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Spotlight Fallacy

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Also Called:

  • Misleading Vividness
  • The Volvo Fallacy

A close cousin to the Anecdotal Fallacy. The Spotlight Fallacy is making a generalization based on how much news coverage a subject gets. This is fallacious because the news media tends to focus heavily on events that are less common in real life. However, because the news covers them so extensively, it's an easy mistake to make.

It's said that "'Dog Bites Man' is not news; 'Man Bites Dog' is news." Using that example, this trope is when somebody assumes that men biting dogs is more common than the reverse, because it appears in the papers more often.


Compare The New Rock & Roll and Cowboy BeBop at His Computer.


  • One reason that the majority of a fandom of any work gets a reputation as Loony Fans can be at least partially due to the Vocal Minority in that fandom who act like jerks. Whenever news media covers members of a fandom or stories get spread online about a work's fans, it tends to focus on the loudest, most vocal, and least polite fans of the work, because ordinary people who just happen to like something as part of their everyday lives don't get views. Someone who is so obsessed with their favorite work/show/game/etc. that it's completely consumed their life certainly does. This is why a majority of depictions of fans in media tend to be Straw Fans; it's what most people assume that fandom is like, because only those stories are the ones that get passed around. A lot of creators tend to remember the most vocal fans of their work (for better or worse) for the same reason.
  • News media often seize upon similar stories in the wake of a large event; for example, following a story of a very rare unprovoked attack by an urban fox in Britain, newspapers were covering a far more minor case of a child who was bitten after pulling a fox's tail. Such spates of similar stories create an impression that a massive problem exists, when the only real difference is that every event is now being reported on.
    • Another example in Britain is the occasional swells of sightings of "deadly false widow spiders," with unknown injuries often reported as spider bites despite no spider being found. A particularly infamous example is the man whose leg "exploded" after a spider bite, who actually contracted the "flesh-eating bacteria" necrotizing fasciitis (do not google this) in an unknown wound in his leg which was not consistent with a spider bite: widow venom is neurotoxic, not cytotoxic, meaning it cannot destroy tissue, but that didn't stop the British tabloids taking it to the presses, often illustrating with pictures of much scarier spiders like Australian Redbacks. The deadly menace of small, shy and calm spiders which only bite if they can't run away and have venom roughly equal to a wasp sting, which have been in the UK for 150 years, is such that over the course of seven years, there were the same number of confirmed bites as there were deaths by bee and wasp stings each one of those years.
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    • Indeed, spiders in general are subject to this. There are 7,000 recorded Brazilian Wandering Spider bites: of these, ten were fatal, with most not even requiring treatment. The "deadly" Sydney Funnel Web Spider has killed a grand total of nobody since 1980 when antivenom was introduced, and only 13 or 14 in the 53-year period before that. Despite 23,000 recorded bites in the United States between 2000 and 2008, Black Widows killed nobody in this period. And so on.
  • School shootings are given extensive media coverage and are a common fear for parents; in fact, contrary to popular belief, shootings in the US are actually rare, they are so rare that a child in the US is more likely to be struck by lightning than to be killed by a mass-murderer (let alone one who targets a school). Needless to say, for the 95% of us who don't live in the United States, that chance is several dozen times less likely still — to the point that you'd be wiser to fear sharks and vending machines.

    Moreover, some shootings get hyped more than others: to hear some reporters talk during the wall-to-wall coverage of the Columbine shootings, one would think school shootings had never happened before then. In fact, several students had been shot in schools in previous years. The reason their shootings didn't get so much coverage? Most of these took place in poor inner-city schools in high-crime neighborhoods with a high percentage of racial minorities, and were the regrettable but predictable results of violent gang activity. Columbine was only extraordinary due to the shootings taking place in a better-funded suburban school serving a relatively wealthy and low-crime neighborhood populated mostly by white people, where gang violence was all but nonexistent.
  • Parents are terrified of their children being abducted by strangers, due to overwhelming coverage of such events (think Elizabeth Smart). However, the vast majority of kidnappings are committed by immediate family members or close friends. (For example, divorcing parents involved in a messy custody battle.)
  • Many people are scared of flying since plane crashes are covered almost every time one happens; car crashes are much rarer in the news. Multi-car pileups and fatalities are occasionally covered but still uncommon. But it is about 200 times more likely for a person to die in a car crash than in a plane crash, even taking into account that people spend much more time driving than flying.
  • Summer of the Shark. Due to the national coverage of a shark attack on a young boy in 2001, coverage was given to every attack that happened for the next few months, and it only stopped because of 9/11. Shark attacks were actually down from 85 to 76, and there were only 5 shark-related deaths in 2001 compared to 12 the previous year. It has also been said that that was the lowest number of shark attacks in a decade.
  • Many people stereotype (or joke) that all Catholic priests are Pedophile Priests, even though only a few dozen priests have been convicted for the crime of sexually assaulting children — the vast majority of Catholic priests who sexually assaulted people targeted vulnerable teenagers and adults (exclusively) and the number of Catholic Priests who perpetrated sexual assault are a minority among the Catholic church's clergy. Leaving aside the questions of why they did it (delight in holding such power over people, lack of empathy/compassion, lust) and why the Church tried very hard to cover it up and avoid bringing the criminals to justice or compensating the victims before the matter was brought into the open (reputation to uphold, budget to balance, genuine faith criminals could be reformed). However, the majority of Catholic Priests do not molest children, neither do the majority of child sexual abuse cases involve Catholic Priests, as it also occurs in schools (secular and religious), foster homes and in some rare cases involves members of the victim's family.
  • Similarly, the number of reports of schoolteachers caught molesting their students has skyrocketed with the advent of the internet. The number of reports has—not necessarily the amount of molestation going on or the number or proportion of child-molesting teachers to teachers in general. There's a bit of False Cause in play here as well, as the rising number of reports may be for any number of reasons: better monitoring and oversight means child-molesting teachers get caught sooner and more often, reformed social attitudes mean victims' complaints are more likely to be believed and acted upon a lot sooner, and various new media are even more eager than the old media outlets to report and keep a Long List of incidents involving child-molesting teachers. In the case of both the priests and the teachers, it's also worth noting that child molesters naturally tend to gravitate to positions that grant them access to potential victims; as such, religious and secular educators are likely to have more child molesters among them than, say, cleaners or desk jockeys or workers in any other primarily grownup-oriented occupational field.
  • This fallacy can be exploited for advertising purposes. For example, for quite a while virtually every computer in a movie or television show was a Mac, despite the fact that more people still use Windows.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads also tends to fuel this trope. With all the crime reports you see on television, do you ever get the impression that crime rates must be worse than ever? Sometimes crime rates have increased, but don't go jumping to conclusions: one reason you see more reports of crime these days is because the ubiquity of cell phones and other easily portable cameras has made capturing footage of crimes in progress a lot easier, while the rise of the internet has made disseminating these reports to the public a lot easier too. In many cases, the actual crime rates have actually decreased somewhat even as the number of crime reports has increased astronomically.
  • Whenever a band or musician becomes controversial, it's very common for parents/teachers to become scared and assume that one band/musician represents all popular music. Even though only a select few popular bands ever become controversial, and in many instances, the ones who do become controversial aren't nearly as popular (or as outrageous) as their media coverage would have you think.


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