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How does the news media’s ability to set the agenda or frame the issues they cover influence public attitudes? Can you think of an example of how different news stations covered different topics or covered the same topic differently? What might some consequences be of your example?

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Media sources present information from particular perspectives, and that affects how they set agendas and frame stories. Let's look at this in more detail.

Think about the two headlines that follow: (1) “Murderer Walks Free After Not-Guilty Verdict” and (2) “Defendant Found Not Guilty in Murder Trial.” These two headlines both introduce the not-guilty verdict in a trial, but they present that verdict in very different ways. The first headline suggests that the media source presenting it believes that the defendant is, in fact, guilty and that something has gone drastically wrong with the trial. The article that follows might speak of misinterpreted evidence, a frightened jury, incoherent witnesses, or crooked defense attorneys. The second headline offers a much more objective perspective, and we might expect a more objective story to follow. This is an extreme example, but real media headlines and stories can be just as biased.

A presidential election provides another prime example of how media sources present news in different ways. Here we might think of newspapers’ various leanings toward conservative or liberal politics. Based on these presuppositions, writers at these papers will present candidates, events, and election outcomes from very different perspectives. During the campaign, they will actively promote the candidates that represent their positions, trying to sway their readers to a particular stance. After the election, they will interpret the results according to whether their candidates won or lost.

We can think, too, of the consequences of this kind of media coverage. If readers, listeners, and viewers are not aware that the media is subjective, they can easily have their opinions created for them by the media sources they use. Often, the media presents only part of the truth, and that truth might even be warped to fit a particular agenda. Therefore, we have the responsibility to look at many different media sources, think critically about what they present and how they present it, and then make up our own minds about our perspectives.

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