There is definitely not a person in America who hasn’t heard the term “media bias,” especially after the highly publicized issues with the press during the 2016 Presidential election. This is something that people encounter on an everyday basis when they open up Twitter or flip on the news channels on the TV. Media bias has been around since the beginning of the news industry, and even freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy. However, like all things that have to do with mankind, the media is flawed.
This bias is the selection of events and stories shown and how they are covered. This bias has a great impact on the opinions of voters and their views especially in Western Democracies where there is freedom of the press. The media is selective with its coverage of events due to their striving to push their agenda, which is the political beliefs that the writer or editor holds. A lot of times certain news stations, especially in America, have a certain partisan side that they lean towards.
In the words of Malcolm X, “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power.” (Crane 2010) Throughout the early years of commercial media it just consisted of newspapers via the printing press. The industrialization and commercialization movements have extended the scope of the news media to corners of America and the world that were previously left in the dark. With modern-day technology, nothing can hide once it is online.
The media covers everything from daily press conferences to debates, to even the past and present social media posts of candidates. Media is defined as the main means of mass communication, and bias as a prejudice in favor of or against one thing. The media through bias influences people into altering their opinions as they look towards more “informed” people, media platforms filter information reporting what they want, and what they cover. The realm of electoral politics has a wide variety of political matters accompanied by widely divergent views. D’Alessio and Allen (2000) This arises the question, what is the magnitude of the influence of systematic media bias on voters and normal people?
As the news industry is observed to be and is even subtly self-proclaimed to be liberal-leaning, D’Alessio and Allen (2000), many news platforms are guilty of gatekeeping, which means that the information they give out to the public is filtered through their own particular lens of inclination. Writers and editors handpick the stories they want to report on, and deselect the stories that they don’t want seeing the light of day. News agencies have been doing this for years and years. In White’s analysis he said, “in which the editor selected among stories provided to him by his wire service, sometimes on ideological grounds.” D’Alessio and Allen It’s nearly impossible to measure the magnitude of the influence of gatekeeping as nobody knows exactly what the news outlets are withholding as they are who the public receives their news from.
For example, regional press during Roosevelt’s run for the presidency in the 1930s was vehemently against his campaign: “some sections of the country the entire press was hostile to the Roosevelt administration. We received constant complaints from individuals in those areas who said it was impossible to get outside of the story.” Farley (1938) If the reader stopped to consider the plethora of stories that are possible to report on, and then look at all the stories that have been covered, it is understandable that not everything can be reported on. When the stories are selected to be covered by individuals with opinions, it is a given that the selections will be biased due to the “sampling” procedure. It’s hard to measure the influence of this type of bias due to the fact that nobody truly knows the stories that aren’t covered as we don’t hear about them in the news. However, it can be presumed that this bias does indeed occur. D’Alessio and Allen
Another type of bias is coverage bias. This occurs when the entirety of a population isn’t fully represented in a report. This ties in with the gatekeeping effect with the fact that not every story is reported by the media. D’Alessio and Allen Many studies have been conducted to measure coverage bias through analyzing newspaper columns, headlines, TV airtime, etc. In America, the electoral system is set up with a two-party system. It is a common belief that the media should be split 50/50 with the coverage between liberal and conservative views and any deviation from that is a bias. D’Alessio and Allen The abortion debate is one of the political issues that doesn’t follow the 50/50 divide. One side of the debate stresses economic, constitutional, and societal points whereas the other side is based on how abortion is immoral. You can see how coverage of issues like this can be skewed from the artificial 50/50 divide.
News reporters also have the opportunity to impose their opinions on events reported. These statements are active, affirmative, declarative statements, easy to identify. The media in China is a great example of this. The high ranking members of the Communist Party in this country are the people who control the news and what the public sees and hears. The news in China is riddled with propaganda and only party-aligned beliefs. Stromburg and Wu (2008) The interjecting of opinionated statements can alter the opinions of the everyday person. People look to the media as an educated source for information, and the unwary eye could not see these statements as opinionated instead as a fact. D’Alessio and Allen.
The greater the interest in politics that an individual possesses, the greater their filter for bias in the media. These informed voters have the communication skills and prior knowledge to gauge the validity of the news they hear. Ebrel, Boomgaarden, Wagner (2015) On the contrary, less politically informed fellows are just not as an alert in political climates and are more easily manipulated by the political elites as in the media and political parties. During times of political chaos, like a presidential election, where the media is filled with an obscene amount of information the audience can become overwhelmed. Zaller People also overly identify with their party and their partisan candidates.
Most ordinary citizens don’t have widespread knowledge of partisan issues, policies, current events, and laws being created and debated in Congress. Zaller (1992) Voters will often write off candidates or ideas just because they see the affiliation with the converse political party. Along with that voter phenomenon, voters will vote what is called a “straight ticket.” A straight-ticket is where a voter will only vote for the candidates of their political affiliation. Erbrel, Boomgaarden, Wagner This mentality leads to selective media exposure. This is where the voter only pays attention to the news platform that they deem to be most closely aligned with their party and ideology. For example, a very right-wing person would denounce stations such as CNN and MSNBC, as they believed they are biased towards the left, and lean towards Fox News or Breitbart. A liberal would denounce Fox News and Breitbart as biased, and not reporting the truth, and would believe every word uttered from the mouths of CNN news anchors. Erbrel, Boomgaarden, Wagner