Media Bias in Political and Foreign Affairs Josh Glick
Comm 393: Senior Portfolio Professor David Logan 16 April 2013
Abstract: By framing and the use of peg journalism, news media outlets have the ability to filter or present what they believe is to be newsworthy. Thus, we have no choice in the news we receive other than using every news outlet available. This type of reporting has the ability to greatly sway public opinion on political issues as well as foreign affairs. This paper discusses how the media can shape opinion, how it has in the past, and whether this is a negative or positive issue for us as Americans to have.
News coverage is informative; it presents the facts to the viewers, and relays truthful, all-inclusive accounts of events. Or does it? As society has come to rely on media and news coverage to inform us of the current news throughout the world, and here close to us, we need a certain degree of concern for how accurate our coverage is being portrayed. With all the technology gained over the years we now have so many different outlets to receive up to the minute news. Watching the news is not enough anymore. Newsfeeds lace the bottom of our screens as the news is being presented. We have more news coverage than ever, all weighing in on current topics. Facebook and twitter allow for first hand comments from political figures and celebrities to weigh in on current issues. But are we getting every side to the story? Is the media holding up its duties to deliver unbiased and complete accounts of the news as it unfolds? It has become more evident than ever before that media has an agenda all of its own. News networks are swayed in many topics that fill the news, most notably political topics that are reported to the viewing public. Networks tend to lean a particular way when it comes to Republican and Democratic topics. Therefore, they may present the news in a more appealing way to the side they lean to. For example, this last yearâ€™s political election took more scrutiny for delivering biased news coverage than ever before. Networks that are more left to center in congress would try to entice viewers to perceive issues a certain way. It goes for networks that follow a more Republican stance. This type of slanted journalism has been going on for as long as the media has been reporting. What makes this so disturbing today is the number of outlets that have a hand in this time of fragmentary reporting.
Social media is the newest form of information that is being delivered. It is appealing because you can instantly receive information and opinions as a situation is unfolding. Influential figures can connect with their followers and spread their message with no need for a press release or camera crew. Mobile devices and computers are loaded with apps and news downloads so one can constantly stay up to date with what is happening in the news. Cable networks have entire channels dedicated to news coverage and people weighing in on topics. With all this media involvement surrounding us it is easy to get lost in what the real facts and issues are. It is a reporter’s obligation to present an unbiased and impartial account of events and issues. We as readers and viewers did not have the luxury of choosing what is “newsworthy.” The news is funneled through to us and filtered out by reporters and their employer. This is the ability to report objectively, to perceive or describe something without being influenced by personal emotions or prejudices. Personal opinions, feeling, or interpretations should not influence a reporter’s duty (Patterson and Wilkins 23-24). This is rarely the case however. The news industry runs its business with profit in mind first rather than the motive for public service. Many stations receive a political backing from Democratic or Republican parties. Therefore, they alter or sway the news on political issues to change viewer’s opinions. CBS News and CNN are examples of television networks that are more democratically based news stations. Fox News as well as the Wall street Journal are more right winged stations. Both sides are known for delivering swayed news and having a political agenda. Having so many media sources giving such spotting interpretations of the news means the public must become more engaged in finding its own truth of today’s issues.
