Media bias in the United States occurs when the US media systematically skews reporting in a way that crosses standards of professional journalism. Claims of media bias in the United States include claims of liberal bias, conservative bias, mainstream bias, and corporate bias. A variety of watchdog groups combat this by fact-checking both biased reporting and unfounded claims of bias. A variety of scholarly disciplines study media bias. 
Before the rise of professional journalism in the early 1900s and the conception of media ethics, newspapers reflected the opinions of the publisher. Frequently, an area would be served by competing newspapers taking differing and often radical views by modern standards. Ethnic newspapers were the norm in every metropolitan city during the 19th and early 20th century, including German, Dutch, Finnish, French and various Eastern European newspapers, which disappeared as their readership, increasingly, assimilated. In the 20th century, newspapers in various Asian languages, Spanish, and Arabic appeared and persist catering to the newer respective immigrant groups.
In 1728, Benjamin Franklin, writing under the pseudonym "Busy-Body", wrote an article for the American Weekly Mercury advocating the printing of more paper money. He did not mention that his own printing company hoped to get the job of printing the money. It is an indication of the complexity of the issue of bias, that he not only stood to profit by printing the money, but he also seems to have genuinely believed that printing more money would stimulate trade. As his biographer Walter Isaacson points out, Franklin was never averse to "doing well by doing good."
In 1798, the Congress of the United States passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which prohibited the publication of "false, scandalous, or malicious writing" against the government and made it a crime to voice any public opposition to any law or presidential act. This act was only in effect only until 1801.
In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln accused newspapers in the border states of bias in favor of the Confederate cause and ordered many of them closed.
In the 19th century, many American newspapers made no pretense to lack of bias, openly advocating one or another political party. Big cities often had competing newspapers supporting various political parties. To some extent this was mitigated by a separation between news and editorial. News reporting was expected to be relatively neutral or at least factual, whereas editorial sections openly relayed the opinion of the publisher. Editorials might also have been accompanied by editorial cartoons, which would frequently lampoon the publisher's opponents.
The Progressive Era, from the 1890s to the 1920s, was a period of relative reform with a particular journalistic style, while early in the period some American newspapers engaged in yellow journalism to increase sales. For example, William Randolph Hearst, publisher of several major market newspapers, deliberately falsified stories of incidents, which may have contributed to the Spanish–American War.
In the years leading up to World War II, politicians who favored the United States entering the war on the German side accused the international media of a pro-Jewish bias and often asserted that newspapers opposing entry of the United States on the German side were controlled by Jews. They claimed that reports of German mistreatment of Jews were biased and without foundation. Hollywood was said to be a hotbed of Jewish bias, and pro-German politicians in the United States called for Charlie Chaplin's film The Great Dictator to be banned as an insult to a respected leader.
In some cases, Southern television stations refused to air programs such as I Spy and Star Trek because of their racially mixed casts.
During the labor union movement and the civil rights movement, newspapers supporting liberalsocial reform were accused by conservative newspapers of communist bias.
In November 1969, Spiro Agnew, then Vice President under Richard Nixon, made a landmark speech denouncing what he saw as media bias against the Vietnam War. He called those opposed to the war the "nattering nabobs of negativism."
A 1956 American National Election Study found that 66% of Americans thought newspapers were fair, including 78% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats. A 1964 poll by the Roper Organization asked a similar question about network news, and 71% thought network news was fair. A 1972 poll found that 72% of Americans trusted CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite. According to Jonathan M. Ladd's Why Americans Hate the Media and How it Matters, "Once, institutional journalists were powerful guardians of the republic, maintaining high standards of political discourse."
That has changed. Gallup Polls since 1997 have shown that most Americans do not have confidence in the mass media "to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly". According to Gallup, the American public's trust in the media has generally declined in the first decade and a half of the 21st century. Again according to Ladd, "In the 2008, the portion of Americans expressing 'hardly any' confidence in the press had risen to 45%. A 2004 Chronicle of Higher Education poll found that only 10% of Americans had 'a great deal' of confidence in the 'national news media,'" In 2011, only 44% of those surveyed had "a great deal" or "a fair amount" of trust and confidence in the mass media. In 2013, a 59% majority reported a perception of media bias, with 46% saying mass media was too liberal and 13% saying it was too conservative. The perception of bias was highest among conservatives. According to the poll, 78% of conservatives think the mass media is biased, as compared with 44% of liberals and 50% of moderates. Only about 36% view mass media reporting as "just about right".
