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Media Bias: Reflecting Reality?

To continue on Tim Schramm's post a few days ago:

Media bias is something everyone in the media gets accused of. It's inevitable; someone doesn't like your story, they'll cry bias. Sometimes it's hard to strike a purely objective tone and sometimes reality doesn't play that way. If the article is about why everyone loves a popular product and how successful the product is, of course the article is going to be laudatory.

Presidential elections are continuously monitored for bias in coverage. Every week there's another poll comparing coverage--newspapers, broadcast networks, cable, talking heads and late-night comedies--but for many people, it's what's percieved that's the ticket.

Clark Hoyt, the New York Times public editor, wrote about this in last week's excellent column:

Nobody acknowledges the possibility that, because of their own biases, they could be reading more, or less, than was intended into an article, a headline or a picture. Many go a step beyond alleging mere bias to accuse The Times of operating from a conscious agenda to help one candidate and destroy the other.


Bias is a tricky thing. None of us are objective. We like news that supports our views and dislike what may challenge them. We tend to pick apart each article, word by word, failing to remember that it is part of a river of information from which facts can be plucked to support many points of view. Perversely, we magnify what displeases us and minimize what we like.

Every two weeks, he discusses implications of biases and impropreity within Times coverage. He, obviously, has focused particularly on the election. He notes that, "Being human, journalists do have personal biases", but most of that comes through the nature of the medium: "Journalists are biased toward conflict, toward bad news because it is more exciting than good news, and, obviously, toward what is new." Politico elaborated on this in a report entitled, "Why McCain is getting hosed in the press":

The main reason is that for most journalists, professional obligations trump personal preferences. Most political reporters (investigative journalists tend to have a different psychological makeup) are temperamentally inclined to see multiple sides of a story, and being detached from their own opinions comes relatively easy.

Reporters obsess about personalities and process, about whose staff are jerks or whether they seem like decent folks, about who has a great stump speech or is funnier in person than they come off in public, about whether Michigan is in play or off the table. This is the flip side of the fact of how much we care about the horse race- we don't care that much about our own opinions of which candidate would do more for world peace or tax cuts.


The strongest of these is the bias in favor of momentum. A candidate who is perceived to be doing well tends to get even more positive coverage (about his or her big crowds or the latest favorable polls or whatever). And a candidate who is perceived to be doing poorly tends to have all events viewed through this prism.

But what brought me here to post about this was this excerpt from the article, highlighted on The Daily Dish:

There have been moments in the general election when the one-sidedness of our site - when nearly every story was some variation on how poorly McCain was doing or how well Barack Obama was faring - has made us cringe. As it happens, McCain's campaign is going quite poorly and Obama's is going well. Imposing artificial balance on this reality would be a bias of its own.

If the media is supposed to reflect reality, then sometimes it has to lean in one direction. It just might not be what people want to hear.

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Reader Comments (1)

Well put!

October 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

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