An overview of how to spot bias in the media.
April 1, 2016
Did you fall for the headline? Don’t be fooled by click-bait headlines (or flip-flopping candidates, self-published authors, etc.).
We have not received a call from the White House – yet, but we have self-selected ourselves for this governing role, of course, so the headline is… misleading, right? Words matter. And this is precisely why our work matters.
Unconscious bias may be society’s worst kept secret.
We all have it – those mental shortcuts we use to make sense of the world – but rarely do we want to discuss or address it. Yet these biases – especially when used in the subtle (and not-so-subtle) media have a real impact on social action and policy worldwide. Bias is a result of the social cues and categorization we use to foster our own self-identity. But these social cues and categories – often sexist, racist, xenophobic, or discriminatory in other ways – have an impact, often unintended, on others.
The following are the predominant forms of bias we see exhibited in print and television news today. What have we missed?
Qualifier Bias: “Female scientist,” “Male nurse,” “Black president.” While these statements may be true, they highlight an underlying social bias towards what these professions ought to be. The fact that identity descriptors are used to qualify professional achievement reinforces the white-male dominant narrative.
Stereotype Bias: Mental shortcuts help us understand our world. They allow us to process the seemingly infinite amount of information we’re confronted with on a daily basis. However, relying too heavily on these comfortable stereotypes over-simplifies the reality of individual’s lives.
Does coverage of women on welfare focus on overwhelmingly on African-American women, despite the fat that the majority of welfare recipients are not black? Are lesbians portrayed as “man-hating?”
Source Bias: Where we get our information matters. We are shaped by our experiences. By relying on familiar subject matter experts, the media perpetuates only one narrative. This denies authenticity and accuracy in representation.
“It is widely believed that…’” is not an approved journalistic source.
Framing Bias: When writers’ ideology and other personal perspectives determine the nature of news. The tone, use of trigger words, and underlying inferences can subconsciously cause readers to adopt writer’s preconceived beliefs.
Similarly, language can be loaded. For example, media might use a right-wing buzzword like “racial preference” to refer to an affirmative action program. Polls show that this decision makes a huge difference in how the issue is publicly perceived. (In one poll, 70% of respondents said they favored “affirmative action” while only 46% favored “racial preference programs.”
Confirmation or Confirmatory Bias: A tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.
Omission Bias. Leaving out one side of the story.
Similarly, coverage can lack context. Coverage of so-called “reverse discrimination” usually fails to focus on any of the institutional factors which gives power to prejudice – such as larger issues of economic inequality and institutional racism.
Is rank used for the man but not the woman? Is she defined exclusively by her relationship him?
Bias story selection. Picking a story that favors one side (for example, the government in an investigation into an alleged crime), OR relegating stories to the backpage or end of a tv news segment OR only covering negative news stories.