Media Bias

Cheers to the Columbia Journalism Review for this move:

Columbia Journalism Review is proud to announce the launch of The Observatory, a full-time department dedicated to critiquing the press coverage of science and the environment. The Observatory will launch on CJR’s Web site,

In 2007, climate change and, by extension, the nation’s energy future, moved to center stage in our national discourse. The mainstream press coverage of these issues, too, took something of a step forward last year, abandoning much of the false balance that has long characterized the coverage of climate change-that maddeningly reflexive need to give the fringe-dwelling skeptic equal weight against overwhelming scientific consensus. But this is not to say that press coverage of climate change doesn’t still have problems, such as a tendency toward alarmism, or that there isn’t still a crucial need for a smart, intellectually honest critique of that coverage-and coverage of science, environmental, and medical issues broadly. Indeed, climate change is hardly the only crucial scientific issue that the world needs help from the media to understand. From stem-cell research and the AIDS epidemic to a shortage of clean water and food safety, from the quality of epidemiology research to the future of space exploration, the need for credible and thorough journalism will only become more crucial as the new century.

Should be an interesting column — may have to start reading CJR again.

By | January 16th, 2008|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Saul Friedman argues that it’s time to abandon the cliche of objectivity:

Perhaps it’s time for the reporter to do the same, now that modern journalism in most places is done with the myth of objectivity. In fact, beleaguered and bewildered newspapers need to give such freedom or latitude to their reporters as a matter of survival in a journalism that has been taken over by bloggers, good and awful, right- and left-wing interest groups, entertainers who pass as reporters, the 24/7 cable news programs and the Fox News type propagandists for whoever is in power…

In his Washington Post media column Sept. 17, Howard Kurtz wondered why news organizations couldn’t take a stand in their reporting. He asked, “Or is there no realistic way to do what critics demand without becoming partisan?” Telling truth, with good, solid reporting, will be called partisan by those who disagree with the conclusions. That has always come with the terriitory. Kurtz quoted blogger Arianna Huffington:”too many in the Washingtonpress corps want to pretend they are leaving the question of ‘what is truth’ to their readers–refusing to admit there is such a thing as truth…The administration has faith that, because of the way too many in the press operate, all it has to do is sow doubt.” Thus we are forced into writing, in effect, “on the other hand,the White House says…”

… Why can’t reporters who cover their beats well and who become as expert as possible in that field–the law, courts, medicine, consumerism, politics, the Congress, even the presidency–write for their newspapers as if they’re writing a book or a magazine piece? If they are truly expert, as many reporters are, they need not depend on someone else for a meaningless quote. They should be freed from the constraints of “he said, she said” and provide narrative journalism, which is much more interesting than “on the other handism.” And it may come closer to the truth.

But, too often “truth” is just another word for “my belief.” If we start encouraging reporters to abandon even the appearances of objectivity (via trite “he said, she said” reporting), then we’ll produce a press even more susceptible to accusations of bias.

Of course, maybe that’s what we need to do anyway. With U.S. media credibility at record lows, perhaps it’s time to adopt the European model of an overtly partisan press. Then, each paper’s writers could freely report its version of “truth.”

By | September 23rd, 2007|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Here’s the abstract from a peer-reviewed journal article that looks at perceptions of media bias:

Although claims of media bias are abundant, systematic and scientific investigations of potential biases are rare. The present study was an attempt to determine whether a perception of bias would be found in the headlines of lead or major stories taken from the Web sites of two major American news organizations, CNN and FOX News, during the final two months of the 2004 presidential campaign.

Significant perceptions of bias were found. Overall, headlines taken from CNN were rated as significantly more liberal than those taken from FOX News. Headlines taken from FOX News were rated as slightly on the liberal side of neutral. With CNN’s headlines slightly to the left of FOX News’, instructing participants that the headlines came from a particular source did not influence the results.Although the study by no means provides the definitive answer to whether major news organizations have biases, it indicates that perceptions of bias exist.

Wow. Fox News slightly to the left of neutral? Conventional wisdom says that Fox News is conservative and CNN is objective.

The study was published in the Spring 2007 issue of The Havard International Journal of Press/Politics.

By | September 13th, 2007|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Missed this analysis by James Taranto in June. He notes that the Associated Press is encouraging something called “accountability journalism”: reprints an article from Essentials, the Associated Press’s internal newsletter, which begins with an editor’s note explaining that the AP has embraced something called “accountability journalism,” whose goal is “to report whether government officials are doing the job for which they were elected and keeping the promises they make.”

Ron Fournier, whose byline frequently turns up on the AP’s “news analyses,” insists that such journalism is neither opinionated nor biased:

We can be provocative without being partisan. We can be truth-tellers without being editorial writers. We can and we must not only tell people what happened in politics today, but why it happened; what it might mean for our readers and their families; and what it might reveal about the people who presume to be our leaders. Sometimes, they’re just plain wrong.

Fournier is especially proud of the AP’s Katrina coverage–but the examples he cites seem opinionated and partisan to us. Here’s the lead paragraph of a Sept. 2, 2005, dispatch:

WASHINGTON (AP)–The Iraqi insurgency is in its last throes. The economy is booming. Anybody who leaks a CIA agent’s identity will be fired. Add another piece of White House rhetoric that doesn’t match the public’s view of reality: Help is on the way, Gulf Coast.

In just one paragraph, the “reporter” manages to endorse partisan views not just of Katrina but also of Iraq, the economy and even the Valerie Plame kerfuffle–and to describe what surely are his own opinions as “the public’s view.”

Good point. The problem with “accountability journalism” is the values to whom you hold people accountable. One man’s truth is another man’s propaganda. This AP movement looks like it’s swaying toward advocacy — which is OK, but let’s just call it was it is. We shouldn’t practice this type of reporting and hide behind the cloak of objectivity.

By the way, Jules Crittendon does a lot of great AP crap detecting. Here’s a particularly good post.

By | July 24th, 2007|Uncategorized|0 Comments

When Israel attacks terrorist targets — that’s news. When terrorists launch missles and strike an Israeli high school — not news. Kind of hard to understand how these decisions get made in an objective newsroom.

By | May 18th, 2007|Uncategorized|0 Comments