Same story, three sites, three headlines.

by w3woody

This is how your perception of the news is shaped. The underlying story: Apple went to the Fair Labor Association asking for the FLA to perform audits on a number of Apple’s supply chain providers, including Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd., also known by Foxconn, to verify that Foxconn is obeying the law, fair labor standards in China, and Apple’s own code of ethics which goes beyond the legal protections provided by China. (source)

The three headlines:

Apple asks Fair Labor Association to audit Foxconn factories

This headline suggests that Apple is the active player in the action: it was Apple who took action.

Fair Labor Association begins independent audits of Foxconn factories

The headline makes no link to Apple or Foxconn, as if Apple has little to do with Foxconn. The body of the text makes Apple the passive participant: Apple announces Foxconn is being audited–but no suggestion as to why: the unsophisticated reader may see other headlines and think that Foxconn is a subsidiary of Apple, and that Apple is announcing the completion of an audit the same way that another company announces the completion of an IRS audit into accounting irregularities.

Apple isn’t exactly the instigator in this headline or in this article, since the key fact that Apple asked for the audit is left out. You have to follow the link to Apple’s own announcement to find that Apple asked for the audit.

In structure this article is similar to articles that describe how an outside agency (such as the SEC) is wrapping up an investigation of accounting irregularities despite internal audits by that company.

Fair Labor Association begins inspections of Apple manufacturing partner Foxconn

Notice that Foxconn has become “Apple’s manufacturing partner.” They’re not quite a wholy owned subsidiary in this headline, though it’s getting pretty close. Also note selected quotes in the article say things like:

Apple said on Monday that its suppliers have pledged full cooperation with the FLA, offering unrestricted access to their operations.

This makes it sounds like Foxconn is a subsidiary partner of Apple and acts at Apple’s orders, almost as if Foxconn is a subsidiary entity wholy or partially owned by Apple. And not only do we not learn that Apple has kicked off the investigation, but it makes it sound like Apple is pledging cooperation against corporate desire, rather than at Apple’s request. This is compounded by statements like:

Apple’s announcement of the FLA audits comes after a number of reports, including high-profile stories from The New York Times and CNN, highlighted labor issues in Apple’s supply chain. The Times article suggested that Apple has known about those issues in its supply factories for years without requiring that they be addressed,…

Nevermind that it was Apple’s own audits and invesitgations that revealed the nature and shape of the problems that the New York Times is now reporting.

Three headlines, three reports, almost the same story, but…

Two of them leave out the key fact that Apple was the one who asked for the audit. One of them makes Apple sound on the defense. One makes Apple sounds combative and defensive.

One of the stories makes it sound like Foxconn is a wholly own subsidiary of Apple, and not a mass manufacturer who also makes products for Acer, Amazon, Asus, Cisco, Dell, Gateway, HP, Intel, IBM, Lenovo, MSI, Motorola, Netgear, Nintendo, Nokia, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba and Vizio, none of whom joined the Fair Labor Association, nor who have taken any actions even remotely similar to Apple.

News story bias is interesting because it can come about by selectively omitting facts, structuring your story to resemble a particular template, and highlighting facts which help shape the story to fit within that selected narrative.

The Apple story is of course a simple one: we know the facts, and we can see three stories which purportedly tell the same story–but actually don’t. And we can easily see the bias in the selective telling of certain facts and highlighting others.

And it’s one that many computer saavy pundits can read and say “yeah, I see the bias” without being hit over the head with confirmation bias over political issues. Because if three different outlets can spin a simple news item (“Apple asked for review of Foxconn practices by the Fair Labor Association”) into three completely different colored “stories”, it should be clear that on stories reporters are more biased for or against, they will do the same thing writ large.

Even assuming, of course, that well-connected reporters aren’t deliberately spinning things on behalf of the politicians they support, with the coordination of those politicians: Is the White House manipulating the media through Media Matters?