Main article: News values
According to Jonathan M. Ladd, Why Americans Hate the Media and How It Matters, "The existence of an independent, powerful, widely respected news media establishment is a historical anomaly. Prior to the twentieth century, such an institution had never existed in American history." However, he looks back to the period between 1950 and 1979 as a period where "institutional journalists were powerful guardians of the republic, maintaining high standards of political discourse."
A number of writers have tried to explain the decline in journalistic standards. One explanation is the 24-hour news cycle, which faces the necessity of generating news even when no news-worthy events occur. Another is the simple fact that bad news sells more newspapers than good news. A third possible factor is the market for "news" that reinforces the prejudices of a target audience. "In a 2010 paper, Mr. Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, a frequent collaborator and fellow professor at Chicago Booth, found that ideological slants in newspaper coverage typically resulted from what the audience wanted to read in the media they sought out, rather than from the newspaper owners' biases."
An important aspect of media bias is framing. A frame is the arrangement of a news story, with the goal of influencing audience to favor one side or the other. The ways in which stories are framed can greatly undermine the standards of reporting such as fairness and balance. Many media outlets are known for their outright bias. Some outlets, such as MSNBC, are known for their liberal views, while others, such as Fox News Channel, are known for their conservative views. How biased media frame stories can change audience reactions.
Corporate bias and power bias
See also: Propaganda model and Concentration of media ownership in the United States
Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media proposed a propaganda model to explain systematic biases of U.S. media as a consequence of the pressure to create a stable and profitable business. In this view, corporate interests create five filters that bias news in their favor.
Pro-power and pro-government bias
Part of the propaganda model is self-censorship through the corporate system (see corporate censorship); that reporters and especially editors share or acquire values that agree with corporate elites in order to further their careers. Those who do not are marginalized or fired. Such examples have been dramatized in fact-based movie dramas such as Good Night, and Good Luck and The Insider and demonstrated in the documentary The Corporation.George Orwell originally wrote a preface for his 1945 novel Animal Farm, which focused on the British self-censorship of the time: "The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. ... [Things are] kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that 'it wouldn't do' to mention that particular fact." The preface was not published with most copies of the book.
In the propaganda model, advertising revenue is essential for funding most media sources and thus linked with media coverage. For example, according to Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR.org), 'When Al Gore proposed launching a progressive TV network, a Fox News executive told Advertising Age (10/13/03): "The problem with being associated as liberal is that they wouldn't be going in a direction that advertisers are really interested in.... If you go out and say that you are a liberal network, you are cutting your potential audience, and certainly your potential advertising pool, right off the bat." An internal memo from ABC Radio affiliates in 2006 revealed that powerful sponsors had a "standing order that their commercials never be placed on syndicated Air America programming" that aired on ABC affiliates. The list totaled 90 advertisers and included major corporations such as Wal-Mart, GE, Exxon Mobil, Microsoft, Bank of America, FedEx, Visa, Allstate, McDonald's, Sony and Johnson & Johnson, and government entities such as the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Navy.
According to Chomsky, U.S. commercial media encourage controversy only within a narrow range of opinion, in order to give the impression of open debate, and do not report on news that falls outside that range.
Herman and Chomsky argue that comparing the journalistic media product to the voting record of journalists is as flawed a logic as implying auto-factory workers design the cars they help produce. They concede that media owners and news makers have an agenda, but that this agenda is subordinated to corporate interests leaning to the right. It has been argued by some critics, including historian Howard Zinn and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Chris Hedges, that the corporate media routinely ignore the plight of the impoverished while painting a picture of a prosperous America.
In 2008 George W. Bush's press secretary Scott McClellan published a book in which he confessed to regularly and routinely, but unknowingly, passing on lies to the media, following the instructions of his superiors, lies that the media reported as facts. He characterized the press as, by and large, honest, and intent on telling the truth, but reported that "the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House", especially on the subject of the war in Iraq.
