Repetition in the Media: Wikileaks
Dec 9, 2010

Repetition in the Media: Wikileaks

One way we can analyze the news media is to look at themes that get repeated consistently over time. The day to day content of the news is transient and constantly changing however the components of stories that are repeated consistently are useful at identifying important themes in the news media. Very often, any one given story doesn't have a large and obvious bias we can point to, but the repetition of key elements demonstrates the bias.

This point is coming out very clearly with regards to the Wikileaks diplomatic cables release. There has been a series of new releases and much of the larger revelations have gotten widespread attention. Each day or so there is a new round of articles on the new releases and the previous days have perhaps already been forgotten. While this content is quite transient and changing frequently between all the different articles about many different revelations, there is a consistent theme that emerges.

In almost every article there is some discussion of the merits of Wikileaks and/or discussion about the drama unfolding around its leader Julian Assange. The quoted BBC article at the bottom of this post is typical. The body of the article starts by giving one paragraph to the content then four paragraphs to generic Wikileaks discussion and the distractions about Assange before continuing. As I have discussed, and was particularly pertinent early on before the Assange drama became more "interesting", the using quotes from officials of the alleged danger also dominates many articles.

The result of this treatment is that if we step back and try to recall what has been discussed any individual revelation is hard to remember as it was only brought up briefly and not repeated. What is easy to remember is that which gets reinforced in every article, the Wikileaks and Assange discussions. This is the theme that prevails and not a theme related to the content. Imagine if instead of consistently throwing in a quote from a US official denouncing Wikileaks for its danger, or instead of always adding in a couple sentences about the drama unfolding around Assange, they added in a quote from people like Noam Chomsky or Amy Goodman. It would be but a one sentence change in all these articles but through repetition would present an enormously different picture.

The BBC article mentioned above:

The cables, published in the Guardian, reveal plans to expand an existing strategy to defend Poland to include Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Wikileaks is releasing hundreds of diplomatic cables, angering the US.
Meanwhile, a warrant for the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has reached UK authorities.
Mr Assange, who is believed to be in hiding somewhere in England, is preparing to talk to British police, his lawyer said.
Mr Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden in connection with rape allegations which he denies.

Previously on the media and Wikileaks:

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