Media bias takes a number of forms. The job of reporters and editors is to present an objective and balanced story or report, but few do-resulting in bias or slanted stories. With careful attention, you can train yourself to spot the most common types of bias. Here are brief descriptions of some to help you recognize biased reports:
Spin: This occurs when a report or story provides only one view or interpretation of a story and omits all others. The reporter presents only one side, wanting and expecting you to accept his or her view by excluding other perspectives. To determine if it's spin, see if the overall thrust promotes a liberal or conservative agenda to the exclusion of the other.
Editorializing: This happens when a reporter injects personal opinion into his or her reporting. Reporters should objectively report the news and leave personal opinions to the opinion pages or newscast opinion sections. Today's reporters often blur those lines, presenting personal opinion as fact.
Story Selection: Many media outlets present a pattern of emphasizing news reports that support one side of an issue over the other. For example, most media outlets give extensive coverage to abortion-rights marches and protests while ignoring pro-life marches. Similarly, most outlets give illegal immigrants sympathetic coverage while failing to cover immigrant crime and the high cost to taxpayers for providing housing, food, health care and education to immigrants.
Story and Important Information Placement: It's common for newspapers and TV news reports to give prominent placement to events that support their worldview and/or agenda and to downplay items that don't support those views. This also happens within the stories themselves, where a preferred viewpoint is given prominent placement and other views are buried deep within the story or not included at all.
Selection of Sources: Reporters should include a balanced, objective mix of sources to inform readers and viewers. Biased reporters instead use biased sources, often failing to identify them as such. To use a recent U.S. example, several women who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of decades-old sexual misbehavior were never identified by most media outlets as liberal activists intent on preserving abortion rights. An unbiased reporter would've noted this relevant background in repeating their claims. A variation of this is to label some sources as liberal or conservative, but to fail to identify others, leading readers and viewers to assume they are neutral and objective-when their views are far from it.
Omission: This involves covering one side or view and leaving out other pertinent views or information. It's common to see this in individual articles as well as in overall coverage of a topic over time. Common U.S. examples are the positive media coverage given to socialist political candidates advocating "free" college and health care, while omitting any serious discussion of the enormous costs and how to pay for them, and obscuring the religious motivation behind the many jihadist terrorist attacks.
- Scott Ashley