FAIR reported that between January and August 2014 no representatives for organized labor made an appearance on any of the high-profile Sunday morning talkshows (NBC's Meet the Press, ABC's This Week, Fox News Sunday and CBS's Face the Nation), including episodes that covered topics such as labor rights and jobs, while current or former corporate CEOs made 12 appearances over that same period.
Six corporate conglomerates (Disney, CBS Corporation, 21st Century Fox, Viacom, Time Warner, and Comcast) own the majority of mass media outlets in the United States. Such a uniformity of ownership means that stories which are critical of these corporations may often be underplayed in the media. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 enabled this handful of corporations to expand their power, and according to Howard Zinn, such mergers "enabled tighter control of information." Chris Hedges argues that corporate media control "of nearly everything we read, watch or hear" is an aspect of what political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls inverted totalitarianism.
In the United States most media are operated for profit, and are usually funded by advertising. Stories critical of advertisers or their interests may be underplayed, while stories favorable to advertisers may be given more coverage.
Main article: Infotainment
Academics such as McKay, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, and Hudson (see below) have described private U.S. media outlets as profit-driven. For the private media, profits are dependent on viewing figures, regardless of whether the viewers found the programs adequate or outstanding. The strong profit-making incentive of the American media leads them to seek a simplified format and uncontroversial position which will be adequate for the largest possible audience. The market mechanism only rewards media outlets based on the number of viewers who watch those outlets, not by how informed the viewers are, how good the analysis is, or how impressed the viewers are by that analysis.
According to some, the profit-driven quest for high numbers of viewers, rather than high quality for viewers, has resulted in a slide from serious news and analysis to entertainment, sometimes called infotainment:
"Imitating the rhythm of sports reports, exciting live coverage of major political crises and foreign wars was now available for viewers in the safety of their own homes. By the late-1980s, this combination of information and entertainment in news programmes was known as infotainment." [Barbrook, Media Freedom, (London, Pluto Press, 1995) part 14]
Kathleen Hall Jamieson claimed in her book The Interplay of Influence: News, Advertising, Politics, and the Internet that most television news stories are made to fit into one of five categories:
- Appearance versus reality
- Little guys versus big guys
- Good versus evil
- Efficiency versus inefficiency
- Unique and bizarre events versus ordinary events.
Reducing news to these five categories, and tending towards an unrealistic black/white mentality, simplifies the world into easily understood opposites. According to Jamieson, the media provides an oversimplified skeleton of information that is more easily commercialized.
Media Imperialism is a critical theory regarding the perceived effects of globalization on the world's media which is often seen as dominated by American media and culture. It is closely tied to the similar theory of cultural imperialism.
- "As multinational media conglomerates grow larger and more powerful many believe that it will become increasingly difficult for small, local media outlets to survive. A new type of imperialism will thus occur, making many nations subsidiary to the media products of some of the most powerful countries or companies."
Significant writers and thinkers in this area include Ben Bagdikian, Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman and Robert McChesney.
See also: Liberal bias in academia
Some critics of the media say liberal (or left wing) bias exists within a wide variety of media channels, especially within the mainstream media, including network news shows of CBS, ABC, and NBC, cable channels CNN, MSNBC and the former Current TV, as well as major newspapers, news-wires, and radio outlets, especially CBS News, Newsweek, and The New York Times. These arguments intensified when it was revealed that the Democratic Party received a total donation of $1,020,816, given by 1,160 employees of the three major broadcast television networks (NBC, CBS, ABC), while the Republican Party received only $142,863 via 193 donations from employees of these same organizations. Both of these figures represent donations made in 2008.
A study cited frequently by those who make claims of liberal media bias in American journalism is The Media Elite, a 1986 book co-authored by political scientists Robert Lichter, Stanley Rothman, and Linda Lichter. They surveyed journalists at national media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the broadcast networks. The survey found that the large majority of journalists were Democratic voters whose attitudes were well to the left of the general public on a variety of topics, including issues such as abortion, affirmative action, social services, and gay rights. The authors compared journalists' attitudes to their coverage of issues such as the safety of nuclear power, school busing to promote racial integration, and the energy crisis of the 1970s and concluded firstly that journalists' coverage of controversial issues reflected their own attitudes and education, and secondly that the predominance of political liberals in newsrooms pushed news coverage in a liberal direction. The authors suggested this tilt as a mostly unconscious process of like-minded individuals projecting their shared assumptions onto their interpretations of reality, a variation of confirmation bias.
