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Bias — or the gradual leaning of presenting information that suits a specific purpose, aim, or belief — exists in every media outlet. It cannot be escaped, and is as innate to any writer and institution as is breath and heartbeat.
What Kinds of Bias Exist?
Political bias. If a writer or news agency tends to lean toward one side of the political spectrum (Republican/Conservative, Democrat/Liberal) and report at their discretion on topics that exemplify their agenda and discredit the other side’s.
Information bias. Writers and agencies that report only on specific types of information and refuse to recognize the significance of other types that may have an apparent effect on the topic in question.
Economic bias. Institutions and journalists present stories that are specifically designed to appeal to certain economic groups.
Am I Biased as a Consumer of News?
Absolutely. Your bias often shapes your own perception of the articles in question, and even forces you to seek out information that confirms your feelings, whether they are accurate or misguided.
Confirmation bias, according to Psychology Today, is defined as follows:
Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it. Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. Thus, we may become prisoners of our assumptions.
All too often we are naturally guided by our tendencies and our beliefs to seek out information that will naturally “prove” for us what we already believe. Consider it a predeliction or preference. Just like you may prefer action movies, electronic music, and magazines printed on high-gloss paper, you may specifically prefer certain news agencies that publish information whose message is more suitable to your interest.
How Do I Know Who and What are Biased?
This chart, created by Vanessa Otero in 2016, claims to offer a basic visual understanding of the reliability and bias of popular news sites and blogs. What defines bias is best left up to the clarification of the reader and observer. How can you begin to examine bias and reliability?
Look at the language. Is the language inflammatory or sensational? Is language regularly derogatory toward a specific audience?
Examine the writer or institution. How often do they publish, and how often do their publications angle themselves toward a specific result? Does the writer/agency regularly attack or defend certain stances?
Research through other websites. Look up the topic of the article on other sites that you know to be of a certain bias. Does the one you originally accessed relate to it or present it in a totally different way?
Look for new angles. Does the article have any new angles to present on the topic, or does it regurgitate previously-published knowledge to confirm a previously-established idea?
See what’s missing. Is there a fundamental bit of information that is missing from the article? See what is left out or what the writer chooses to omit.
Further reading to help you understand bias in journalism can be located on Rhetoria.net, a site run and maintained by Dr. Andrew R. Cline.
Give It A Shot
Using the above-listed standards and the other information at your fingertips, find a series of articles about the same event and judge the bias as presented by the writing and the agency. Try to identify what parts of these stories specifically express bias.
Vocabulary to Remember
Bias, political bias, information bias, economic bias, confirmation bias
Questions to Consider
- How do we regularly fall victim to bias?
- How can bias be damaging to an audience and a news agency?
- How do you think we can best reduce and combat bias in news?