Why Camera Angles And Bias Support Different Opinions
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Today, we're hearing from the Catholic school student at the center of a much discussed confrontation with a Native American activist. Nick Sandmann is seen on video standing uncomfortably close to Nathan Phillips in a crowd of demonstrators at the Lincoln Memorial. He spoke with NBC's "Today" show.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")
NICK SANDMANN: As far as standing there, I had every right to do so. I don't - my position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips. I respect him. I'd like to talk to him. I mean, in hindsight, I wish we could have walked away and avoided the whole thing.
INSKEEP: People have sharply different views of this event despite or maybe because of multiple video perspectives. Adam Benforado is the author of the book "Unfair," which argues that camera angles and our preconceived notions influence how we view video. He's on the line. Good morning.
ADAM BENFORADO: Good morning.
INSKEEP: When you started seeing the videos of this, was it clear to you who was in the wrong?
BENFORADO: It wasn't. And that's one of the things that's really challenging about camera perspective bias. When you're only offered one perspective, I think all of us tend to view events and make attributions based on the shoes we're standing in. And I think that the research that's been done in psychology, particularly in the suspect interrogation context - where you put a camera behind the suspect and a camera behind the interrogator - really shows how powerful the frame matters.
INSKEEP: Oh, meaning that one angle can suggest one truth. Another angle can suggest another truth. In this case, we have a teenager in a Make America Great Again hat who's standing really close to this demonstrator pounding a drum. What is the way that the framing or the way - the place the video starts or the place the camera is, why would that change who we think is in the wrong there?
BENFORADO: Well, I think it's a couple of things here. I mean, first of all, that first video that we're shown, we don't have any context for it. We don't see the events leading up. We don't see the events afterwards. And so that can be powerfully biasing. I think the other thing here is we're really seeing things from Nathan Phillips' perspective. And so we appreciate - right? - what he might have been going through. But when we see that - those later videos, which offer sort of a third-party perspective, it becomes a lot more clear that this was a much more complex set of interactions than what we...
INSKEEP: Oh, that's when we learned that there were the Covington High School kids. There were the Native American demonstrators, but there were also these Black Israelites...
BENFORADO: Black Hebrew - yep.
INSKEEP: Black Hebrews who were casting insults and kind of intensifying the situation before that confrontation between the two.
BENFORADO: Exactly. And I think the other psychological dynamic that's in play here is what's commonly referred to as cultural cognition. All of us see the world through tinted lenses, right? So we think that we're just getting reality exactly as it is going on. But, really, everything is being filtered by - through our backgrounds, our experiences and our identities. And so if you're a Trump supporter, you see a very different set of events than if you, say, are an avowed progressive.
INSKEEP: You know, I'm thinking the hat is crucial to this whole thing. If you see that hat and you think anybody who wears that hat is a racist or at least is comfortable with racist language that's been used by the president of the United States, that colors your opinion of anything that the kid in that hat might have done.
BENFORADO: I think that's exactly true. And we see this all over in society, right? So the same event, say, a kneeling NFL player - right? - I can watch that. My father-in-law who's a Trump supporter can watch that. We see completely different things, and that's because my lens is tinted by my research on racial bias and police brutality and the people that I grew up with. My father-in-law, who's in his 70s, has a very different set of experiences, watches very different shows, and those things matter.
INSKEEP: So this event might have been more complicated than people realized at first, but are you saying it's impossible to establish what the truth actually was?
BENFORADO: Well, I don't want to go that far. I think what, you know, the takeaway for me here is that we all need to slow down when we are approaching media. And we need to be more humble. I think we need to understand that what our gut tells us in the instant is likely to be only part of the story.
INSKEEP: Mr. Benforado, thanks so much.
INSKEEP: Adam Benforado is author of the book "Unfair." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.