News Lit Tips

Is that the whole truth?

Even when a piece is clearly marked “opinion” and offers facts that you know are accurate, what you’re reading or seeing might not be the whole truth. That’s because opinion writers and TV commentators are in the business of trying to change people’s minds. That means they might include only the facts that support their viewpoint — and ignore others — when making their case. 

That’s not to say opinion pieces are bad. Well-crafted opinion pieces, be they editorials, editorial cartoons, videos, or written or spoken essays, can be inspiring and motivating — especially when viewers understand that what they are seeing reflects a particular perspective. 

How do you know when there’s a slant? Careful viewers check their gut, and their facts. They consider several factors that can make opinion pieces so powerful and, sometimes, misleading.

What’s missing? Facts and statistics can be accurate but still present only part of the picture — the part that favors a single point of view. And beyond the quantitative aspects are the qualitative ones. Are valid perspectives left out? Only through research can someone know if a piece presents the full context. 

Sources cited: Do the outlets or research firms cited have an explicit bias? Again, researching the backgrounds of experts and companies cited can reveal if they are credible.

Language: Are the authors using words and phrases like “terrorist,” “vigilante,” “bureaucrat” or “freedom fighter”? Loaded language can play a role in shaping an opinion without your even realizing it. 

Of course, there is always the danger that the author is using information that is just plain wrong. When flat-out lies are used, opinion pieces become something else: propaganda. But commentary has a long and proud history in America. Society is best served when those who would change others’ minds communicate their aims clearly. Most importantly, news consumers must apply critical-thinking skills to all they read and see and decide for themselves whether the arguments are well-made and fair.