Perceptions of media bias continue to rise in Americans, and those perceptions aren’t going to change anytime soon.
A 2012 Pew Research Center study reported that the number of Americans who believe political news coverage is biased rose 6 percentage points in 2012 compared to 2008. The idea that media cover news stories from a strictly neutral position is seen as a fairy tale, and the term “lamestream media” is a common phrase on the right whenever a story perceived as negative is presented.
The practice of bashing all things media related reached an extreme this week. The Affordable Healthcare Act went into effect Oct. 1, the same day the federal government shut down. Conservative blogs fired up the rhetoric, finding bias everywhere.
A story on BigJournalism.com provided some of the most amazing material. The blog argued that two stories in women’s magazines were biased toward the Affordable Healthcare Act. The writer took umbrage at the fact that a story by Cosmopolitan ran with the headline “Top Eight Ways Young Women Benefit from Obamacare.” He also was unhappy with Glamour’s “5 Things you need to know NOW about the Affordable Healthcare Act.”
The writer also described a series of stories by NBC about the Affordable Healthcare Act as “media being impressed into service for Obamacare.”
Apparently, Warner Todd Huston, who wrote the article, doesn’t understand what bias means. Bias is defined by dictionary.com as “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.”
Nothing in those stories was unfair or prejudiced. They simply were stories and pieces that were designed to inform the readers about the rollout of the new national health care program. Neither story detailed the politics of the law nor questioned whether the law was good or bad. They just provided information that the readers needed to know.
The problem with Huston’s story is that it serves as another voice that drowns out the job media are doing. When pieces that are strictly informational are accused of bias, instances of real bias become less recognizable. Real bias is alive and well in reporting, coming from both the left and the right. But news is still news and should be delivered in a straightforward manner. It’s important to inform the public about the news. A story such as Huston’s hurt the basic principles of journalism.
If everything is considered biased, then it becomes easier for the audience to forgo listening to both sides of an argument and to just view news from a point of view that is agreeable. This becomes the real problem. Lumping simple informational pieces as evidence of left-wing bias serves to make it easier to claim that all media that don’t speak with a conservative voice are biased.