Media Bias: What Is It?

In a highly divisive political world right now, we have seen the media being accused of being biased for their sensationalized stories. Some stories are based on rumors, while others are fact-based, leading to attacks against TV networks and newspapers for reporting unflattering stories about certain figures which leads to strong pushback. Thanks to social media and the rise of bloggers with slants towards a certain side, a lot of what comes from news sources are being questioned.

There are three kinds of bias related to a political story: coverage, gatekeeping, and statement. Coverage Bias, also known as visibility bias, is when the main people or main issues are more or less seen in the news, aka burying the lead. Gatekeeping Bias, also known as selection bias, are the stories presented based on ideological grounds, whether it is beneficial for a conservative-based site or a liberal-based site. Statement Bias, or presentation bias, is news slanted to attack a person or an issue being presented.

Media bias has been around since the start of press journalism, and even been subjected to legal ramification in the United States. As part of the Alien and Sedition Bias of 1798, no, “false, scandalous, or malicious writing” against the government could be published. Throughout the 19th century, many newspapers openly advocated a party or candidate, as they were subjected to bribes by political machines in big cities.

Around the start of the 20th century, during the peak of his powers, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst allowed sensationalized false stories to be published, also called yellow journalism. And during the Progressive Era, many leftist newspapers were established to oppose America’s entry in the First World War.

Later in the century, columnists who condemned McCarthyism were accused Communist sympathies; while anti-Communist writers openly slandered anyone they considered a secret Soviet supporter. In two cases of fair journalistic truth telling, both The New York Times and The Washington Post were seen as biased of the Johnson and Nixon administrations for publishing anti-Vietnam War and Watergate-related stories. This would expand to conglomerates and their TV networks because they are operated by advertising profit, and anything that affects their profits could be listed as off-limits.

Today, media bias and accusations of such to major news outlets such as CBS, NBC, and CNN are common. To conservatives, Fox News is accurate; the far-right adopts to Breitbart. The progressives support MSNBC, as well as left-leaning sites such as The Huffington Post. Despite what is seen unethical programming, major TV personalities such as Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, Van Jones, Bill O’Reilly, and Keith Olbermann are given free reign to write and say whatever is considered newsworthy. It has led to labeling networks as the “mainstream media” and the current administration consistently attacking CNN and The New York Times notably for stories that are unfavorable and slanderous to their agenda, while citing Fox News and Breitbart as sources for major, truthful news stories.

The movie Network (1976) is noted for it’s all too-real satire on TV network at that time that seem very real today. “Television is a goddamned amusement park,” remarks protagonist Howard Beale. The movie showcases major networks and corporations broadcasting shows just for the ratings. That was a criticism with Rachel Maddow’s recent “reveal” of President Trump’s 2005 tax returns, which she never revealed until the end — and found nothing that was very revealing or damning. Rating and Twitter mentions went up, but the whole show was a downer. It didn’t matter though, because she got the extra viewers and it was because we were interested in Trump’s tax returns.

Not all of the media is biased and journalists with approved ethics are considered credible. However, those that are biased and slanted do gain a huge chunk of viewers and blurs the line between fact and fiction.