Jim A. Kuypers of Dartmouth College investigated the issue of media bias in the 2002 book Press Bias and Politics. In this study of 116 mainstream U.S. papers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle, Kuypers stated that the mainstream press in America tends to favor liberal viewpoints. They argued that reporters who they thought were expressing moderate or conservative points of view were often labeled as holding a minority point of view. Kuypers said he found liberal bias in the reporting of a variety of issues including race, welfare reform, environmental protection, and gun control. According to the Media Research Center, and David Brady of the Hoover Institute, conservative individuals and groups are more often labeled as such, than liberal individuals and groups.
A 2005 study by political scientists Tim Groseclose of UCLA and Jeff Milyo of the University of Missouri at Columbia attempted to quantify bias among news outlets using statistical models, and found a liberal bias. The authors wrote that "all of the news outlets we examine[d], except Fox News's Special Report and the Washington Times, received scores to the left of the average member of Congress." The study concluded that news pages of The Wall Street Journal were more liberal than The New York Times, and the news reporting of PBS was to the right of most mainstream media. The report also stated that the news media showed a fair degree of centrism, since all but one of the outlets studied were, from an ideological point of view, between the average Democrat and average Republican in Congress. In a blog post, Mark Liberman, professor of computer science and the director of Linguistic Data Consortium at the University of Pennsylvania, critiqued the statistical model used in this study. The model used by Groseclose and Milyo assumed that conservative politicians do not care about the ideological position of think tanks they cite, while liberal politicians do. Liberman characterized the unsupported assumption as preposterous and argued that it led to implausible conclusions.
A 2014 Gallup poll found that a plurality of Americans believe the media is biased to favor liberal politics. According to the poll, 44% of Americans feel that news media are "too liberal" (70% of self-identified conservatives, 35% of self-identified moderates, and 15% of self-identified liberals), while 19% believe them to be "too conservative" (12% of self-identified conservatives, 18% of self-identified moderates, and 33% of self-identified liberals), and 34% "just about right" (49% of self-identified liberals, 44% of self-identified moderates, and 16% of self-identified conservatives).
A 2008 joint study by the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University and the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that viewers believe a liberal media bias can be found in television news on networks such as CNN. These findings concerning a perception of liberal bias in television news—particularly at CNN—were also reported by other sources. The study was met with criticism from media outlets and academics, including the Wall Street Journal, and progressive media watchdog Media Matters. Criticism from Media Matters included:
- Different mediums were studied for different lengths of time. For example, CBS News was studied for 12 years while the Wall Street Journal was studied for four months.
- Lack of context in quoting sources (sources quoted were automatically assumed to be supporting the article).
- Lack of balance in sources: liberal sources such as the NAACP did not have a conservative counterpart that could add balance.
- Flawed assignment of political positions of sources: the RAND corporation was considered "liberal" while the American Civil Liberties Union was considered "conservative".
Several authors have written books on liberal bias in the media, including
- Steve Levy—Bias in the Media: How the Media Switches Against Me After I Switched Parties.
- Tim Groseclose—Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind, 2011.
- Ben Shapiro—Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV, 2011.
- John Ziegler—writer, director, and producer of the documentary film Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected and Palin was Targeted, 2009.
- Brian C. Anderson—South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias, 2005.
- John Stossel—Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media, 2004, gives Stossel's views on liberal bias in the established media.
- Bob Kohn—Journalistic Fraud: How The New York Times Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted, 2003, a criticism of The New York Times.
- Ann Coulter—Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, 2002, a critique on widespread liberal bias directed at American television and print news.
- Jim A. Kuypers wrote Partisan Journalism: A History of Media Bias in the United States (2014) and Press Bias and Politics: How the Media Frame Controversial Issues (2002).
- Bernard Goldberg
- S. Robert Lichter, Stanley Rothman and Linda Lichter—The Media Elite, 1986, in which journalists' political views and voting records were compared with those of the general public.
