~ 12 minutes read
In the past year, we’ve seen many high profile court cases discussed in both traditional and social media. Often, these conversations look very different on the left and right – you might even wonder if they are talking about the same case.
The conversations surrounding this case clearly illustrate what it may look like when the left and right seem to be talking about completely different things, even when they are discussing the same case. Below, we examine what the conversation has looked like on the left and the right at different points of the investigation to better try to understand why our perspectives can diverge so significantly.
.@CNN reporting that @JussieSmollett orchestrated the entire attack.— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) February 17, 2019
Imagine my surprise…
HOW ABOUT WE STOP PRETENDING THE HATE IN AMERICA IS COMING FROM THE RIGHT.
LEFTISTS ARE ANGRY, BITTER, DISHONEST, AND STILL SUFFERING FROM TRUMP DERANGEMENT.#FAKENEWS #AGAIN pic.twitter.com/yOp6aIyrnE
Jussie Smollett is an ass.— EJ (@ejtwister) February 21, 2019
Now that we’ve clarified that,
A WHITE SUPREMACIST MEMBER OF THE US COAST GUARD,
ARMED TO THE TESTICLES,
WAS ARRESTED FOR PLANNING THE MASS MURDER
The news media better get their shit together.
If you thought Trump colluded w/ Russia, that Jussie Smollett was attacked in a polar vortex, and that I had anything to do with a terror attack in New Zealand…you are being victimized by an extraordinarily low IQ and a media which is relentlessly taking advantage of it.— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) March 24, 2019
MEDIA: Trump won't run for President— Benny (@bennyjohnson) April 18, 2019
MEDIA: Trump won't win
MEDIA: Trump colluded with Russia
MEDIA: Trump obstructed justice
MEDIA: Brett Kavanaugh/Jussie Smollett/Covington HS Kids
How long before you stop trusting these people?
A suspected LGBT white supremacist harassed a couple of innocent Black women at an apartment complex because they were at the pool drinking wine and taking pictures. He called the police and lied and said they attacked him.— Tariq Nasheed 🇺🇸 (@tariqnasheed) June 24, 2019
Will this man get charged like Jussie Smollett? pic.twitter.com/E0Rosmfo8i
Jussie Smollett had the charges against him dropped over a year ago due to nobody being able to prove he did anything wrong. & They will not let this go because he embarrassed the Chicago PD & proved every person who doubted him wrong. I think this whole situation is some bs. https://t.co/sZKGugjUpy— Bella Goth (@HotCommieGal) February 11, 2020
BREAKING NEWS: Special Prosecutor Dan Webb announced he concluded his investigation into the handling of last year’s Jussie Smollett hate-crime prosecution and found Kim Foxx and her office put out several false and misleading statements about the case. https://t.co/LyLUtZWS2f— Chicago Sun-Times (@Suntimes) August 17, 2020
The incentive structure in our politics is completely broken. The more passionately you jump to a conclusion, even a wrong one, the less you are held accountable. If you jumped on Michael Brown and Jussie Smollett, you might end up a VP candidate. If you didn't, you're precluded.— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) August 24, 2020
Common themes: Both sides criticize each other and the media for focusing on the wrong things, ignoring what’s important, or talking about the story inaccurately.
What we consider important depends on our prior values and beliefs. Because the values of people on the left and right often differ, what is important to one side might appear less important to the other. All people tend to emphasize events which fit within our prior worldview and deemphasize stories that don’t, leading the left and right to develop distinct narratives.
To people on the left, Trump’s polarizing rhetoric has empowered people to openly express their hatred towards minorities, either verbally or physically, creating an unsafe society for many Americans. The reports about the alleged attack against Smollett appeared unsurprising given the increased intolerance towards minorities.
Accordingly, the left actively participated in the conversation after the initial reports about the attack — the event fit within their view that intolerance towards minorities is a big problem in society.
To people on the right, the threat towards minority groups is exaggerated by the left to give Trump supporters a bad wrap. People on the left and the media often make up stories to support their narrative of what society looks like. In reality, the left has no basis for their claims — the Smollett story proves that.
Information suggesting that the attack on Smollett was staged confirmed this view, and so people on the right participated more actively in conversations about Smollett’s guilt.
As an example, let’s look at the differences between two articles covering the Smollett verdict from last week — one from left-leaning CNN, and one from right-leaning FoxNews. Although both news outlets report on the same story and present (as far as we can tell) correct facts about what happened, their choices and language impact how the event is presented.
Bold and underline emphasis was added to these excerpts by our team to highlight the differences in coverage.
“Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was found guilty Thursday on five counts of felony disorderly conduct for making false reports to police that he was the victim of a hate crime in January 2019.
His defense team said it will appeal the verdict.
Jurors deliberated over the course of two days following a trial that featured Smollett and his accomplices providing strikingly different testimony over what occurred.”
After a contentious week of witness testimony, counsel arguments and deliberation, the jury found Smollett guilty on the first five counts, and he was acquitted on a sixth count of lying to a detective weeks after Smollett said he was attacked.
Smollett was stoic as the jury read the verdict. The actor sat upright and stared straight ahead without showing any outward emotion.”
The first part of CNN’s article focuses on the defense team’s intent to appeal the verdict and the jurors’ long deliberations due to conflicting testimony. This reporting supports the general perspective on the left that hate crimes must be taken seriously and that this story is continuing to develop.
The first part of FoxNews’ article instead focuses on Smollett’s claim as illegitimate. This feeds into the general view on the right that people on the left tend to jump to conclusions to discredit the right in general, and Trump supporters in particular, even when they have done nothing wrong.
Both news outlets are reporting on what happened at and after the trial, but because they emphasize different information (CNN reports on the prospect of an appeal and Fox on the guilty verdict) and use different words to describe the event (“felony disorderly conduct” vs “hate crime hoax”), the story is presented in different ways.
Some narratives feel more true to us because they better align with our worldview and previous experiences, while narratives that contradict our worldview feel less true, even when they convey correct information.
This can happen for any news story, but stories that include several distinct events and develop over a long period of time, like court cases, are particularly susceptible to this dynamic. We tend to get lost in the twists and turns, and end up internalizing the details that make sense to us, while instinctively filtering out what doesn’t. The conversation around this case illustrates how it’s possible for the left and right to discuss the details of the same event and yet develop two very different narratives about what happened.
Because of this, our contra partisans are not necessarily lying when they disagree with us. Instead, they might be bringing a very different perspective from our own because the information they have read differs from ours. By recognizing this, we can start to piece together the immense complexity of different news stories and remain open to the possibility that there is more for us all to learn.