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Professor Thomas Douglas, T.A. Georgia Hartman

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Student: Joe E. Anteater – student id# 01234678
Professor Thomas Douglas, T.A. Georgia Hartman
Anthropology 41A/IS 11
20 July 2015
Word Count: 2443; Word Count (essay only): 2267
Influencing History: The Deceptions behind News Reporting
Sir Winston Churchill once stated that, “History is written by the victors.” After being
introduced to the definition “Historiography” for the first time a few weeks ago, I immediately
associated it with Churchill’s profound quote that I reminisced from my high school history
class. Historiography without a doubt, incorporates a number of biases from the author(s) that
write it, whether the events happen to be reported accurately or not. For example, a physical
newspaper is a form of communication that links the past, present, and future through text that is
written by an author that may incorporate his/her biases. As a result, the general public is rarely
given the pure truth about events occurring in the past as well as the future. The idea of
recognizing that most of our news reports may not be historically accurate can be shocking
because most of the population tends to generally believe that everything in the news is usually
factual without any degree of bias. In writing this paper, I will demonstrate that bias in
historiography occurs more often than intended, whether it may be intentional or not.
In order to support my thesis, the international event reported on by different countries
that I will be analyzing is the Formosa Fun Coast explosion that occurred in New Taipei,
Taiwan. During the evening of June 27th 2015, the New Taipei district of Taiwan that surrounds
the city Taipei (the capital of Taiwan) was hosting a “Color Play Asia” event that included
partying and dancing to live music at an open air venue. Over 1,000 partygoers (including many
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from different countries) attended the event in order to take part in the various festivities being
hosted. To support the “Color Play Asia” theme of the event, large air cannons and leaf blowers
helped spread large amounts of colored powder that was spread within the attendees throughout
the day. Made from finely ground corn starch and different hues of food coloring, the colored
powder was assumed to be harmless and safe to use, but also loosely labeled as flammable under
certain conditions by the manufacturer. Reportedly around 8:30 P.M. (BBC Asia, June 28, 2015),
the huge clouds of colored powder lingering in the air had ignited unexpectedly due to an
uncertain source. Following the ignition of the powder were large explosions that scorched the
dance floor while setting anything that the powder came in contact to on fire. Due to the
humidity and sweat, partygoers were completely covered with the colored powder when it
ignited and as a result, nearly 500 individuals suffered severe burns to large portions of their
bodies. The even more unfortunate attendees that inhaled large amounts of the colored powder
also suffered respiratory issues due to lung and throat damage. In the end, over half of the injured
were taken into intensive care units located in the northern Taiwan region instead of regular
hospital wards due to the severity of the burns. Shortly after the inferno, the news quickly spread
amongst neighboring countries as “the worst incidence of mass injury in the history of New
Taipei city.” (China Daily, June 29, 2015). Among the affected were American, British, and
Asian nationals and as a result, different countries released their own breaking news reports to
the public in articles where it is clearly evident that there is bias in order to bend the facts to
favor their own respective audiences.