Certain media outlets such as NewsMax, WorldNetDaily, and Fox News are said by critics to promote a conservative or right-wing agenda.
Rupert Murdoch, the owner and executive co-chairman of 21st Century Fox (the parent of Fox News), self-identifies as a "libertarian". Roy Greenslade of The Guardian, and others, claim that Murdoch has exerted a strong influence over the media he owns, including Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and The Sun.
According to former Fox News producer Charlie Reina, unlike the AP, CBS, or ABC, Fox News's editorial policy is set from the top down in the form of a daily memo: "[F]requently, Reina says, it also contains hints, suggestions and directives on how to slant the day's news—invariably, he said in 2003, in a way that was consistent with the politics and desires of the Bush administration." Fox News responded by denouncing Reina as a "disgruntled employee" with "an ax to grind."
According to Andrew Sullivan, "One alleged news network fed its audience a diet of lies, while contributing financially to the party that benefited from those lies."
Progressive media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has argued that accusations of liberal media bias are part of a conservative strategy, noting an article in the August 20, 1992 Washington Post, in which Republican party chair Rich Bond compared journalists to referees in a sporting match. "If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is 'work the refs.' Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack next time." A 1998 study from FAIR found that journalists are "mostly centrist in their political orientation"; 30% considered themselves to the left on social issues compared with 9% on the right, while 11% considered themselves to the left on economic issues compared with 19% on the right. The report argued that since journalists considered themselves to be centrists, "perhaps this is why an earlier survey found that they tended to vote for Bill Clinton in large numbers." FAIR uses this study to support the claim that media bias is propagated down from the management, and that individual journalists are relatively neutral in their work.
A report "Examining the 'Liberal Media' Claim: Journalists Views on Politics, Economic Policy and Media Coverage" by FAIR's David Croteau, from 1998, calls into question the assumption that journalists' views are to the left of center in America. The findings were that journalists were "mostly centrist in their political orientation" and more conservative than the general public on economic issues (with a minority being more progressive than the general public on social issues).
Kenneth Tomlinson, while chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, commissioned a $10,000 government study into Bill Moyers' PBS program, NOW. The results of the study indicated that there was no particular bias on PBS. Tomlinson chose to reject the results of the study, subsequently reducing time and funding for NOW with Bill Moyers, which many including Tomlinson regarded as a "left-wing" program, and then expanded a show hosted by Fox News correspondent Tucker Carlson. Some board members stated that his actions were politically motivated. Himself a frequent target of claims of bias (in this case, conservative bias), Tomlinson resigned from the CPB board on November 4, 2005. Regarding the claims of a left-wing bias, Moyers asserted in a Broadcasting & Cable interview that "If reporting on what's happening to ordinary people thrown overboard by circumstances beyond their control and betrayed by Washington officials is liberalism, I stand convicted."
Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns broadcast stations affiliated with the major television networks, has been known for requiring its stations to run reports and editorials that promote conservative viewpoints. Its rapid growth through station group acquisitions—especially during the lead-up to the 2016 presidential elections—had provided an increasingly large platform for its views.
Several authors have written books on conservative bias in the media, including:
- "The conservatives in the newspapers, television, talk radio, and the Republican party are lying about liberal bias and repeating the same lies long enough that they've taken on a patina of truth. Further, the perception of such a bias has cowed many media outlets into presenting more conservative opinions to counterbalance a bias, which does not, in fact, exist."
- Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols wrote Our Media, Not Theirs: The Democratic Struggle Against Corporate Media (2002).
- Jim Hightower in There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos (1997; ISBN 0-06-092949-9) uses humor to deflate claims of liberal bias, and gives examples of how media support corporate interests.
- Michael Parenti wrote Inventing Reality: the Politics of News Media (1993).
See also: Representation of African Americans in media
Political activist and one-time presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson said in 1985 that the news media portray black people as "less intelligent than we are."The IQ Controversy, the Media and Public Policy, a book published by Stanley Rothman and Mark Snyderman, claimed to document bias in media coverage of scientific findings regarding race and intelligence. Snyderman and Rothman stated that media reports often either erroneously reported that most experts believe that the genetic contribution to IQ is absolute or that most experts believe that genetics plays no role at all.
