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A Marginal Sociologist on How to Understand Media Bias and Combat Fake News: A Case Study of a World Cup Tweet

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Having studied a lot about media and society, I am keenly aware of media bias. Sadly, it is something that is all around us. Since the advent of mass media (which really kicked off with the television), Horkheimer and Adorno’s culture industry has become deeply intertwined with news media. In fact, recently, it has become more and more difficult to separate fact from fiction and—most alarmingly—news from entertainment. The French Sociologist Jean Baudrillard understood just how this new hyperreality works; as the boundaries between information and entertainment implode, news commentators “disguise culture industry hype as ‘facts’ and ‘information’ (Best and Kellner, 1991: 120). Given that this is the state of the world we all live in, it makes sense to pay a little bit of attention to how media bias operates, and how it can frame our opinions of even the most basic of topics and events (indeed, it is a topic I have written on before).

One way to better understand how media bias works is to pick a topic you are familiar with and also knowledgeable about (so just “Googling” this topic occasionally likely does not mean you are “knowledgeable”). Once you have your topic, then look at the ways in which varying news outlets report on—or view—the topic you chose. Ideally, since you will be very familiar with the topic at hand, you will be able to pick out bias and fake news from miles away.

In my case, the topic I chose for this short example is football and American politics, with the specific topic being U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent Tweet Regarding the “North American bid” (a joint bid between NAFTA(!) members Canada, Mexico, and the United States) to host the 2026 World Cup. This particular Tweet is interesting because 1) while Mr. Trump Tweets prolifically, it is not usually about football; and 2) because Mr. Trump’s Tweets themselves embody the blurring of the line between information and entertainment; indeed the responses from most media outlets seem to suggest that bashing Donald Trump has become a national sport (i.e., entertainment). Thus, the topic is perfect for a look at how media bias perpetuates itself, while preying on those who cannot be bothered to check things out for themselves.

 

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The Tweet in Question. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

 

For this short example, I just used the first six websites to come up on a simple Google search with the term “donald trump fifa” [sic]. Because this is a quick look it is by no means “scientific”, but it is still instrumental in terms of showing just how media bias works in both blatant and more subtle ways. In fact, given Google’s tendency to filter out results it doesn’t like, this small search is likely even more representative of the “hyperreal” state of modern mass media.

 

The Search

The first thing that is clear is the fact that most of the headlines are nearly identical—if that does not imply media censorship, than I don’t know what does (Image courtesy of:. The second thing that is clear is that many of the outlets that reported on this event have a certain bias embedded in their interpretations. Below, I provide a brief discussion of each outlet’s presentation of the story, followed by my own judgement.

 

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The Search Results Look as if There is no Diversity in Thought! Image Courtesy Of: https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&ei=TmnlWs7SE4mYjwSiqKiIBQ&q=donald+trump+fifa&oq=donald+trump+fifa&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0l2j0i22i30k1l2.3155.5396.0.5632.11.11.0.0.0.0.165.1222.0j10.10.0….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..1.10.1219…0i131i67k1j0i131k1j0i10k1.0.TPuv10s-Ibw)

 

CNN.com

Article by Sophie Tatum: (27 April 2018) “FIFA points to its ethics guidelines following Trump tweet”. The first thing to notice in this article, clearly, is the headline—it stresses “ethics”. The implication here is that, in some way, FIFA is standing up for ethics in the face of Mr. Trumps unethical Tweet. Within the article, however, there is no mention of FIFA’s own considerable corruption (Cite own work here). This inability to give the whole story makes me rate this item fairly neutral towards Mr. Trump with a pro-FIFA slant.

 

Huffington Post

Article by Mary Papenfus: (27 April 2018) “FIFA Cites Ethics Rules After Trump’s Threatening World Cup Tweet”. Here we again see the stress of “ethics” in the headline, along with an important value judgement as it calls Mr. Trump’s Tweet “threatening”. Like all news stories, this one also has filler; in this case it is background information on Trump’s travel ban and the “shithole” countries fiasco which all amounts to a bizarre conclusion by the author that there is a “perception that the U.S. is increasingly hostile to foreigners”. It even contains this gem of a sentence: “The U.S. won’t be playing in the World Cup competition in Russia this summer because its men’s team wasn’t strong enough to advance”, where the writer seems to take a dig at the “men’s team”; when radical feminism is at the point where we gloat at the failures of our nation’s athletes you know you are reading a biased—and far-left wing—piece. Only in the last sentence is there a mention of FIFA’s own past ethnical issues, contextualized by what the author sees as a “surprising” low for Mr. Trump, being “schooled” on ethics by FIFA. Overall this article is very slanted negatively towards Mr. Trump with a slight pro-FIFA slant.

