In a world where the term “fake news” is thrown around left and right, it certainly begs the questions – what can we believe and who can we believe? Thanks to the ever-changing technological landscape, the modern world can consume media in more ways than ever before. From television broadcasts and radio talk shows to online newsletters and social media, opportunities to share and receive news are abundant – which leaves plenty of room for media bias.
While the simple definition of “news” is “a report of recent events” or “previously unknown information,” many are quick to point out that news in today’s social and political climate has strayed far away from the cold, hard facts of reporting. So, what happened to the news desk, and what exactly is media bias? Here are a few thoughts to consider.
Just a few months ago, Fox News host Howard Kurtz criticized MSNBC and CNN, claiming that much of the networks’ programming has become overtly biased against President Donald Trump, Newsweek reports.
“I think there are some fair reporters at both networks,” Kurtz says. “But certainly when you turn on the primetime shows, and it’s getting increasingly hard during the day, they all seem to be opinion shows,” he continues. “You know, you’ve got these panels that are six to one anti-Trump. I mean, there’s no secret about it. That’s the way they are being programmed.”
Newsweek notes that this criticism of MSNBC and CNN is somewhat ironic, considering that Fox News is regularly criticized for being overtly biased in favor of President Trump and the Republican Party.
On the other hand, Margaret Sullivan, a media columnist with The Washington Post, penned an article stating “the media feels safest in the middle lane.” She describes the middle-lane approach to journalism as “boringly predictable,” as it allows journalists to appear fair without taking a risk or offending others. “Impartiality is still a value worth defending in mainstream news coverage,” says Sullivan. “But you don’t get there by walking down the center line with a blindfold on.”
Inspired by the media critic’s condemnation of the bias toward centrism, David Leonhardt with The New York Times shared a list of the six forms of media bias. “Too often, journalists confuse centrism with fairness, objectivity or common-sense truth,” Leonhardt explains. “But centrism is none of those. It is a point of view, and it can be wrong, just as conservatism or liberalism can be.” His list includes:
- “Centrist bias.” Brian Fallon, a Democratic strategist, expressed his thoughts on this particular bias, or “bothsidesism,” sharing on Twitter: “It is time to call out bothsidesism for what it is: a performative effort to triangulate so as to present the journalist as more deserving of the public’s trust than their elected leaders. It’s a political act, and shows just as much bias as picking a side.”
- “Affluent bias.” Leonhardt explains that the media doesn’t just show bias toward the center – it can often confuse the center with views that are actually those of the affluent.
- “Bias for the new.” Leonhardt also notes that journalists can often confuse newness with importance. He states that the problem lurks in the product’s name: “News.”
- “The same biases that afflict society.” This bias describes instances including sexism in political coverage (“likability”) and racism in crime coverage.
- “Liberal bias.” “Yes, it’s real,” says Leonhardt, noting that most mainstream journalists “do lean left,” such as with issue-based coverage on education.
- “Conservative bias.” “It’s real too.” Leonhardt offers Fox News and talk radio as two examples of influential elements of the media that skew hard right, presenting readers with misleading or false information and conspiracy theories.
“Much of the media — local and national, news reporters and opinion columnists — tries hard to tell stories accurately and corrects itself when it errs,” says Leonhardt of conservative bias. “Fox and a lot of talk radio do not. And I’ll take a fallible, self-reflective media, even with all of the biases I’ve listed here, over a media that is more akin to propaganda.”
So, what can we do to avoid media bias? Take some time to explore multiple sources as you form your thoughts on current events and issues. Consider branching out from your typical mediums – if you tend to read up on the news while scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, put down the phone and visit a newsstand. Spend some time with newspapers, magazines and other print materials. Try a different television news station, or two. Read an opinion piece, and then find one from the opposite viewpoint. Ultimately, ensure that you’re giving yourself the chance to consider all perspectives of those involved and those around you.