According to Michelle Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow, in 1986, many stories of the crack crisis broke out in the media. In these stories, African Americans were featured as "crack whores." The deaths of NBA player Len Bias and NFL player Don Rogers due to cocaine overdose only added to the media frenzy. Alexander claims in her book: "Between October 1988 and October 1989, the Washington Post alone ran 1,565 stories about the 'drug scourge.'"
One example of this double standard is the comparison of the deaths of Michael Brown and Dillon Taylor. On August 9, 2014, news broke out that Brown, a young, unarmed African American man, was shot and killed by a white policeman. This story spread throughout news media, explaining that the incident had to do with race. Only two days later, Taylor, another young, unarmed man, was shot and killed by a policeman. This story, however, did not get as highly publicized as Brown's. However unlike Brown's case, Taylor was white and Hispanic, while the police officer is black.
Research has shown that African Americans are over-represented in news reports on crime and that within those stories they are more likely to be shown as the perpetrators of the crime than as the persons reacting to or suffering from it. This perception that African Americans are over-represented in crime reporting persists even though crime statistics indicate that the percentage of African Americans who are convicted of crimes, and the percentage of African Americans who are victims of crimes, are both larger than the percentages for other racial and ethnic groups.
One of the most striking examples of racial bias was the portrayal of African Americans in the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. The media presented the riots as being an African American problem, deeming African Americans solely responsible for the riots. However, according to reports, only 36% of those arrested during the riots were African American. Some 60% of the rioters and looters were Hispanics and whites, facts that were not reported by the media.
Conversely, multiple commentators and newspaper articles have cited examples of the national media under-reporting interracial hate crimes when they involve white victims as compared to when they involve African Americans victims. Jon Ham, a vice president of the conservative John Locke Foundation, wrote that "local officials and editors often claim that mentioning the black-on-white nature of the event might inflame passion, but they never have those same qualms when it's white-on-black."
According to David Niven, of Ohio State University, research shows that American media show bias on only two issues: race and gender equality.
Coverage of electoral politics
Main article: Political handicapping
In the 19th century, many American newspapers made no pretense to lack of bias, openly advocating one or another political party. Big cities would often have competing newspapers supporting various political parties. To some extent this was mitigated by a separation between news and editorial. News reporting was expected to be relatively neutral or at least factual, whereas editorial was openly the opinion of the publisher. Editorials might also be accompanied by an editorial cartoon, which would frequently lampoon the publisher's opponents.
In an editorial for The American Conservative, Pat Buchanan wrote that reporting by "the liberal media establishment" on the Watergate scandal "played a central role in bringing down a president." Richard Nixon later complained, "I gave them a sword and they ran it right through me." Nixon's Vice-President Spiro Agnew attacked the media in a series of speeches—two of the most famous having been written by White House aides William Safire and Buchanan himself—as "elitist" and "liberal." However, the media had also strongly criticized his Democratic predecessor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, for his handling of the Vietnam War, which culminated in him not seeking a second term.
In 2004, Steve Ansolabehere, Rebecca Lessem and Jim Snyder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology analyzed the political orientation of endorsements by U.S. newspapers. They found an upward trend in the average propensity to endorse a candidate, and in particular an incumbent one. There were also some changes in the average ideological slant of endorsements: while in the 1940s and in the 1950s there was a clear advantage to Republican candidates, this advantage continuously eroded in subsequent decades, to the extent that in the 1990s the authors found a slight Democratic lead in the average endorsement choice.
Riccardo Puglisi of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looks at the editorial choices of the New York Times from 1946 to 1997. He finds that the Times displays Democratic partisanship, with some watchdog aspects. This is the case, because during presidential campaigns the Times systematically gives more coverage to Democratic topics of civil rights, health care, labor and social welfare, but only when the incumbent president is a Republican. These topics are classified as Democratic ones, because Gallup polls show that on average U.S. citizens think that Democratic candidates would be better at handling problems related to them. According to Puglisi, in the post-1960 period the Times displays a more symmetric type of watchdog behavior, just because during presidential campaigns it also gives more coverage to the typically Republican issue of Defense when the incumbent President is a Democrat, and less so when the incumbent is a Republican.
