Reading Obama’s Mind
Category: Required reading
Issue: Journalism ethics
In my opinion, one of the hardest things to avoid in journalism writing is mind reading. For example, after a death of someone’s wife, you could infer that they are depressed. But are they really? How do you know? Unless you have a direct quote from them like, “I am depressed that my wife died,” you can’t say they were depressed. Which, is difficult to do. A lot of journalists use mind reading to create an emotional appeal.
In “Peggy Noonan Reads Obama’s Mind”, Brendan Nyhan humorously broke up an article by Noonan that she wrote about President Obama. Noonan said things such as, “How could he not be depressed?” and “The market is dispirited. I’m wondering if the president is too.”
The difference of Noonan’s mind reading compared to other journalists is that Noonan acknowledges that she is speculating, with lines such as “I’m wondering…” However, does this still make it okay to mind read, even if you say you’re only speculating? I believe it’s still mind reading. The reader is still going to take away from it as the president was depressed, even if he wasn’t. Basically, despite Noonan putting in her own speculation, readers will only remember what she said and take that as true.
Noonan created a negative picture of Obama to attempt to change people’s minds about him. She basically created a fictional story on how worn out Obama was. This isn’t real journalism because it’s not a real story. Although she says maybe, she is still lying to her audience. The reader will take the story as a whole and not remember the “maybes.” Instead, she should have reported on the body language Obama displayed or what he said. Describe what happened at the time, but don’t infer a person’s mood.
Mind reading happens all too much. Not just with journalists who write them purposely, but even with journalists who accidentally infer some one’s emotions in a story. It’s really an easy way to create an error in a story. However, it’s also easy to take out of a story by focusing on the actions and quotes of a story to create an emotional appeal. It’s time for journalists to be more careful in their writing when it comes to mind reading.