Anyone who blindly accepts the news they receive from a single source is a fool. All news sources have biases. Many reporters and anchors claim to be objective, but that is just a ruse, an excuse. As documented on a daily basis by such sources as the Media Research Center and Newsbusters, there is a clear bias in the media.
Any thinking American who follows the news is going to develop an opinion, including reporters, editors and anchors. These opinions are going to be influenced by their perceptions and attitudes and the opinions of friends and coworkers.
To expect that the media’s opinions do not shade their coverage, either explicitly or subconsciously, is contrary to human nature. I maintain that the goal of news coverage should not be some amorphous objectivity standard, but should instead be fairness, honestly and fully reporting both sides of the story and letting the reader/viewer decide which side has the more realistic, logical view.
Let’s look at some of the ways the media shades the news.
Adjectives and Adverbs
Adjectives are words that are added to nouns (names) to further describe them, for example, gusty wind, red car, etc. Adverbs are words that are added to verbs (action words) to extend them, for example, a fast run, a tiring bike ride, an exhilarating walk, etc.
Adjectives and adverbs can be both positive and negative. That is, they can evoke positive or negative impressions in the reader/viewer. This is where most of the bias seeps in. Reporters and editors use positive adjectives and adverbs to describe people, places and activities they favor and negative adjectives and adverbs to describe people, places and activities they disdain.
Placement and emphasis
Another way the media slant the news is to manipulate the placement of things. Newspaper articles are supposed to be written so the most important items are early in the article and supporting details and supplemental items are further down or toward the end of the article.
It’s easy to see a publication’s bias once you know what to look for. They usually put their favored parts at the beginning of the article and disfavored parts toward the bottom. For a newspaper, the disfavored parts usually wind up on the ‘jump page’, that is, the page on the inside where an article that starts on page one finishes up.
Someone reading a newspaper quickly will usually read only a few paragraphs into an article before going on to the next article, they will miss the part that the newspaper wishes to downplay or ignore.
Sometimes you miss the best part by reading a newspaper that way, especially if you’re of a different opinion than the newspaper. For example, a conservative or moderate reading a liberal newspaper or a liberal reading a conservative newspaper. Conservative newspapers DO exist, but they’re few and far between. I know of only two.
Let’s look at an example. Here’s part of an article from the New York Times, Obama and Romney step up accusations on jobs. Most people agree that the New York Times leans left-liberal.
CINCINNATI — President Obama and Mitt Romney escalated their running battle over capitalism, integrity and the economy on Monday as each sought to portray the other as part of the nation’s problem rather than its solution.
At a freewheeling town-hall-style meeting with supporters here, Mr. Obama took aim at Mr. Romney’s corporate tax proposals, saying they would create jobs overseas rather than at home. Mr. Romney’s campaign accused Mr. Obama of “crony capitalism” by using government resources to reward donors at the expense of the middle class.
The sharp exchanges came after a week in which the president’s campaign pounded away at Mr. Romney over business deals at the Boston-based private equity firm he founded and over his refusal to release more than two years of his personal tax returns.
In focusing on his opponent’s tax policies on Monday, Mr. Obama tried to cement the impression of an out-of-touch tycoon, while Mr. Romney tried to get off the defensive by questioning the president’s ethics.
“We don’t need a president who plans to ship more jobs overseas or wants to give more tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas,” Mr. Obama told supporters at Cincinnati Music Hall in this important swing state. “I want to give tax breaks to companies that are investing right here in Ohio, that are investing in Cincinnati, that are investing in Hamilton County. I want to give incentives to companies that are investing in you.”
Mr. Obama cited a study saying that Mr. Romney’s plan to eliminate taxes on foreign income earned by corporations would create 800,000 jobs. “There’s only one problem,” Mr. Obama said. “The jobs wouldn’t be in America.”
The study, published in the journal Tax Notes by Kimberly A. Clausing, a professor at Reed College, argued that those overseas jobs could offset jobs at home. “With high unemployment rates, why further tilt the playing field in favor of jobs in low-tax countries?” she wrote.
Republicans said the study was conducted by a professor from a well-known liberal college who contributed money to Mr. Obama’s campaign and to other Democrats. They also pointed out that the policy she and Mr. Obama oppose is actually supported by members of the president’s jobs advisory council and export advisory council. It was also supported by Mr. Obama’s own bipartisan commission on reducing the national debt, led by Alan K. Simpson, a former Republican senator, and Erskine B. Bowles, a former Clinton White House chief of staff.
The first paragraph appears balanced at first glance. If you look again, you’ll see they refer to President Obama and Mitt Romney. Why would they use a title for President Obama and not one for Governor Romney? It’s not unusual to refer to a former Governor as Governor even after he or she is out of office. Why would they use Romney’s first name and not Obama’s? Perhaps to elevate Obama and discount Romney’s accomplishments?
The second paragraph appears balanced at a glance as well, until you consider that Obama took aim while Romney accused. Like Romney is a target, but Obama is accused. They also put quotation marks aroung crony capitalism as if it was just something someone said, that it’s not really happening.
I’d like to remind the reader at this point that Obama’s Energy Department approved a $535 million loan guarantee for the failed solar panel company, Solyndra, and structured the loan in such a way that investors like millionaire George Kaiser, an Obama fundraiser, would get paid back before the middle class taxpayers. This sounds like crony capitalism to me. Do you think there should be quotation marks around crony capitalism?
The third paragraph (starting with “The sharp exchanges …”) describes Obama pounded away at Romney’s business deals and refusal to release tax returns (not required by law) and fails to mention that Obama has refused to release his birth certificate, his school records, his passport records, his selective service records, and virtually everything else that might shed light on who he really is.
The fourth paragraph (“In focusing…”) referred to Gov. Romney as Obama’s “opponent” and “an out-of-touch tycoon” while Mr. Romney was “trying” by “questioning the president’s ethics”.
The fifth paragraph (“We don’t need …”) is almost entirely a statement by President Obama to “supporters”.
The sixth paragraph (“Mr. Obama cited …”) is also an assertion by Obama.
The seventh paragraph (“The study, …”) mentions the “study” cited by Mr. Obama in paragraph 6.
Not until the eighth paragraph (“Republicans said …”) does the article give the Republican argument any space. Notice also that the paragraph starts with “Republicans said …” leading the reader to question whether it’s true or at least emphasizing that they (the NY Times) don’t agree. They also make that a fairly long paragraph, presumably so the reader will quit before reading the whole thing.
What do you think a reader who stops before the 8th paragraph will think?
I believe every American who wants to be fully informed needs to consult more than one source, broadcast TV, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC and PBS constitute ONE source, just as Fox News and Fox Business News constitute one source. Ditto for CNN and Headline News, indeed, they could be lumped in with the broadcast networks as one source because they’re all on the same (left) side.
Update (9/10/2012): The Media Research Center published an e-book on media bias. You can download it here.
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