Bias In The News Media


One thing that I’ve always found interesting is how different media outlets cover the same story. Journalists are all human and as we all have our inherent opinions and biases, every story may reflect a slightly different viewpoint (as one would expect). What’s both interesting and telling is how different media outlets present these stories. The single most prominent display of their objectivity, or lack thereof, is in how the headline is written (which is generally done by the outlet, not by the writer of the article).

Below is a perfect case in point. I noticed the difference in the headlines while doing my daily scan of the news, which usually includes a number of major news outlets such as Reuters, CNN and Fox News.

Here are the first few paragraphs of the articles from each outlet for comparison:

CNN:

Washington (CNN) – The Supreme Court handed conservative challengers a loss Monday in a key voting rights case.

In a unanimous result, the court said a state can draw legislative districts based on total population. At issue in the case was the “one person, one vote” principle dating back to the 1960s, when the court held that state legislative districts must be drawn so they are equal in population.

Fox News:

The Supreme Court has unanimously upheld a Texas law that counts everyone, not just eligible voters, in deciding how to draw electoral districts.

The justices turned back a challenge Monday that could have dramatically altered political district boundaries and disproportionately affected the nation’s growing Latino population.

The court ruled that Texas’ challenged state Senate districting map complied with the principle of “one person, one vote.” That’s the requirement that political districts be roughly equal in population.

The challengers said the districts had vastly different population counts when looking at eligible voters, in violation of the Constitution.

While the CNN article does mention “conservative” as often as possible in the article, the basic facts are presented in a similar fashion as the Fox article. Now, let’s take a look at the headlines:

CNN:

Home page headline: “Conservatives lose voting rights case”

Article page headline: “Conservative challengers lose key Supreme Court voting rights case”

cnn-headline

Fox News:

Home page headline: “Supreme Court upholds Texas population count in electoral districts”

Article page headline: “Supreme Court upholds Texas population count in electoral districts”

fox-headline

Isn’t it interesting how Fox’s headline is consistent with the information in the article but CNN’s goes out of it’s way to characterize the case as a “voting rights” case which “conservative challengers” lost? While the facts are not presented much differently, there is a clear attempt to present the context of the story as being more consequential than it is and as having a negative impact on “conservatives”.

This is where it’s important to note what the case was actually about. In short, Texas passed a law that requires voting districts to be based on their entire populations, not just the population of voters. This law was challenged as being unconstitutional (which only proves the lack of understanding of our Constitution by the challengers, but I digress). As could easily be predicted, the challengers lost, preserving the legal principle of “one-person, one-vote” which helps guarantee equal representation.

This is NOT a controversial case. Most of you reading this likely have not even heard of it (I hadn’t until I saw the headlines this morning). It is NOT a “key voting rights” case and it is certainly not a partisan case in any way. We’re not talking about any of the myriad issues on which liberals and conservatives disagree. In fact, it’s about as controversial as the Supreme Court upholding any run of the mill 14th Amendment guarantee. It was so non-controversial that SCOTUS decided the case in a unanimous opinion which, as partisan as the court has become, is more of a story than this case. Yet, according to CNN, conservatives were dealt a loss on a key voting rights issue.

In fairness, CNN doesn’t have a cool nickname like “Faux News”, bestowed upon it by legions of adoring and obviously open-minded fans but the intended impression is fairly obvious to anyone else who is open to other ideas. How a media outlet presents a story is a simple measure that can help determine how objective or biased that organization is. In short, Fox presents the story as being about the court case, whereas CNN presents it as being about conservatives. One is about the actual story, the other is about politics. It’s the all too familiar game of “make the story sound bad for people you disagree with”.

Go ahead, try it at home. Compare some news coverage, especially the headlines. You’ll find many fall into this category and you’ll even find some where the outlet demonstrates so much bias that the headline doesn’t even match the content of the article (yes, I’m talking to you MSNBC).

###

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
No. 14–940
SUE EVENWEL, ET AL., APPELLANTS v. GREG ABBOTT, GOVERNOR OF TEXAS, ET AL.
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
[April 4, 2016]

JUSTICE GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.

Texas, like all other States, draws its legislative districts on the basis of total population. Plaintiffs appellants are Texas voters; they challenge this uniform method of districting on the ground that it produces unequal districts when measured by voter-eligible population. Voter-eligible population, not total population, they urge, must be used to ensure that their votes will not be devalued in relation to citizens’ votes in other districts. We hold, based on constitutional history, this Court’s decisions, and longstanding practice, that a State may draw its legislative districts based on total population.

Read the complete opinion here.

“CNN” Image credit: hyku


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