For my first source, I will be analyzing a news article originating in Taiwan, which is the
country where the explosion took place. One of the most important quotes I read in this article
was that, according to the Central News Agency in Taiwan, “Up to (as many as) 4,000 tickets
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were sold for the event, not including early bird packages” (Taiwan News Online, June 29,
2015). Surprisingly, Taiwan’s article is the only country out of the four that even mentions
anything about the total number of attendees at the event. On the other hand, one detail that
every news report about this event includes is the total number of injured, an estimation of
around 500 individuals (Taiwan News Online, June 29, 2015). When I personally read this
article, I ended up thinking to myself that “Oh, 500 out of the 4,000+ attendees suffering injuries
doesn’t seem nearly as bad as I expected when I was reading the other news articles.” The
inclusion of a rough estimate for the fraction of number of injured attendees to the total number
of attendees does, in my opinion, downsize the severity of the event after reading the other
articles. Neither the BBC/Reuters, CNN, nor the China Daily News include any information
about the total number of attendees at the Color Play Asia event. Appropriately, the overall
shock value of the event is more intense in the articles that don’t mention the total number of
participants. The second big factor that I noticed about the Taiwanese article is that it doesn’t
include any information about Li Pei-yun (CNN, June 29,2015), a 20-year-old female that
unfortunately suffered third-degree burns to over 90% of her body who also died on the same
day but before this article was published. Li Pei-yun was the first death reported from the
explosions at the water park, and there is no doubt that the article would have had a much more
negative tone to it with the inclusion of the death. I’ll admit that the author Jay Chen of Taiwan
News does a really good job at establishing an accurate representation of the damage that was
dealt overall. Looking at the bigger picture, there really shouldn’t be any surprise as to why
Taiwan’s version of the event establishes a much less severe than the news reports from other
countries. The Taiwanese media is (understandably) trying to soften the gravity of the Color Play
Asia disaster in order to make it seem like the number of injuries weren’t as bad to the future
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generations that decide to research the details of such a catastrophe. Overall, the article
originating in Taiwan is obviously biased towards helping the country preserve as much as its
own respectability as possible by projecting the “best” possible situation to the reader.
For my second example, I am considering an U.S. article straight from CNN that reports
on the crisis overseas from where it actually occurred. What I first noticed from CNN’s article
that differed from the rest was that it included a lot of quoted dialogue (CNN, June 29, 2015),
from either event officials, relatives of the injured participants, or witnesses. One of the quotes
that impacted me the most was, “‘All of her skin was gone. Her hands were shaking… and she
kept calling for me,’ her mother said.” It surprised me how the addition of dialogue throughout
the news report helped me achieve a much more personal relationship with the burn victims.
Unlike Taiwan News, China Daily News, and the BBC/Reuters, CNN does a great job of playing
with human emotions. The bias with CNN’s report is more toward a negative perspective of the
situation, since most of the dialogue provided supports the gruesomeness of the crisis. Another
difference I noticed with CNN’s report was that the other half of their content (other than the
dialogue) were details and background on what actions the government and event officials were
taking. Unlike the news articles from other countries, CNN reveals that the manufacturer of the
colored powder distributed throughout Color Play Asia events is clearly labeled as “flammable
and shouldn’t be used in closed spaces or under high temperatures.” (CNN, June 29, 2015).
These details are important because it shows that the event coordinators should have known that
the powder was a fire hazard especially in the conditions that the event took place. The everyday
reader of this article would most likely be biased towards the idea that the event staff was to
blame for the explosions, because no warning was publicly announced that the colored powder
was highly flammable.
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The third source that I will be analyzing originates from a country that historically is not
on the best of terms with Taiwan, which leads to myself already expecting some form of bias that
will try to create the worst possible scenario of the disaster. Long story short, Taiwan fled China
in order to establish a democratic government in 1949, and over half a century later, China still
does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country and government. As a result, the Chinese
news article is reasonably written to bring out details that affect the Chinese population. For
example, China Daily is the only one of the four countries that mentions, “Among the injured are
two students from the Chinese mainland (Chen Lingdan and Zhuang Chujun), five from Hong
Kong,” (China Daily, June 29, 2015). Although there were multiple participants from other
different countries including Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, the United States, the United Kingdom,
and South Africa, China Daily is the only news source that mentions the countries affected by
the disaster. Not to mention in their case, the author specifically focuses on the interviews from
Chinese students that were injured for the majority of the news article. It is evident that the
author is biased towards favoring the Chinese audience in telescoping the number of countries
influenced to mainly China. The author also notes that both students from the Chinese mainland
were studying in Taiwan’s Chia Tung University (China Daily, June 29, 2015), when both
students decided to party and relax after finishing the term’s courses. The previous articles focus
on the bigger picture of the tragedy, while China Daily successfully breaches into the emotions
of China by emphasizing the background and aftermath of Chen Lingdan and Zhuang Chujin, the
two Chinese students severely injured in the crisis.