 

Reuters

Article by Simon Evans: (26 April 2018) “FIFA points to ethics rules after Trump tweets threat to World Cup bid opponents”. Again there is a stress on “ethics” in this headline, along with an interpretation of Mr. Trump’s Tweet as “threatening”. Reuters then has a short paragraph referring to—but not detailing— FIFA’s having faced “repeated ethics questions over past bids to host the tournament”. Nowhere in this article do we see the kind of filler used by the Huffington Post. Overall, this makes Reuters’ piece about as neutral as we can get in this day and age.

 

Yahoo Sports

Article by Henry Bushnell (26 April 2018) “Dear President Trump, please never tweet about soccer again”. This article is the only one of the bunch to not use a similar headline as the others; indeed, it is phrased as a suggestion to Mr. Trump and implies the author’s view of President Trump from the outset. The second sentence sets the tone for the article: “Donald Trump tweeted about soccer on Thursday. And, in a wholly unsurprising development, he had no idea what he is talking about.” As the piece goes on, the author slams Mr. Trump for his threatening language and calls his Tweet “about the worst thing the president” could have done in terms of supporting the U.S. bid. Apparently, in the author’s mind, Mr. Trump has already hurt the bid simply because of his existence, noting that the U.S. is looking for votes from “207 people, or groups of people, whose fellow citizens don’t like the U.S. because they don’t like Trump”. In order to back up this “claim”, the author cites a Gallup poll which reveals that “the worldwide approval rating of U.S. leadership has dipped to 30 percent, the lowest recorded since the poll was first conducted over a decade ago”. Perhaps the author is an ardent imperialist—and is lamenting the fact that the U.S. is not “leading” the world”—or the author is simply un-informed; the “lowest” approval rate in “nearly a decade” is hardly an informative statistic as it doesn’t include, for instance, the Vietnam era (indeed, if this statistic is to be of any value, one might want to read it as a reflection not of Mr. Trump but of his predecessor, whose attempts at “king-making” were on full display around the world from Ukraine to Libya). In this article, like a few of the others, there is absolutely no mention of Fifa’s own ethnical questions and scandals. Because of this failure to present both sides, this article is highly biased, with a negative slant against Mr. Trump and a fairly favorable position on FIFA (which is praised, throughout the article, as a “democratic” group—after all, the author claims that “Germany’s vote counts for as much as Guam’s”).

 

ESPN.com

Article by ESPN Staff (27 April 2018) “FIFA points to ethics rules after Trump tweets support of World Cup bid”. As part of the main (lame)stream media, it is not perhaps surprising that ESPN’s article should be a little biased. Again, we see a similar headline to some of the other articles mentioned here, stressing “ethics”. In their filler section, ESPN refers to some of Donald Trump’s missteps, albeit in a much less abrasive manner than Huffington Post, noting that the vote between the U.S. and Morocco is closer than expected “due in part to Trump’s foreign policies — including a travel ban against mostly Arab countries — and rhetoric in describing poorer countries. Lingering resentment over the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into FIFA corruption has also hampered the U.S.-led bid’s effort to attract votes”. Indeed, the second sentence of this passage is the only one which mentions the FIFA corruption scandal.  Given ESPN’s inability to properly point out FIFA’s own questionable ethics, I must rate this story biased, with a negative slant against Mr. Trump and a slightly favorable to neutral slant towards FIFA.

 

The Hill.com

Article by Max Greenwood (27 April 2018) “FIFA refers to ethics rules after Trump tweets on US World Cup Bid”. Like other articles, this headline also focuses on FIFA’s “ethics”.  While this article also provides an interpretation of Mr. Trump’s Tweet—calling it a “veiled threat”—it is much less negative than many of the aforementioned articles. Additionally, The Hill’s filler has no mention of Trump’s travel ban or rhetoric regarding poorer countries, but does contain the lengthiest statement regarding FIFA’s own history of corruption: “FIFA has its own history of scandal. It is facing criminal investigations into the bidding process and allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments in Russia and Qatar, respectively.” Given that this article spells out FIFA’s own history of corruption, I would say that this article is neutral, with a neutral to slightly negative presentation of Mr. Trump and a slightly negative to neutral slant towards FIFA.