Becoming aware of how media slants viewers and the tactics they perform to gain viewers opinions is the best way to question news stories and if the observer is receiving all the facts. There are many ways media can control how a story is portrayed, delivered, and released to the public. There are so many different ways that news is released from television, Internet, newspapers and magazine articles. Each has its own tricks for reporting the news in a way it best wants a story depicted. At a protest in London, a man named Ian Tomlinson was on his way home from work, and according to police and newspaper reports, died of natural causes. Police said bottles were being thrown at them while they were attempting to resuscitate Tomlinson, yet when it hit papers the protestors were throwing bricks. Paul Lewis, a journalist who took the case, turned to Twitter and in six days was able to track down 20 witnesses. Due to Twitter and “Citizen Journalism” it was able to be concluded that the police had in fact pushed and beat Tomlinson aiding to his death (Lewis). Bias by submission and bias of omission are two of the most outrageous ways media alters the news. Both commission and omission have played historical roles in American history with political issues. Other biases include story selection, placement, embellishment, and the way a story is spun. Understanding how each is used in media is the best advantage to determining if a source is using this action for its personal agenda. Bias by commission is when reporters only present one side of the facts or are not equally relaying the information from both parties. This is accomplished by presenting the observer with an issue but only showing certain sides to the story. Reporting on a story in a way that will show viewers only what they want them to see without receiving both sides of the story. To further sway their direction, they will have an “expert” or
reliable authority of the issue further explain one side of what is happening, without offering any other opinion to the matter. People watching are more inclined to believe this authority without someone to dispute or offer another opinion to the issue. They build evidence on one side of the facts to support the side they are backing. If a news channel follows a more democratic view they may focus only on the positive attributes of a candidate or political figure, while failing to mention the negative side that may hurt this person if brought to light. Bias by commission is very common and the average viewer rarely challenges the reporter’s methods, therefore believing this is the only truth. By not equally informing people of facts from both parties, it starts to build an opinion of political issues that may not be the whole story. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was quoted in a statement to reporters in 1944 which read, “The first essential in military operations is that no information of value is given to the enemy. The first essential in newspaper work and broadcasting is wide-open publicity. It is your job and mine to try and reconcile those sometimes diverse considerations (Hammond 5).” Reporting on war coverage really first began during World War I. Reporters during this era still had to rely on the telegraph in order to send “spot news,” yet they had much more extensive network wires and cables which allowed them to bring news of war to the cinema. News reels made it possible to bring live action from the battlefield to theater audiences, yet the movie industry found more profit in providing fictional, “propagandistic” glorifications of the war. As we entered World War II, real-time live reporting became possible through the use of the radio. Reporters were even able to broadcast from cities under air attack. While
footage of the war was still being used in the cinema it always required days or weeks to process and transport to these theaters yet technology had tremendously developed their content. Even though the television had begun to emerge, the relationship between media and the battlefield remained much the same (Hammond 5). The Vietnam War was the first war that was televised continually into people’s homes. By the mid-1960s 93% of Americans had a television in their home. Television itself was the most important source of news at the time and influenced the most public opinion (Anderson). Media even back then was compromised, and influenced a nation to turn its opinions on the war being fought in Vietnam. The initial coverage of the Vietnam War was predominantly positive. Most Americans supported the brave soldiers risking their lives overseas. Coverage of the war was brought into households every night showing front line war efforts making it seem as if you were there. Although the Communists’ Tet Offensive of 1968 was a military victory for the South Vietnamese and Americans, it resulted in a media disaster. Reporters and cameramen, many of whom might not previously have gotten closer to the battlefield than Saigon’s Continental Hotel bar, suddenly found themselves in the thick of the fighting. Television images of battles in supposedly secure places and of civilian casualties turned public opinion against the war and undermined the morale not only of American civilians but also of the troops in the field, and even of the highest government officials. Daniel C. Hallin has charted the growing negativity seen in American television reporting about the war in the wake of Tet. The respected commentator Walter Cronkite insisted, after Tet, that the war was “unwinnable” and could only be ended by negotiations (Rabinowitz & Jeffords 12). His statement was soon followed by President
Lyndon Johnson’s decisions to halt the bombing of North Vietnam, to seek a negotiated settlement, and to refrain from running for reelection (Hammond 10-11). The massacre at My Lai and the media portrayal from that attack started to change the view of U.S. involvement in the war. At this time many media sources were involved in political parties that were against the U.S. role in the Vietnam War. Also, the AntiWar movement in the mid 60s was gaining in the U.S. In January 1968 the My Lai massacre unveiled the true gruesome and horrific events that take place in war. Millions of U.S. citizens watched as Vietnam villages were demolished, children were burned alive, and American soldiers were placed into body bags and shipped back home (Cook). These images were raw, emotional and showed the true terror that was happening in Vietnam. The media began showing more defeated battles by the U.S. and more negative light on the soldiers and actions taking place overseas. Viewers began to question how they saw their once heroes. Feeding on the tragedy and moral conflict that the media was perceiving, the news began to show less and less of what Northern Vietnam and the Viet Cong were doing and showed more negative views of the war (Cook). Initially showing our soldiers as brave young men fighting for our country, now the media focus was drug usage, racial issues, and soldier’s unwillingness to comply. By using bias of commission the news single handedly turned people’s opinion about the outcome of the war. It was the news reporters, not the military that predicted the failure of the Vietnam War (Sobran 50). The reporter controlled the public’s opinion and the viewing public fell right into it. All the evidence was swayed, only attributing half the information. It worked by making such a strong emotional impact on viewers that they did not consider there could be more going on. The viewer trusts the media and