John Lott and Kevin Hassett of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute studied the coverage of economic news by looking at a panel of 389 U.S. newspapers from 1991 to 2004, and at a subsample of the two ten newspapers and the Associated Press from 1985 to 2004. For each release of official data about a set of economic indicators, the authors analyze how newspapers decide to report on them, as reflected by the tone of the related headlines. The idea is to check whether newspapers display partisan bias, by giving more positive or negative coverage to the same economic figure, as a function of the political affiliation of the incumbent President. Controlling for the economic data being released, the authors find that there are between 9.6 and 14.7% fewer positive stories when the incumbent President is a Republican.
According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a liberal watchdog group, Democratic candidate John Edwards was falsely maligned and was not given coverage commensurate with his standing in presidential campaign coverage because his message questioned corporate power.
A 2000 meta-analysis of research in 59 quantitative studies of media bias in American presidential campaigns from 1948 through 1996 found that media bias tends to cancel out, leaving little or no net bias. The authors conclude "It is clear that the major source of bias charges is the individual perceptions of media consumers and, in particular, media consumers of a particularly ideological bent."
It has also been acknowledged that media outlets have often used horse-race journalism with the intent of making elections more competitive. This form of political coverage involves diverting attention away from stronger candidates and hyping so-called dark horse contenders who seem more unlikely to win when the election cycle begins. Benjamin Disraeli used the term " dark horse" to describe horse racing in 1831 in The Young Duke, writing, "a dark horse which had never been thought of and which the careless St. James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph." Political analyst Larry Sabato stated in his 2006 book Encyclopedia of American Political Parties and Elections that Disraeli's description of dark horses "now fits in neatly with the media's trend towards horse-race journalism and penchant for using sports analogies to describe presidential politics."
Often in contrast with national media, political science scholars seek to compile long-term data and research on the impact of political issues and voting in U.S. presidential elections, producing in-depth articles breaking down the issues
During the course of the 2000 presidential election, some pundits accused the mainstream media of distorting facts in an effort to help Texas Governor George W. Bush win the 2000 Presidential Election after Bush and Al Gore officially launched their campaigns in 1999. Peter Hart and Jim Naureckas, two commentators for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), called the media "serial exaggerators" and argued that several media outlets were constantly exaggerating criticism of Gore, like falsely claiming that Gore lied when he claimed he spoke in an overcrowded science class in Sarasota, Florida, and giving Bush a pass on certain issues, such as the fact that Bush wildly exaggerated how much money he signed into the annual Texas state budget to help the uninsured during his second debate with Gore in October 2000. In the April 2000 issue of Washington Monthly, columnist Robert Parry also argued that several media outlets exaggerated Gore's supposed claim that he "discovered" the Love Canal neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York during a campaign speech in Concord, New Hampshire on November 30, 1999, when he had only claimed he "found" it after it was already evacuated in 1978 because of chemical contamination.Rolling Stone columnist Eric Boehlert also argued that media outlets exaggerated criticism of Gore as early as July 22, 1999, when Gore, known for being an environmentalist, had a friend release 500 million gallons of water into a drought stricken river to help keep his boat afloat for a photo shot; media outlets, however, exaggerated the actual number of gallons that were released and claimed it was 4 billion.
Bias is a tendency to lean in a certain direction, often to the detriment of an open mind. Those who are biased tend to believe what they want to believe, refusing to take into consideration the opinions of others. To truly be biased, it means you're lacking a neutral viewpoint. Sprouting from cultural contexts, biases tend to take root within an ethnic group, social class, or religion.
Bias, prejudice, and discrimination all live under the same roof. Bias is an inclination toward one way of thinking, often based on how you were raised.
For example, in one of the most high-profile trials of the 20th century O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder, but many people will remain biased toward him and treat him like a convicted killer anyway.
Prejudice is a feeling toward a person based solely on their affiliation with a group. It often casts an unfavorable light on someone simply because they're a member of some family, church, or organization.
For example, millions of people around the world consider Tom Cruise to be a very talented actor. He's also labeled as one of Hollywood's nicest guys, purportedly treating his cast and crew with the utmost kindness and respect. However, his affiliation with Scientology prompts all kinds of negative press, causing some people to feel prejudice toward him.
Discrimination comes into play when one starts acting upon an inherent prejudice they possess.
