Department of English

Fall 2005 Edition

Bias in the Media

Richard Brooksby
Expository 1010 2nd Place

We, the people, are responsible for the progress of the community and the nation. In order to help with this process, we are required to make decisions all the time that can help or hurt us. The most common of these decisions are political in nature. We have the right and privilege to elect to political office those who we think are most capable. We have the privilege to vote on the laws by which we will be governed. These decisions require information; the way in which we are informed about such critical decisions is through the news, magazines, newspapers, and other forms of journalism. These writings are not, however, the best ways of getting clear, unbiased facts on the subjects at hand. The people in the media have their own opinions, and those opinions manifest themselves in their reporting; consequently, a bias is caused that results in insufficient information. Because of the bias that exists among the media, we are forced to make important decisions based on inadequate information.

The media is the only way in which we receive our information about things that happen in the world around us, other than experiencing them first hand, but the media is not an impartial spectator.  By receiving this information, we can make informed decisions and contribute to our community; however, we do not receive the facts and nothing but the facts.  We receive what the media deems important, and we receive it how they want to present it.  The media evaluates importance and presentation, to some measure, based on their personal beliefs.  When taken as a whole, the general beliefs of journalists are one-sided.  More than six times as many journalists call themselves liberal than conservative (Noyes 6).  Due to this bias, we are not presented with an impartial view so as to make our own decisions.  We are told what to think and believe because of a lack of ideas and options presented.

The bias of journalists is prevalent in the world around us.  For example, Dan Rather is one of the better known liberal journalists.  For over twenty years he has been reporting the news with a spin.  In May of 2001, he made the statement with regard to Bill Clinton that “you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things.”  In February of 2002, he also said that “a big lie, or maybe several big lies over a lifetime, does not mean that [one is] an inherently dishonest person” (“Dan Rather’s Outrageous Liberal Bias).  In reporting the news, Dan Rather clearly shows his favoritism towards liberal figures as opposed to conservative figures.  The bias of reporters can be detrimental.

In addition to reporting, journalistic writings are not the best ways of getting clear unbiased facts on the subjects at hand.  Fortunately, there are impartial forms of getting information about some subjects.  All laws that are passed are written out, and there is a hard copy of the exact law.  One can obtain a copy of this law, read it, and come to a conclusion based on what one believes.  To find out about candidates or political parties, there are platform statements that are available about those running for office that one can also read.  These platform statements, although written to favor the candidate, are the accepted and generally most reliable way to gather information about the subject.  This is, however, a long and hard process.  These laws and platform statements are written with a lot of lawyer terminology and may be confusing to the general public.  They are often long with many loopholes.  In order to read and understand these, one would have to take much more time than most have or are willing to give.  Therefore, we, or more generally the media, pay someone else to do the research.  This person can draw their own conclusions, which can also be interpreted by the media in the way that a given reporter believes.

When we receive information from the media, we cannot always trust this information to be complete and correct.  Sometimes in the zeal of finding a great story or the pressure of meeting a deadline, journalists will publish or broadcast information that has not been confirmed and could be faulty.  An example of that is the mounting evidence that CBS had broadcast four forged memos against President Bush’s National Guard record.  Bill Kristol, publisher of the Weekly Standard, is of the opinion that CBS did not take the necessary precautions to authenticate the memos before airing the story and now is not taking the necessary steps to try to prove their validity (Baker sec. 3).  On May 13th, 2003, Dan Rather was reporting on President Bush’s new tax cuts and said, “In a CBS News/ New York Times poll…less than half of the respondents thought the Bush tax cut would actually help the economy.”  What he failed to mention was that more than twice as many people said the tax cuts would help the economy (41%) rather than hurt the economy (19%) (“Dan Rather’s Outrageous Liberal Bias).  The numbers were clearly in favor of the tax cut, but the way in which Dan Rather presented the information made it seem like the public was against it. Dan Rather decided what he wanted to say, and then he looked at the numbers and figured out a way to make them say what he wanted.  We are left with nothing less than to question all information we receive as correct and complete. The only safe way we have is to listen to all and throw away everything that we cannot completely trust.

The aspect of mistrust is not necessarily prevalent in all facets of reporting. There are many subjects that can be reported.  Some of these, such as the weather, local and national incidents, and sports, are not biased by a broadcaster’s political views but require reporting only based on hard facts.  It would be hard to report the local weather with a political spin.  The subjects that require “hard reporting” are not, however, subjects over which we need to make a decision, more than whether to bring an umbrella or not.  They are solely facts that we absorb and may remember.

Reporting that can be done with the bias of the journalist is, unfortunately, the reporting that we generally make decisions about.  This causes us to make an uninformed or badly informed decision.  In order to make a decision, one must see both sides of an argument and come to an educated choice on the matter.  By only hearing the side for which the reporter is biased, you are short information which might have changed your mind.  In the article “Not Necessarily the News,” the Fox News senior editorial vice president, John Moody, is quoted as saying to his staff in an e-mail, “The tax cut passed last night by the Senate, though less than half what Bush originally proposed, contains some important victories for the administration.  The D.C. crew will parse the bill and explain how it will fatten—marginally—your wallet” (Moody 20).  From this statement it is clear that John Moody has chosen the side that he wishes to favor, and he then reports it with his personal bias.  The listeners of the report receive a one sided view of those tax cuts and are left to decide if they agree or not based on the bias of Fox News.  Because of the bias that exists among the media, we are forced to make important decisions based on inadequate information.

The media is the way in which we receive our information about the happenings in the world; however, because of the bias of the media, the media is not an impartial spectator.  The media can not always be trusted to give us complete and correct information.  As we have seen through the many examples on both sides of the spectrum, journalistic writings are not the best ways of getting clear unbiased facts on the subjects at hand.  Although the bias of the media is not prevalent in all aspects of reporting, the reporting that can be done with the bias of the journalist is the reporting that we generally make decisions about.  This causes the problem of forcing us to choose between two options with defective information.


Works Cited:

Baker, Brent. “Hume: CBS’s ‘Memos Look Almost Certainly Like Forgiveness’” Cyber Alert. 13 Sep. 2004. Media Research Center. 28 Sep. 2004 <http://www.mediaresearch.org/printer/cyberalerts/2004/cyb20040913pf.asp>.

“Dan Rather’s Outrageous Liberal Bias.” Media Research Center. 28 Sep. 2004 <http://www.mediaresearch.org/projects/rather20th/welcome.asp>.

Moody, John. “Not Necessarily the News.” Harper’s Magazine Sep. 2004: 20-21.

Noyes, Rich. “The Liberal Media: Every Poll Shows Journalists Are More Liberal than the American Public – And the Public Knows It.” 30 June 2004. Media Research Center. 28 Sep. 2004 <http://www.mediareseareh.org/specialreports/2004/pdf/ liberal_media.pdf>.