unfortunately, the media used it to their advantage and ultimately changed a nation’s opinion. In the First Gulf War and the Iraq War of 2003 the lag between war and the media being able to present such material simply vanished. Real-time scenes of combat which in one case consisted of greenish, night-vision views of missile assaults on Baghdad were able to be part of a universal experience for virtually everyone who wanted to be. With such advancement in technology cameras with satellite links were able to be everywhere. Roofs of high rise Baghdad buildings scanned city blocks from the impact of cruise missiles and smart bombs, to the turrets of armored vehicles, at the points of attacking columns. Virtually everyone with access to a television receiver had the potential to be in the “front line (Rabinovitz).” The Syrian civil war began on March 15, 2011 between President Bashar Assad and his regime, and the free rebel fighters of Syria. As of late, this issue has taken the spotlight in United States press largely due to the accusations of chemical weapons containing sarin gas being used for warfare and also on innocent civilians. A report by CNN claimed that there are dozens of chemical weapon sites within Syria, and also that Assad’s regime has been mixing two chemicals in order to make a more deadly gas killing people in 1-10 minutes. While this has the potential to be a very serious issue, none of these claims have been 100% proven. President Barack Obama was quoted stating, “We have evidence that chemical weapons have been used. We don’t know when, where, or how they were used.” Even with our own president unclear as to whether there are chemical weapons being used, that has not seemed to slow down the press, and their push to get the United
States involved in this Syrian conflict. CNN also aired a video of what they referred to as Syrian citizens that the chemical weapons had been used on, but could not ensure the validity of the film (Sidner). On a special news report conducted by NBC and MSNBC Former Rep. Jane Harman stated, “I do believe moving chemical weapons will make this an international affair,” and also, “If the international community focuses I believe there is finally a chance for the end of the Assad Regime to be achieved, and for a responsible government to take its place.” (Mitchell). It seems, due to a report by ABC and BBC that they agree. They featured Syrian citizens negatively affected by Assad’s army, and interviewed a free rebel soldier who stated, “he must be killed,” referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad, and “he’s a threat to the America world.” (Marquardt). After the most recent accusations of chemical weapons use, Fox News covered the story featuring Conor Powell who was stationed in Israel, and also former United States Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton. Throughout the report the feature headline read; “Report: 25 killed in Rebel Chemical Attack in Syria.” While this was on the screen Conor Powell reported that it was in fact 15-26 people dead, and it was still uncertain as to who used the chemical if any. After debating whether or not whether it was the rebel army or government forces who used these chemical weapons, Bolton stated, “I don’t take anything the Assad regime says at face value, so when they claim the rebels used chemical weapons it’s just as likely as he reported that it was the regime that used the weapons and is blaming it on the rebels.” (Powell). Meanwhile, while it is still unclear as to who is using these chemical weapons if any, the United States has been providing the rebel armies with training and also
weapons. Israel recently conducted an air-strike attack on Assad’s regime, but just as unnamed U.S. officials have done, they decline to say whether the strikes were chemical weapons related. This situation seems very similar to that of George W. Bush and his invasion of Iraq due to “weapons of mass destruction,” which were never found. In 1987, the directive establishing the Wartime Information Security Program, otherwise known as WISP, was cancelled, leaving the United States armed services with no central guidance for press censorship. Each of the services has established guidelines based on the WISP program; however no centralized authority is in place to provide guidance for the individual service rules (Cecil and Sullivan). Although the Constitution clearly states “freedom of the press,” when it comes to modern technology, including great advancement in weaponry; the media, government, and military officials need to come to an understanding and agreement with certain limitations or restrictions for media coverage. The public deserves to know all information regarding the war their country could be fighting in, but in a manner that ensures the safety of our soldiers and the missions in which they are undergoing. Material the press obtains should also be presented in a timely manner. There have been cases where family members have been able to recognize wounded or killed soldiers because of the media’s close-up footage and photography. With such up-to-date technology it is possible to instantly receive any information on anything including wars overseas, but an understanding could be reached to present war media coverage in a better time frame and more respectful manner. Seeing that a nation’s trust in the media has such a powerful effect shows how much we believe in what we see to be true and complete. The media’s ethics are
