SMELL Test: A News Reporting One Side of A Fight

February 5, 2018

Everybody is sitting around saying, ‘Well, jeez we need somebody to solve this problem of bias.’ That somebody is us.

——Wilma Mankiller, late Cherokee leader

Information is everywhere today; we need to learn how to spot unreliable information and warn others as information detectives. Here I attempted to apply the methodology of SMELL Test, by John McManus in Don’t Be Fooled, to a news about an Indian man summoning his parents to fly from India to Florida and beat his disobedient wife.

The narration of the news is extremely one-sided. There are many descriptions of how the man treated his wife cruelly. However, five out of six quotes are from the police, who do not have too much independence by usually taking the victim’s side. The remaining one quote is from “an unidentified neighbor,” berating Devbir’s overreacted behavior. The editor is trying to use physical proximity to surreptitiously to supersede the actual proximity to the event. Each of them is not a person who was directly involved in this event, as second-handed sources. The fact provided might be distorted or incomplete.

This is an informative piece about domestic violence, which is quite common in current society. One of its major motives is to inform the public of the existence of domestic violence in the U.S. However, there might be some unintended consequences of reporting news about Indian man beating his wife. This might cause the formation of some stereotypes of Asian people. Readers may believe that the domestic violence is very common in Asian families.

The evidence of this piece proving the man treated his wife so bad to a level that he must face imprisonment comes from the police. “Police report that Kalsi would regularly beat his wife.” This sentence does not make sense. Obviously, the police were not around their house every day to track their activity. The police were retelling what the victim has said.

The editor drew the conclusion of this news at last: what kinds of crime Devbir might have committed. The logic is simple: based on the description of what Devbir did. However, the whole event portrayed by the news is very out of context. Simply accusing the crimes is a jump to conclusion. These are for the jury to determine. We do not know what exactly makes the wife so disobedient that her husband has to call his parents to discipline her. All we know is an outcome that Indian man’s parents fly to Florida to beat son’s wife.

What the story has left out is quite obvious for every reader. There is not a single direct quote from the husband and the man’s parents. The editor only took the side of the victim and did not give a chance of the other side to defend. There should be a reason for Devbir to abuse his wife, and the story failed to provide that context.

The news did not provide a complete view of the story but rather a small slice of the whole event: a man called his parents to beat his wife. It is indeed a shocking title that attracts general readers, but what it contains and concludes is sloppy and questionable.

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