Journalism, Information Design & The Ability To Mold The Minds Of The Masses Like Big, Heaping Lumps Of Clay

Take a look at this chart from Time’s March 31, 2008 issue:

time candidates

You’ll often hear about the importance of journalistic integrity and the importance of objectivity and impartiality when reporting news. The above chart may well convey nothing that can be construed as inaccurate or skewed. Words are words. But alas, the art of marketing, however slyly introduced, is clearly at play.

Some observations:

  • The questions are posed such that McCain answers in the negative. They could have easily been rephrased such that the reverse is shown. In the final question, McCain responds with "Maybe" (and yes, to a reader, it is McCain "responding"). "Maybe" can be perceived any number of ways: shady, indecisive, secretive or simply lacking clarity. 
  • This one’s a kicker: in response to the Hedge Funds row, all three candidates are assigned "No’s." I’ll admit I didn’t even notice this until the third or fourth time I glanced at the chart. The visual power of the right-hand column colored in red overwhelms the actual content.
  • The No’s and Maybe are colored in red while Hillary’s and Obama’s responses are in a gray-blue. So what do colors mean? Read means: no, stop, angry, hot-tempered, emotional, simmering. Blue means: calm, soothing, stability, wisdom, trust, confidence. Red is hell. Blue is heaven. (There are numerous articles out there on colors and emotions.)

I’m not going to go so far as to say that there is a sinister plot brewing at Time magazine. But the above illustrates just how powerful even the most subtle tweaks on how information is presented can affect not only how we digest information but how we perceive it and digest it. Such tactics are well known and used extensively in marketing and campaign circles, which is OK, because to most the caveat is already in place. "It’s just marketing." The above reminds of those in-between advertising links that look like articles when they’re really just more ads masked as such. Except with the above, it isn’t. It’s just Time magazine reporting.

Note: this post isn’t meant to convey a preference or bias towards a particular presidential candidate. It’s merely put forward to illustrate how information design can be used to shape perceptions.

(I found the above on Last Psychiatrist. He gives his own thoughts on the above as well).

3 Comments Journalism, Information Design & The Ability To Mold The Minds Of The Masses Like Big, Heaping Lumps Of Clay

  1. Josh Bruce

    I do think that the graphic can be read improperly as presented; however, it could simply be a bad design concept decision.
    Blue states are democratic (Clinton and Obama are democrats) – red states are republican (McCain).
    In this sense the colors make sense; however, as they are presented, the information behind the text is perceivably skewed. A possible solution would be the physical treatment of Yes, No, Maybe answers. e.g. Yes is counterpoint, No is bold, Maybe is roman/italic.
    This method would maintain the conceptual color schema based on the political parties, and allowing easier/proper absorption of the information.


    Excellent post. Time has always had a Democratic/Liberal bent. This is just one example of how they can subtly spin a particular topic “against” a candidate. McKain gets the angry red responses, all of which are either “No” or “Maybe”. Angry, negative responses, aligned far-right, as if to say, take your pick between Hillary and Obama, but McKain’s just a grouch.
    This type of thing is done 100% purposefully. These people compose print layouts for mass consumption for a living, and they’ve done it for years. They are experts at it by now.
    And of COURSE you can say, Republicans are Red, Democrats are Blue. I’m sure that’s what Time would tell you, if you complained. Doesn’t change the fact that Time has always been biased, and the bias isn’t even that subtle.
    By the way, I’m a die-hard Obama supporter, just in case the above should be taken as a bit of right-wing propaganda.


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