The number of media available to the average consumer has vastly multiplied in recent years to the extent that most of us carry one around with us every day. Our smartphones, tablets and laptops can go with us wherever we go and can keep us up to date on just about everything that is going on in the world. They can also keep us in touch with our have-to-have social media – Facebook and Twitter. However, increased access to media and what they contain does not mean that we are receiving more unbiased media content. This is especially disappointing when it comes to news media.
Traditionally, our news media are supposed to give consumers a balanced, unbiased report of what happened in a particular event. Although the U.S.’s first medium for news, the newspaper, did not start out as an objective provider of news, as humanism and science took on greater significance in research and discovery, the expectation that our news sources should also be objective grew in importance. Eventually, the political parties became less important as a source of support for newspapers, and subscriptions and advertising revenue made it easier for the editorial and news staffs to independent of outside influences. In theory, the news today is balanced, unbiased and free from manipulation. Or is it?
Bias in News Media
A reporter’s job is to present an objective, balanced report to the media consumer (Baker, 1994). However, before a reporter ever puts down a single word, bias has already occurred in the story selection process. No medium has the staff or resources to cover every possible story, so someone has to make the decision as to what will be covered. This decision process introduces bias into the news coverage. When The New York Times says “All the news that’s fit to print” on its masthead, it really means all the news that our editors could fit into this edition of the paper. In addition to story selection, there are a number of ways that bias can enter into the news (Stray, 2012). The two stories analyzed below will demonstrate some of these ways, but we as interested citizens need to be much more critical of what we read, view and hear that is supposed to be unbiased news.
The news event covered by these stories is Colin Kaepernick’s, the 49ers backup quarterback, kneeling during the national anthem on Monday Night Football, September 12, 2016. As just about everyone knows, American society has been sensitized by the many shootings of unarmed minority citizens by the police. Tensions are high and not much has been done to address the issue. Kaepernick decided to kneel during the anthem as a statement against the social injustice and racial unrest caused by these shootings. Several other African American players either kneeled or raised their fits this past weekend during the anthem at various stadiums to show their solidarity with Kaepernick. As it turns out, these stories, one from USA Today and one from The New York Times, are really not so balanced nor unbiased.
USA Today Article
The USA Today article was written by Martin Rogers, and it was titled, “Colin Kaepernick fires back at Trent Dilfer over anthem protest criticism” (2016). Kaepernick had first knelt during the anthem at the last 49ers preseason game the week before the season opened. Trent Dilfer, an ESPN analyst, pointedly criticized Kaepernick and said that as a backup quarterback, his role was to stay in the background and be quiet. He said this during an on-the-air Sports Center program, which after being re-broadcast several times, reached just about every football fan in the country. The central claim of the story was that Kaepernick, who had been quiet about his behavior, finally opened up and addressed the criticism by Dilfer. The reporter also tried to establish that Kaepernick’s behavior was not tearing the team’s fabric and causing damage.
New York Times Article
The Times article was written by Michael Powell, and is titled “Colin Kaepernick Finds His Voice” (2016). The headline suggests that the main theme would be the fact that Kaepernick finally answered some, or one, of his critics, but that is not where the emphasis lies. The reporter is enamored with Kaepernick and his protest, even to the point of comparing it to the reporter’s protest in the 1970s Viet Nam war era by remaining seated during the anthem at a baseball game in Shea Stadium. The slant here is definitely in favor of Kaepernick and his behavior.
Articles: Compare and Contrast
Both articles are biased toward Colin Kaepernick, with the Times article being most favorable. Both articles showed bias in language and bias by omission. Martin Rogers (2016) used phrases like “Dilfer attacked Kaepernick”, and “several 49ers players” to indicate the idea that the team backed Kaepernick and was not being torn apart by his behavior. The use of the word attacked throws Dilfer in an immediate unfavorable light, which sets the tone of the article in Kaepernick’s favor. Michael Powell (2016) used the Times’ intellectual image and used words that easily fit into their language usage to make Kaepernick resemble a thoughtful and conscientious – not your typical football player. He also portrayed Kaepernick as a political neophyte who has found his voice and is speaking out for what he believes. Both Powell (2016) and Rogers (2016) bias by omission when they left out any players who might have disapproved of his behavior. This left the impression in both articles that the team was in full support of Kaepernick and his kneeling during the anthem.
Powell (2016) biased the Times article by his spin of the fact that Kaepernick was raised by white parents so he should know how whites would react to disrespecting the flag and the military. He also, as noted above, showed bias when he compared kneeling during the anthem to his own protest at Shea Stadium. Finally, Rogers (2016) attempts to soften the kneeling during the anthem done by Kaepernick by comparing it to the Seattle Seahawks team interlinking arms during the anthem at their game on Sunday, September 11. Apparently anything but standing with you right hand over your heart is a method of protesting, at least that appears to be what theses reporters believe.
- Baker, B. (1994). How to Identify, Expose & Correct Liberal Media Bias. Alexandria, VA: Media Research Center.
- Paul, R. and Elder, L. (2011). Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life. Pearson Publishers.
- Powell, M. (2016). Colin Kaepernick Finds His Voice. The New York Times, Sept. 13. Retrieved From: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/14/sports/football/colin-kaepernick-monday-night-national-anthem.htlm?_r=0
- Rogers, M. (2016). Colin Kaepernick fires back at Trent Dilfer over anthem protest criticism.USA Today, Sept. 13. Retrieved from: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/49ers/2016/09/13/colin-kaepernick-response-trent-dilfer-criticism-national-anthem-protest/90203914/
- Stray, J. (2012). How do you tell when the news is biased? It depends on how you see yourself.NiemanLab, June 27. Nieman Foundation at Harvard. Retrieved from:http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/how-do-you-tell-where-the-news-is-biased/