Are the media biased?
A truly objective press has never existed in the United States, but the news media’s current commitment to destroy the Trump administration has revealed the sad reality that much of the American press is hardly engaging in journalism at all. Instead, the media have manipulated the public with falsehoods, trafficked in fear, and mastered hypocrisy in ways that have never before been witnessed. And as a result, our republic has been put in grave danger.
For those of you who deny such a bias exists, the statistics are overwhelming and clear. Media Research Center researchers Rich Noyes and Mike Ciandella analyzed evening news-media coverage of the Trump administration on ABC, CBS and NBC during Trump’s first 100 days in office. They found those outlets made 1,501 negative statements about the president, excluding statements made by “partisans,” compared to only 186 positive statements, a negative-news rate of nearly 90 percent.
Some might think because journalists have a responsibility to be the public’s watchdog and to be unafraid to speak truth to power, news coverage of any president’s first 100 days would be highly critical, but the evidence says otherwise. A 2009 MRC study shows the majority of the evening news media’s coverage of President Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office was positive, ranging from a positive-news rate of 58 percent to 82 percent.
Critics of Trump will likely argue the massive difference in the media’s treatment of the past two presidents is well-deserved, but this would suggest the media are fairly covering Trump’s positive news stories but that there are simply fewer of them to report. The evidence suggests the opposite is true.
From Trump’s inauguration through the beginning of August, the Dow Jones Industrial Average set 31 record closing highs, but 80 percent of those records were ignored by the evening news programs of ABC, CBS and NBC on the days they occurred.
Not only has the news media overemphasized negative stories and underreported positive news stories related to the Trump administration, it has also published or aired numerous embarrassing and highly partisan reports that are unlike anything distributed by the mainstream press before.
For instance, in May, CNN aired a segment titled “President Gets 2 Scoops of Ice Cream, Everyone Else 1,” during which the network suggested Trump is a greedy glutton during meals at the White House.
In August, Time published “Meet the Man Behind the Big Inflatable Trump Rat Mocking Him in New York,” which featured art gallery owners John Lee and Karin Bravin. They created an “orange-faced, rat-human hybrid” inflatable meant to look like Trump. It had, according to Time’s description, “extra voluminous ears, pursed lips, buck teeth” and an “unmistakable red tie, a long tail, and an extra dig: Confederate flag cufflinks.”
Can you imagine a similar feature being published by Time during the Obama administration?
This media bias shouldn’t come as a surprise; researchers Lars Willnat and David H. Weaver, both professors at Indiana University, found in their 2013 survey only 7.1 percent of journalists identify as Republican. In 1971, 25.7 percent of journalists said they identified as Republican.
The problem isn’t just tied to party affiliation, either. Because the print news industry is being replaced by a more-centralized internet-based media, news outlets are increasingly being headquartered in left-leaning population centers on the East and West Coasts. Politico reported that in 2016 “more than half of publishing employees worked in counties that (Hillary) Clinton won by 30 points or more.”
It’s no wonder then Gallup reports only one-third of Americans have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the news media and a Harvard-Harris poll found 65 percent of voters say there is a significant amount of “fake news” in the mainstream press.
The news media’s bias has reached an all-time high, and if something doesn’t change soon, people will increasingly put their trust in the hands of people who tell them what they want to hear rather than report real news, or — even worse — people could turn the news off entirely, allowing the government to run amok without any accountability. COMMENTARY |
A window to the world. That’s what it’s been said journalists provide.
In a sense, it’s absolutely true. We have a front-row seat to history. We listen, we watch, we question, we try to understand. Most important, we share.
We share what we see, what we learn, what we discover. And we share it with you.
No two windows are identical, however. Windows come in different shapes, sizes, tints and materials. Also, no two windows can offer the exact same view.
Similarly, no two journalists offer identical accounts of the same event. Each varies in experiences, histories, cultures and perspectives. Those variations don’t mean journalists report skewed views of the world though.
As humans, each of us can walk away from watching an event or hearing a speech, with slightly (sometimes very) different perspectives. The same goes for an experience.
Why? Each of us has had our own individual experiences, shaping how we see, react and interpret the world around us. Journalists are no different.
So, is a person inherently biased based on their experiences, history and learned reactions?
I think the answer could be yes. A lot of people agree humans are inherently biased.
So, let’s apply this to a journalist. I think — and certainly hope — we can agree the public has a right to information, to know what is happening around them. It’s a journalist’s role to fill that need and that right.
Sometimes that role is easy. We have straight facts, nobody disputes them, and we report them that way.
Most of the time it’s more complicated. Very rarely are the facts cleanly laid out. Even rarer: all sides agreeing with what is being said. Add complications, like not having access to speak to individuals involved in the story, not having complete access to all of the facts, and telling a complete story including every detail is harder than it looks.
I’m not making excuses for journalists or complaining about the job. Having a front-row seat to history, working in a profession that is specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution is something that brings joy, a sense of purpose and — most important — responsibility.
As humans, we may inherently be biased, but as journalists, we learn to recognize those biases, make them known to ourselves, our editors and our newsrooms. We discuss those biases. We go out of the way, once we recognize a bias, to find those who have a different perspective. We learn to leave our opinions out of stories, and if we can’t, we let another journalist who can to tell the story.
The Society of Professional Journalists has a Code of Ethics. It’s one of the most widely used in the journalism profession. It discusses being transparent, seeking truth and being accurate, minimizing harm and holding ourselves accountable.
There are times when a journalist’s view and perspective and not just facts are absolutely needed. In order to gather facts and tell stories, we gain access to places people may not be able to get access. In these cases it’s very much up to the journalist to add context to what is happening; describe for the viewer what they’re seeing and experiencing. Is the crowd agitated? Are the people hopeful, angry, excited? In breaking and quickly developing stories, this perspective can be very helpful and important.
I wish I could bring every person who tells me “the media” is biased into my newsroom for our daily morning meetings. It’s how we start the day, each and every day. We pitch story ideas and discuss them in detail: who should we talk to, why is this important, do people care, what would this group say about the story? Sometimes the meetings are long, but they’re needed. Every day we try to make sure we are cutting through our biases, throwing our personal worldview upside down, so we can tell the most accurate truth in the context of the present facts.
My current newsroom is not unlike the rest around the country. These are common discussions that SPJ and other journalism groups encourage in newsrooms.
Journalists not only provide a window to the world, they provide many windows to the world. Each may vary from another, but ethical and responsible journalists will make sure people get the most accurate view possible.