The Good, the Bad, & the Biased
What's in Your Newsfeed?
by Ari Tulk, 2023
Sometimes bias is a war fought inside a journalist, who tries to suppress their strong opinions on a matter in order to maintain objectivity. Sometimes bias is a newspaper with an agenda, intentionally distributing propaganda to change the opinions of their readers. Unfounded accusations of bias have been used to defame people, and sound accusations of bias have been ignored.
Thus, media bias’s many complexities have been the subject of debate since newspapers were invented, and reporters found themselves faced with the difficulty of their implicit and explicit biases, opinions, and views, and how they interfered with objectivity.
So What Defines Media Bias?
Media bias is when distributors of news have bias in what stories they choose to cover, and how they choose to cover them. It is the purpose of journalism adhering to good journalism standards, to objectively report information. Media bias goes a step further than reporting and makes conclusions about the information. These assumptions can range from obvious derision of a view to the subtly subjective framing of an event.
Political bias in the media is when a newspaper favors the views and opinions of one political party or belief above another. This can mean that the prioritized stories center the people, opinions, and events of one political party. This political bias could also show itself in how events are covered by a reporter. This could involve picking a political side to defend, or attacking a political side.
How CNN Created Demand Bias
One key cause for media bias is a paper’s dependence on the demand of the consumers. This is called demand bias. This happens when readers read a paper because it reflects their own bias, confirming instead of expanding their opinions and views. If a paper is not biased it will lose the people who only want to read confirmation news–news that concurs with or confirms their own beliefs.
The introduction of the 24-hour news cycle is a significant event that turned the tides of media toward bias. On June 1st, 1980 a news company opened which delivered news updates all day and night. This newspaper was called CNN, or the Cable News Network. This new invention rapidly changed news-reporting all throughout the world.
The 24-hour news cycle, also called the 24/7 news cycle, increases competition between newspapers for reader engagement and attention. The 24-hour news cycle resulted in a boom in story production, meaning that there is now more pressure on papers to make their articles more engaging and attention-grabbing than their competitors’ stories, in order to ensure reader attention. Newspapers began to prioritize, to varying degrees, sensationalism, controversy, and entertainment to capture interest. The need for economic support drove reporting services away from the prior purpose to provide people with verified and relevant information.
Since media bias has been partly caused by the economic reliance on reader support, should the government fund the distribution of news in order to avoid the unfortunate predicament of demand bias? Though this sounds like a reasonable solution, government ownership and involvement in the media can also induce media bias.
Due to the federal and state government’s power and influence, newspapers can feel obligated to support the government, sometimes over their own integrity, leading to the potential depiction of governmental actions in a more favorable light than is wholly accurate. There is always the threat of reduced or entirely withheld funding if the government that the paper depends on doesn’t like the information being put out into the world.
This is Your Brain on Bias
Bias in the media can reinforce readers' own internal prejudice, making people see reported events through a specific lens rather than viewing information objectively. It reduces expansive thinking in readers, encouraging them to only consume confirmation news.
Biased news can also decide people’s opinions for them. If a reader feels that their views on the world are shared by the newspaper that they read, they can fall into the trap of letting a newspaper make up their mind for them, instead of allowing them to form their own conclusion on a subject.
Lack of opinion variation is also a major danger of political media bias. It can threaten the open-mindedness of an entire nation. Political bias can narrow down the number of unique opinions from one for every person, to one for every political party. When there are only two outlooks represented, the liberal opinion and the conservative opinion, for example, people can feel pressured to choose between them, rather than making their own conclusions.
Diversity is the Key
Identifying media bias can be difficult, as many newspapers seek to hide their partisanship in order to maintain perceived credibility. As bias is in favor of binaries, an important thing to look for in the media is diversity.
Firstly, an unbiased article will cite diverse sources. This means that the people who are interviewed and have their opinions represented should have varying backgrounds, life experiences, and opinions.
It is critical that the opinions explained in articles are diverse because unbiased reports cover every side of the story. For example, in a criminal case, the reasons for both guilt and innocence should be given equal explanation and verification.
For a paper to be unbiased it needs diverse leadership. This means that people of different races, ethnicities, genders, sexuality, backgrounds, and life experiences, write and edit the articles.
Another essential kind of diversity in a newspaper is the variation of topics covered. This, of course, applies to news-reporting papers and excludes scientific journals and other such specialized informational publications.
Watch Out For These Red Flags
Spin in journalism is a subtle way in which papers and their individual journalists subtly reframe information to make it appear more or less favorable, depending on their agenda.
Bias by omission
Bias by omission is when reports of events deliberately omit specific details or sides to a story in order to change how it is viewed. Omission of context can twist a story.
Unsubstantiated sensationalism is when the news makes exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims. These articles often rely heavily on shocking readers to get their attention. This is a tactic often used in tabloid newspapers, and clickbait advertising.
Opinions presented as facts
This means that the author of the article states their opinions with certainty, and disguises it as a fact.
Unverified claims are pretty self-explanatory, simply being claims lacking evidence.
Similar to an optical illusion, slant in the media often is designed to utilize the natural mechanisms of the brain. It compares or places two things next to each other in order to make the reader’s brain connect them. This can expressly link two things as a cause and effect, or it can merely imply that they are thus connected.
Ad hominem is when an article makes irrelevant personal attacks on someone to discredit their actions. This can involve making fun of their appearance by displaying unflattering images or cartoons of them, or perhaps attacking a person’s mannerisms.
Mind reading in journalism refers to when the author of an article makes assumptions on what the person the article is centered on is thinking, and provides no quotes to justify it. This puts the author in a position where they claim they can “read the minds” of the people they are writing about.
Flawed logic in journalism is when claims are made on a logic that doesn’t quite make sense, or has holes.
Bias by placement
Bias by placement shows the reader which stories are most important to the newspaper. It is when some topics are prioritized over others, sometimes by appearing larger on the home page, or being the first you look at.
Lack of source attribution
Lack of source attribution is when an author makes claims without backing them up with a source. This not only suggests bias, but lowers the overall credibility of the source.
Many, many more kinds of bias can be identified, but this just names the main ones. Though media bias is a slippery topic, these identifiers can be used to pin it down.