 

So what does this exercise in media literacy teach us, in the end? I believe that it shows just how slanted the news media—and main(lame) stream media in the United States has become. Given that just two out of six of the aforementioned articles have any reference to FIFA’s own (in)famous scandals—while three of the six refer to irrelevant and non-football related topics like the “travel ban” and Mr. Trump’s “rhetoric regarding poorer countries”—it is clear that most media outlets have some sort of an agenda. They are looking to, depending on their perspective, further a certain narrative. In one case, it is that anything Mr. Trump does is inherently bad and has negative consequences for the United States; in order to further this narrative journalists tend to use filler to disparage the U.S. President. In another case, it is to further the idea that somehow FIFA—which itself is a major globalist entity—has a democratic ethos; in order to further this narrative, of course, media has to conveniently ignore the problematic aspects of FIFA’s past actions (a topic I have written about before).

It is important to recognize implicit media bias like this, because false reporting—or agenda-setting reporting—affects us all. Regardless of ones’ personal opinions about Donald Trump or his presidency, the general public would do well to recognize that biased reporting does nothing to emancipate human beings on a wider scale. In fact, it just serves to further imprison people into their own ideological cages. Given that many social media studies show that many people tend to get their news from social media—which itself tends to segregate people into camps based on political ideology—this means that many people do not look at 6, or even four, articles about the same news story. Instead, they tend to look at just one; often sent to them by a friend who thinks similarly. Imagine, for a moment, if the only piece about Trump’s World Cup Tweet that you read was the aforementioned Huffington Post piece? This would give you a very biased—and very incomplete—picture of the events. In fact, you might even believe that FIFA is some paragon of virtue—which is really the wrong take-away. This is why it is important to always do a thorough search of the news items on any topic so as to ensure that you are always striving to find a balanced portrayal of the events in question. This will help to create a more aware public and, hopefully, one less susceptible to manipulation by the mass media. Fake news is a very real problem, and the only solution to it can be found by using the human mind in a critical and discerning manner.

 

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Indeed, As Is the Case With So Many Globalist Entities, FIFA Pays Lip Service to the World While Making Off With Huge Profits. Image Courtesy Of: http://theconsul.org/2015/11/when-a-huge-corruption-takes-place-in-a-huge-nonprofit-organization-the-2015-fifa-corruption-scandal/

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.cartoonmovement.com/cartoon/2668

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.indianlink.com.au/backup_old/fifa-corruption-affects-us-all/ 

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://anticap.wordpress.com/tag/qatar/
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The World Cup Failures of Turkey and the United States Reveal the Ills of Industrial Football

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I have often remarked about the similarities between the two countries I call home; even though they are miles apart geographically and culturally they have an odd way of showing similarities in certain aspects. I am not talking about the bizarre visa spat between the two nations which saw both countries make identical announcements—down to a typo. Instead, I am talking about football.

 

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The Absurdity of Turkey and the United States Literally Cutting and Pasting Diplomatic Announcements Should Not Be Lost On Anyone. Images Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/son-dakika-abd-vize-basvurusunu-askiya-aldi-40603924

 

After Turkey lost their chance at the World Cup following a 3-0  home loss to Iceland (who became the smallest nation to qualify for a World Cup), the Turkish press was incensed at an image of Barcelona star Arda Turan laughing as he left the field of play. Obviously we do not know what was going on in Mr. Turan’s mind, but one has to ask why he couldn’t have just walked off the field with his head bowed, at least feigning disappointment at losing out on the World Cup. His indifference prompted one Turkish columnist to write:

 

May God Grant Us Arda Turan’s Indifference

–As the Dollar rises…

–As the Euro breaks records…

–As our soldiers invade Idlib [a Syrian city]

–As taxes rise…

–As the tension with [Iraqi Kurdish President] Barzani continue…

–As inflation grows…

–As the weather gets colder…

May God grant our whole country…

Arda Turan’s indififference as his team loses 3-0…

Amen.

