Biasing Language

Yesterday, the US Midterm elections occured.

Skimming the headlines of my RSS feed, I came across this statement:

The energy and outrage of the Democratic resistance faced off against the brute strength of U.S. President Donald Trump’s GOP1

Currently, I am living by a news reading rule: I do not read news that mentions a name in the title; so I have not read this article. However, I was struck by the leading nature of the language.

Grade 6: Ethics of Language

One of the traumatic asignments of my school years took place in Grade 6. We were asked to write a headline for a local event: it was a win by a local sports team.1 Part of the assignment was to create a headline that enticed the reader to continue on: we were to use Pathos to inspire the reader to carry on.

As part of the assignment, we were told that we were using a sports event because they are held to a lower standard than other articles: in most news articles you are to remain impartial, and ensure you are not unduely influencing your reader. In our sports article, we were attempting to create exciting language that would generate interest, however we were not to state which team was the prefered team, that is to be left to the reader. Some readers will be disapointed by the Flames having won, and some will be excited, and that’s OK.

Recently, I attempted to pass this same understanding on to a class I was teaching in “Data User Experience”. The idea of the class is that collecting and collating data is one thing, but communicating it out ot audiences is more challenging. As one of the modules of the class, we discussed the proper use of Rhetoric as a means to help people to understand the information being presented, as well as the “weaponization” of Rhetoric in which it can be used to make people think what you want them to.

This is an excellent example of using rhetoric to lead your audience.

Charged Language

This headline is a fascinating example of Pathos at work in a headline. In just the first 20 words the author has densly packed a remarkable amount of activity.

The sentence describes a conflict between two parties, however, rather than simply identifying the groups involved, a lot of the words used are placed to tell the reader which group they are to like.

The emotive bias being attached can be demonstrated by rephrasing the sentence to a purely factual phrasing, using a single named identifier for each group:

energy and outrage of the Democratic resistanceDemocrats
faced off against the
brute strength of U.S. President Donald Trump's GOPRepublicans

By maintaining impartiality, we reduce the statement from 20 words to 7; a 65% reduction in text. 65% of the text was dedicated to emotive influence.


The chosen phrases are emotive in nature and have either positive or negative in connotation. Further, the elements are reinforced via repitition: once for the Democrats, and once for the Republicans. We can see that the emotive elements are paired off to ensure that the correct emotive attitude is demontrated for each group.

The energy and outrage of the Democratic resistance faced off against the brute strength of U.S. President Donald Trump’s GOP

Democrat Republican Connotation
energy and outrage brute strength working vs force
Democratic Donald Trump will of the people vs single individual
resistance U.S. President standing up to powerful people

Each of these mirrored elements creates contrasting emotive responses which are then ascribed to the targetted group.

Work Ethic

The words “energy” and “outrage” both carry positive connotations. Energy speaks to activity, some who is energetic in their endevours, while outrage at an unjust action is socially expected.

This can be contrasted with “brute” and “force”: brute expresses one who acts without care, and force implies an action that is done without the will of those it is being imposed on. Together, the term “brute force” implies a forced action that is performed without consent, and is done without any subtley or thought to concequences.


Democratic is a word that comes from the greek “demos” meaning “people”. This implies that this is the will of “The People”, which would include the reader. Something which is willed by many is (by implication) something that must be supperior to the will of the individual “Donald Trump”.


People love an underdog, and “resistance” fighters are therefore idealized by in history, mythos, and literature. In order for us to have a hero, the hero first needs a weekness to overcome.3

Whether that is admiring the rebels in Star Wars, the Taliban resisting the Soviet Union, or students standing against a teacher, resisting figures of authority is always welcomed.

While “US President” does not normally carry negative conotations in the US, every “resistance” needs an authority figure: the Emperor in Star Wars, the Communist Party in Afghanistan, and Teachers. In the world, there is no gereater authority figure than The President, and therefore is the perfect authority figure for any resistance.


Students of rhetoric would do well to study this headline. The introduced phrasing to create an emotive response, guides the reader to the desired conclusion. Further the use of repition is subtley used so as to re-inforce, without being obvious.


  1. The article itself has has since been altered to reflect the actual results, but the original RSS entry was:

    Democrats leading in some key House races, early midterm results show

    CBC - Top Stories RSS, 2018-11-06 21:36

    The energy and outrage of the Democratic resistance faced off against the brute strength of U.S. President Donald Trump’s GOP in a fight for control of Congress and statehouses across the nation

  2. I will never forget the assignment because the Calgary Flames, had beaten the Edmonton Oilers, and I had written a headline that played on the chemical nature of oil and its combustable nature. My teacher informed me that oil is not combustible.
  3. Vladmir Propp?

Word Frequency