Media Bias Indicators

The staff of Chronically Biased finds the following Media Bias Indicators adapted from Texas Media Watch to be useful for judging bias:


Embedded opinion -- doses of editorial opinion woven in with facts, cueing the reader on how he should feel about the issue.

Expert selection -- substituting issue advocates for “experts” in news stories without noting their bias.

Expert “anointing” -- creating an “expert” by attributing authority to an academic or community leader who actually has no particular knowledge of a topic.

Selective skepticism -- reporters are appropriately skeptical about some information but ignore the dubious nature of other data. The same reporters who question a government budget projection will not challenge an estimate of the homeless population provided by a service provider.

Airbrushing -- making a non-credible source credible by cleaning up a quote or failing to disclose relevant associations.

Name calling and stereotyping -- choosing words that prejudice readers against the participants in a political or policy debate.

Bias stylebook -- telegraphing bias with word selection. Supporters of legal abortion are “abortion rights” advocates but supporters of school vouchers are not “voucher rights” advocates.

Copycat Bias -- adopting loaded terms used by other news sources without examining them for bias.

Quote tilting -- using a strong quote to demonstrate one side of an argument and countering it with a weak quote from the other side. This creates the illusion of a balanced report, but does not give the reader equal information about the debate.

Orchestrated bias -- when a newspaper targets an individual, ideas or policy and uses both news pages and editorial views to campaign for their view. An outline of this practice works was demonstrated in the Houston Chronicle memo on light-rail that was inadvertently leaked to the Internet on November 20. The memo is preserved on the Houston Review website.

Unchallenged assumption -- Writing a news story from a point of view or an assumption that is not challenged in the story or analyzed for accuracy.

Projection -- Reporters sometimes use a non-specific source to give credence to an idea that may only be circulating in the press corps. Terms like “many believe” or “some fear” are most often a reflection of who the reporter is speaking with – not of public sentiment.

Overuse of unnamed sources -- Reporters sometimes gives legs to stories that have little merit by repeating an unnamed source in many news stories without making an effort to find an on-the-record source to corroborate the information.

Guilt by association and conspiracy theories -- Reporters sometimes attach guilt to individuals or organizations because of their connections to other individuals or organizations. Conservatives frequently are victim to this technique in which a link to an abortion opponent group or school voucher advocates is flatly reported as an indictment. Frequently, reporters fail to explain the connection to readers, writing only that the individual received a campaign contribution from a school voucher advocate – so he or she is suspect.

Demonizing and “sinisterizing” -- Reporters sometimes create the impression of illegality or at least impropriety through tone, word choice and sentence construction. For example, “trial attorneys openly funnel money into Democratic campaigns in order to assure the election of lawmakers who will support their agenda. Use of words like “openly” and “funnel” create the impression that it is somehow wrong for attorneys to contribute to the candidates of their choice.

Unbalanced labeling -- reporters have begun to use terms like “Christian” or “social conservative” to label some GOP activists while leaving their ideological opponents unidentified. If the religion or ideology of one individual in a story is relevant – the religion and ideology of all the protagonists in the news story are relevant.

News judgment and story choice -- The most prevalent evidence of press bias can be found in the stories reporters choose to write and the ones they ignore.

Selective Placement -- Where a newspaper decides to place a story can reflect a bias. As a reader points out, whether a newspaper places a story on Page One or in the lawn mower ads can be reflective of the importance editors want readers to assign to the story, and it may reflect their beliefs rather than newsworthiness.

Insufficient attribution -- While not a form of bias per se, it most certainly is a poor journalistic practice (verging on plagiarism) for columnists simply to rewrite the columns from another newspaper, using entire quotes and, in some cases, whole phrases, without even identifying the author of the original article. One of our editors caught Chronicle columnist Rick Casey in such a practice, forcing a "clarification" that was still an insufficient explanation.



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