questionable to say the least. Bias of commission may seem misleading enough, but another tactic, bias of omission, really brings home how far the media will go to protect their political agenda. Bias of Omission is when the news chooses to leave out or ignore facts. It could also be referred to as peg journalism, where the news â€œpegâ€? is the justification for the story. Using peg journalism can allow reporters more freedom or control over how stories are portrayed to the public. The news will focus on other news stories to distract the viewers from a more serious matter that may be negative for a political party. If they must report on it, the reporter may dull down the harshness of the issue or only part of the issue and then focus on reporting something positive that is related to the story, even if it is very insignificant. This tactic is effective because many viewers are not aware of the severity of the issue at hand, and if the report makes it seem as a non-issue then the viewer does not usually take it too seriously. The Benghazi case is an example of bias of omission. The Benghazi attack has been questioned, and many networks were being called into question on their reputability because of this scandal. A group of armed men killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three members of his diplomatic mission upon an attack of the United States Mission. This attack took place roughly two months before President Obamaâ€™s upcoming re-election. News coverage tried to omit this story and bring to light other issues as precedence. The affair with the CIA chief David Petraeous, or the royal family having a baby, all take light over this important issue. This is a type of omission, by simply leaving the Benghazi issue out of the news reports; viewers do not push the importance of what happened. Bias by omission is very serious because viewers are being kept from what is happening in the world, and also about things that could directly affect them. It is
very unsettling that news coverage will go as far as covering up information because of its left or right wing nature. In order to determine if this is happening, the viewing publics have to be on top of the issues even if they do not hold a lot of media outlook. Most people rely on the news to inform them on all issues foreign and domestic and so expecting them to look outwards for information is difficult to achieve. Without knowing what is really happening, we as the viewing public are left completely out in the cold. Bias of commission and omission may be the two biggest contributors to Mediasâ€™ influence on public opinion, however, its important to recognize other ways the media may try to influence a story they have to cover. Placement of a story may seem insignificant, but how often do you give articles in the back of the newspaper the same precedence as the ones in the front of the paper? This tactic is known as story selection. By placing certain stories that the magazine or newspaper company in the front of the paper and giving them a bolder font or picture, it will capture the audience. This ensures that the reader will recognize that the media deems this important and in need of your attention. By burying other articles the media does not politically support, there is a greater chance the reader will only glance or find the article of little importance. This placement is very simply but very effective. The same is done with television news. Media decided what stories will be the top stories of the night and which will only be given a minute or two of attention. Breaking news stories or top news of the night will be taken more serious and looked at as more important than the rest of the stories of the night. Unless aware of this devised scheme viewers play victim to this simply placement trick.
Reporters will also try to embellish certain stories while minimizing others to trick viewers. Giving a story plenty of airtime and bringing in other correspondents to the story will gain audience attention. This will have the viewer more compelled to stop and focus on that news story. The media can also do the opposite. If the story is only lightly touched on without a lot to attract the viewer, most likely it will not be remembered later by the audience which is exactly what the news station wants. Itâ€™s political pull goes so deep that even if they have to take the time and research to report on a story, they may still try to make it forgettable and unimportant when it could really hold a lot of standing. Similar to embellishment is spinning a story for audience reaction. Reporting with emotion goes a long way in the media world. If a reporter finishes his/her report and makes a personal reflection or delivers the report with an emotional drive throughout, viewers respond to this and will in turn feel the emotion as well. The same goes for reporting with uninterested and detachment. The viewer can sense that distance from the anchor with the report they are presenting and are not as apt to show much interest in the story either. All these maneuvers, however small they may appear, all give lasting impressions on the person tuning in to learn about what is happening in our world. Slight actions by the media have big impacts to societyâ€™s opinion. This shows that virtually nothing is done without purpose when it comes to relaying the news and events that affect our lives. The ethics we as Americans place for our media are being taken for granted and used against us. Society relies on honest and factual broadcasting. We trust the people that come into our homes every night and report the news. We read our articles with belief in what we are reading and base our knowledge on it. Media has shown that it can
make a mockery of common viewer simply by knowing we trust their reporting and use it against us. Serious events are happening every day in our world and as citizens we have the right to be informed accurately and without bias from political spectrums. Viewers need to be made aware on the influence media has over what we believe to be the whole truth, and our decision making process. It leads the questions, how may things of been different if viewers were presented all the facts? What is the media still holding or altering today? Is there a way to stop this media injustice? However unfair or deceiving Mediaâ€™s strategies may seem, historically and currently it remains that media holds the key to societyâ€™s information and opinions to our world; its influence over us has been and will continue to be what decided our future in this country. While major news outlets may have types of bias in their reporting, it is our job to seek out as much news as possible, with every opinion possible, in an attempt to gain as much knowledge on important subject matter to form a strong opinion and feeling of our own.
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