While between 65 and 85 percent of the
public reports that they believe that the news media slant the news in one
direction or another, the nature and impact of bias is actually quite
complicated. On the one hand, news coverage can be politically
biased, that is, specific media outlets could favor one political agenda
over another. A popular claim, usually from the political right, is that
the media are liberally biased.
Former CBS News reporter Bernard Goldberg,
who claims that he is in dependent, argues in his best- selling book,
Bias, that most reporters are liberal and therefore slant the news (even
unknowingly) to favor liberal positions on issues. In fact, President Bush
famously carried a copy of Goldberg’s book when it first appeared on the
market! Media critic, and self- professed liberal, Eric Alterman’s What
Liberal Media? is a response of sorts to Goldberg’s book as it debunks
some of the claims Goldberg makes and offers an argument that the media
are mostly conservatively biased (especially when it comes to the
ideological persuasions of radio hosts and television political pundits).
Of course, political/ideological bias is but
one way that the media can slant coverage. News and entertainment
programming can be corporately biased. Corporate bias is news coverage that
favors large corporations such as advertisers and media conglomerates. For
example, if bad news befell General Electric (which owns NBC) or Disney
(which owns ABC) and NBC failed to report on GE’s troubles or ABC put a
positive spin on Disney’s problems, we could label their coverage as
corporately biased. By the same token, if a prominent newspaper advertiser
laid off workers, was indicted, or had a bad fiscal quarter that the
newspaper either failed to cover or covered in a way that made the
advertiser look good, we could once again conclude that the coverage
was corporately biased.
Another kind of bias is concerned with the
actual value of media programming itself. Commercial bias is bias that is
designed to titillate readers, listeners, or viewers even if the
information is not all that useful. For instance, a television news programs
focus on the latest scandals involving Paris Hilton might encourage people
to watch even though a story on which technology jobs are growing at the
fastest rate might be more useful to news consumers.
Commercial bias is often called
“infotainment,” a slightly derogatory term for news coverage that is more
flash than substance.
Which kind of bias do you think is the most dangerous? Why?
2: Which kind of bias do you see the most when you are watching,
reading, or surfing for information? Does the most prominent bias vary by
whether you are consuming news or entertainment information?