excesses of yellow journalism. He noted that the yellows at the time had served their purpose, but that the people needed to receive the actual news, and not a “romanticized version of it”.”
Lippmann describes “yellow journalism” as a “romanticized version” of the news which is precisely what CNN has done with this near fictional story about California wildfires.
The concept of objectivity became an important issue in news reporting, gaining traction again after World War II, and then again in the 1960s and 1970s as our modern perspective sought impartial and objective news reports. But also see works by Noam Chomsky who argues that the methods of objective reporting become their own form of propaganda.