Are the me­dia bi­ased?

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Justin Hask­ins By Lynn Walsh


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.

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