For example, during the time of slavery, men and women held prejudices against African Americans and, in turn, discriminated them through slavery, segregation, and other heinous acts.
Examples of Bias in Behaviors
- If someone is biased toward women, they might display that bias by hiring a man over a more-qualified woman.
- If someone is biased toward a certain religion, they might show it by making rude or insensitive comments, or go as far as vandalizing religious buildings.
- If someone is biased toward same-sex couples, they might discriminate against them by refusing entrance into a club or hotel.
- If someone is biased toward a political affiliation, they might show it with name calling or refusing to believe their opponents could be right about anything.
Examples of Bias in Politics and Media
Fake news, anybody? President Trump believes the media possesses a terrible bias toward him, based on unjustifiable prejudice, which leads them to discriminate against him in unfavorable coverage. He's not the only leader to feel the media is biased toward him and in turn to feel biased toward the press.
Here are examples of current bias in politics and media:
- An example of bias toward Trump can be found in certain instances of reporting. An editorial published in The Washington Post on December 1, 2015 was titled, "Donald Trump is a bigot and a racist.”
- On January 20, 2017 a reporter from TIME falsely reported President Trump removed the bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office. That report quickly spread across countless media outlets. A little further investigation would have revealed that the bust was still there. It was just being blocked by a reporter. Trump's reply to this report was, "This is how dishonest the media is. The retraction is where?”
- A February 2017 poll from Fox News indicates that 68% of Americans think the press has been tougher on Trump than Obama. In that same month, Trump tweeted, "The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
Here are some historical examples of bias toward the media:
- Abraham Lincoln accused newspapers in border states of being biased toward the South. He ordered many of them to be shut down.
- In the years before World War II, Hitler accused newspapers of having a Marxist bias.
- In the 1980s, the South African government accused newspapers of liberal bias and ordered censorship over them, shutting one down for a time.
- During the Vietnam War, Spiro Agnew called anti-war protestors the "nattering nabobs of negativism.” He accused newspapers of being biased toward America.
- During the civil rights movement, production companies were accused of bias toward mixed-race storylines. Some southern stations refused to air shows with mixed casts such as Star Trek and I Spy.
Here are the types of bias you can find in the media:
- Advertising bias - Selecting media stories based on what will please advertisers
- For example, what if an online news outlet's biggest sponsor was a major airline? In this instance, it's possible that outlet might headline stories pertaining to incidents on other airlines and hold back stories that made that airline look bad.
- Concision bias - Reporting views that can be summed up in a few words rather than those which require lengthier explanations
- In a world where the average news reader is reported to have an eight-second attention span, it's not uncommon for news outlets to publish stories in 500 words or less, carefully selecting catchy headlines, and opting for shorter stories that can be consumed faster than lengthier, detailed pieces.
- Corporate bias - Picking articles or stories that are pleasing to the owners of the media organization or network
- For example, what if a celebrity news outlet's CEO also owned a luxury jewelery company? It wouldn't be so far-fetched to see that same outlet post articles of celebrities wearing that designer's accessories.
- Mainstream bias - Reporting the same thing everyone else is reporting, or to avoid offensive stories, so no reader or viewer turns away
- For example, CBN News (a Christian news outlet) claimed on June 30, 2017 that the mainstream media demonstrated glaring bias during LGBTQ Pride Month. The article cited five media outlets with news and information sections highlighting LGBTQ life and culture.
- Sensationalism - Reporting extraordinary events in favor of everyday events. This can make these events seem more common than they really are.
- An example of this was the media's coverage of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal. This story headlined news outlets for weeks, foregoing other stories that might've typically run on the front page.
Bias in personal and professional settings will continue to muddy the waters until everyone vows to operate with an open mind. We will continue to see bias sprout up until people choose to cast a shadow over preconceived notions planted in their minds and shine some light on thoughtful explanations from someone else.
Worst of all, the media is supposed to deliver unbiased news to its audience so they can form their own opinions. It's clear this doesn't happen today, nor has it for quite some time. A good professor will tell students to ingest daily doses of media with a discerning pair of eyes. Choose what to believe and what not do believe. But, most of all, always remain open to the opinion of someone standing on the other side of your fence.