Lastly, I will evaluate the British point of view on the catastrophe by examining articles
from two of the most reputable news agencies in the United Kingdom, Reuters and the BBC. The
first major difference I noticed with both U.K. news reports was the ratio of written content to
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pictures. In all of the previous articles, they had on average one or two pictures or a video that
highlights the major facts and injuries from the explosions. On the other hand, BBC News and
Reuters both have their respective video and many photos to complement the articles. Pictures of
burn victims covered with wet towels, people evacuated to hospitals on stretchers, and video of
screaming while the explosions started (BBC and Reuters, June 28, 2015) all paint vivid scenes
of what exactly took place. Appropriately, I consider the British news agencies as particularly
biased towards capturing the reader into primarily focusing on the provided images rather than
reading the general information in the blocks of text. That way, instead of informing the readers
about the behaviors and actions taken to aid the injured like CNN, Taiwan News, and China
Daily do, Reuters and the BBC primarily spotlight the images that bring out the worst possible
rundown of the incident. The British articles also include dialogue, “ ‘Her whole life is ruined,’
sobbed the father of Chu Li, an 18-year-old girl with burns on 80 percent of her body” (Reuters,
June 28, 2015), that intensifies the awfulness of the disaster. Unlike the other countries that shed
light on the ban of colored powder in Taiwan and closure of the Formosa water park, news
agencies from the United Kingdom are similar to China Daily News in successfully highlighting
the worst case scenarios of the Formosa Fun Coast explosion.
To conclude, what I have experienced through the procedure of breaking down articles
while comparing and contrasting them is that news is more often than not, biased, whether it may
be positively or negatively supporting the situation at hand. Each author has his or her process of
publishing a news article, and it’s up to them in deciding what information to include (or not
include) in order to create a bias that may or may not be intentional. In each of the news articles
analyzed in my essay, it was noticeable that the authors included their own biases to either
alleviate or aggravate the position that the reader considers about the event. Personally, I have
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progressed to understand the reason why some news agencies emphasize key points of an event
while other agencies barely touch on the specifics of the circumstances. In the case of the
Formosa Fun Coast explosion, the news agencies that I analyzed were similar in one of two
ways. China’s news agency China Daily News and the United Kingdom’s BBC/Reuters were
similar in emphasizing specific cases of injured attendees while providing photos for visual aid.
China’s China Daily News goes one step further by dedicating the article to the two Chinese
students that were unfortunately suffered burn injuries in order to support the Chinese audience.
On the other hand, Taiwan’s Taiwan News Online and CNN from the United States both are
similar in the fact that both agencies’ authors are primarily focused on providing information that
attempts to relieve the situation as much as possible. As far as history goes, this also may not be
much of a surprise, since the U.S. and Taiwan have enjoyed a close relationship for as long as I
can remember. As much as these four newspapers differ in terms of taking separate opinions, I
am able to safely conclude that all the reported articles I analyzed contain some type of bias that
will definitely distort the history recorded for the Formosa Fun Coast explosion.
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Works Cited
BBC, Asia. “Taiwan Formosa Water Park explosion injures hundreds.” BBC. British
Broadcasting Corporation, 28 June 2015. Web. 15 July 2015.
Chao-Yu, Wang, and Bear Lee. “Water Park Fire Injuries Revised Down to 494.”
Taiwan News Online. Taiwan News Central News Agency, 29 June 2015. Web. 15 July
Chen, Jay. “Heavy Dust, Heat Source May Have Caused Explosion: Official.” Taiwan News
Online. Taiwan News Central News Agency, 29 June 2015. 15 July 2015.
Mullen, Jethro, Kathy Novak, and K.J. Kwon. “Horrific Aftermath of Fiery Blast at Taiwan
Water Park.” CNN. Cable News Network, 29 June 2015. Web. 15 July 2015.
Staff, Xinhua News Agency (China). “Taiwan Investigates Blaze; Injuries Revised Down to
498.” China Daily. China Daily Group, 29 June 2015. Web. 15 July 2015.
Wu, J.R., and Pichi Chuang. “Taiwan Probes Water Park Fire as Tally of Injured put at 498.”
Reuters. Reuters, 28 June 2015. Web. 15 July 2015.

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