 

While it distressing to see a professional footballer take such little pride in his work, it is not altogether surprising. In the age of industrial football, players only care as long as money is flowing into their bank accounts. Where representing one’s country used to be a matter of pride for professional footballers, it is now merely an unwelcome distraction from the real money-making endeavor of playing for their club teams. It seems that the players have become as one-dimensional as their societies.

 

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Perhaps He Didn’t Know Whether to Laugh or Cry. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/yazarlar/ahmet-hakan/allah-hepimize-arda-turan-lakaytligi-versin-40603374

 

Surprisingly, it was no different in the United States as the country of 327 million lost to the tiny Carribean nation of Trinidad and Tobago (population 1.2 million) and crashed out of the World Cup due to results elsewhere. Of course, had the United States at least tied their match, it would have avoided arguably the biggest disaster in American sports history. The result prompted (understandably) rage from U.S. Soccer commentators. Before the match, former U.S. soccer great Alexi Lalas was ridiculed for calling the U.S. team “underperforming, tattooed millionaires”. How right he was, since it seemed like the U.S. team figured they had it all wrapped up following a 4-0 victory over Panama. U.S. sports media didn’t even focus on the match as they were too busy poking fun at Trinidad and Tobago for the waterlogged pitch they practiced on; ESPN’s piece was a typically derogatory news story coming out of one of the world’s richest countries. Of course, Trinidad ended up having the last laugh. Yet instead of recognizing Trinidad’s victory for what it was—deserved—much of the news focused on political issues.

The Guardian claims that this failure was “years in the making”, pointing out that perhaps MLS, the domestic league in the United States, has been of more of a help to Caribbean nations than to the U.S. Of course race came into the equation as well (as it always does whenever anything goes wrong in the U.S.), as pundits claim that the “pay to play” culture of American sports favors white athletes over more talented Latino and African American athletes. For some reason, even U.S. coach Bruce Arena suggested that it was U.S. immigration policies that made qualifying more difficult because it gave the Latin American countries more of an incentive to defeat the United States. If responding to (perceived) unjust immigration policies made teams play better football, than I’m sure Turkey would never lose when playing a member of the European Union. The absurdity of making a sporting failure political should not be lost on anyone.

In fact, I believe there are two reasons for the failures of both Turkey and the United States to qualify for the World Cup: Player apathy and structural issues that go far beyond politics. The first is obvious, and stems from Alexi Lalas’ criticism. Players in both Turkey and the United States are making so much money that they view international duty as an unwelcome distraction. In the American case, they were so strongly favored that they (wrongly) believed that the shear weight of their country’s name would carry them through. It was not to be. The second cause of this debacle is, as I said, structural. I have already written about why the United States will have difficulty in becoming a footballing power; it is because the best athletes are directed towards other sports which make much more money. This is part of the structural problem. In the Turkish context, it is the fact that sporting infrastructure is not well-developed enough to nurture young talent. For many clubs, the goal is profit in the short term. This means that clubs prefer to import foreign talent rather than nurture home grown talent. This means that there are less young players coming through the system with the aim of showing themselves on the international stage. By contrast, in smaller countries like Trinidad, Honduras, Panama, and Iceland, players are focused on getting discovered and play with more desire, as results show.

 

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The U.S. Crash Out Of The World Cup. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.espnfc.com/united-states/story/3226915/sunil-gulati-united-states-failure-to-qualify-for-2018-world-cup-a-huge-disappointment

 

Unfortunately, in the age of industrial football, many players from the larger countries have lost the amateur spirit that makes sports such a fun spectacle to watch. Hopefully, the qualification failures in both Turkey and the United States serve as a catalyst for change. Make no mistake, to chalk these failures up to “racism” or “immigration policies” is the easy way out; it is always easier to look for blame elsewhere.

Germany 1994 World Cup Home Shirt

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Since Germany won the World Cup I thought I’d post a picture of my own Germany shirt in celebration. I got this shirt many years ago (back in the 1990s) in Turkey and it is still as striking to me as the day I bought it. In the run up to the tournament I named this shirt the best design from World Cups past and I proudly sported it throughout the competition (when Germany was playing, of course). The classic Adidas “basket-weave” pattern was a beloved template in the mid 1990s and I personally don’t think it has lost any of its luster. Heres to Germany, 2014 World Cup Champions!

 

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