“Our minds are constantly being invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and false facts. One of the great needs of mankind is to be lifted above the morass of false propaganda.”
These words were spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King in a sermon titled, “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart” and his words still ring true today. Media plays a significant role in the lives of modern day Americans. Since words began to be put on paper powerful entities have always sought to stifle individualistic thinking or control the media that everyday people consumed. As a result of this today we have major divisions and false ideas being spread and believed by many to be true. Media bias has heavily affected society in the political realm. It has created an atmosphere of low information voters and a sense of fear and division in our nation.
Media bias can greatly affects our understanding of the world around us. All of this strongly depends on the political leanings of the person presenting the information to their targeted audience. Because of these strong political inclinations audiences are greatly at a disadvantage when trying to ascertain honest and truthful information about a person, event, or public policy. Their views on a certain topic are sometimes blatantly false or misinformed. An example of this can be seen when looking at the events surrounding 9/11. Reports showed that a large number of Americans held misguided beliefs about the facts surrounding the Iraq war. These beliefs differ greatly between progressives and conservatives which indicates that both of these groups each obtain their information from vastly different sources. These sources by which these groups obtain their information construct the news by pandering to their respective bases. One of the ways this is done is by suppressing or deemphasizing certain events that could potentially be perceived as being unfavorable by their target audiences. Another aspect of this bias can be seen when news organizations depict the opposing party’s candidates in a negative light. Positives about that person are hardly if ever mentioned and this creates a bias psychologically and emotionally in the viewers mind.
It has been discovered that news media organizations desperately want to build a reputation as a trustworthy provider of accurate information. If the quality of the information provided by a news organization cannot be easily seen by the consumer, they will only be more likely to trust the source if it agrees with their preconceived notions. Because of this, news organizations will have an incentive to construct news reports in such a way that it improves their reputation among their audiences and increases demand for their product.
It has been shown that news media will shape their information to conform to what their audience already believes about certain subjects and as a result have a certain political ideology that they espouse on a day to day basis. This inevitably distorts the information that a person receives from that source.
It has also been observed that when the public has access to other sources of information that contradicts what they have either read or heard previously they are less likely to trust that source because the new information has already been verified. This weakens that news organizations reputation. The information that a news organization gives its audience must be solid and trustworthy. As a result what can be immediately verified by a given audience will determine if a news organization can be trusted and therefore has a higher risk of being perceived in a negative light. However, if events cannot be easily verified and it takes a while for the outcome of events to unfold the audiences’ bias can still be easily maintained.
Political bias can be seen in the mainstream news channel Fox News which caters towards the Republican Party. Most of Fox’s viewers at the time believed that Saddam Hussein had orchestrated the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. They also believed that he had Weapons of Mass Destruction and strong links to the terrorist group Al-Qaida. The Progressives, on the other hand, had more reservations concerning these same claims. It was only later that anyone learned of what had actually occurred and who was actually at fault.
Media bias can also be observed on the progressive side as well. It has been observed and reported in 2005 that news organizations such as CBS News and the New York Times are far left of center on the political spectrum. By contrast Fox News and Washington Times are far to the right. The news outlets that have been reported to be more centrist are PBS NewsHour, CNN’s Newsnight, and ABC’s Good Morning America. The most centrist news source was found to be USA Today.
Media bias can also be the cause of ill-informed voters and audience members. A poll was conducted in 2012 by Farleigh Dickinson University stating that Fox News viewers were not as informed about the then current events of the Arab Spring. They were found to be even less informed about the events than those who reported that they rarely if ever watched cable news. Viewers and listeners of The New York Times, USA Today, and National Public Radio were shown to be more informed than other news and media outlets.
According to Pew Researcher Andy Kohut, The Republican Party is 90% white, while the Democratic Party is 60% white. Also there is a large generation gap. The majority of republicans are aged 50 and older and hold conservative values, while democrats tend to be young and hold moderate and progressive views. As a result of these realities these news organizations will more often than not cater to their respective bases.
There are also dangerous and sometimes deadly consequences to media bias. When the media reports on crime it more often than not reinforces white people’s antagonism primarily towards African-Americans. In these instances the media will often portray African-Americans as dangerous and prone to criminal activity. It also shows in regular news and entertainment that there is a white privilege that is maintained in these broadcasts while African Americans are relegated to the bottom of the social class.
It is not solely African Americans that suffer these labels but Latino Americans as well. As the media presents these images and promotes these types of unconscious messages on a daily basis the average viewer will inevitably create in their minds a racial and ethnic misunderstanding and antagonism toward these two groups. It also reinforces these negative stereotypes in the minds of these viewers.
Both Latinos and African Americans are more likely to be portrayed as lawbreakers in the news media. African Americans are seen as more violent than their white or Latino counterparts. White people are overrepresented as victims of crime and violence as well as law enforcement. In contrast African Americans are less likely to be depicted in these roles. They were rarely seen in positive positions outside of criminal news reporting. For Latinos it was found to be worse in some instances such as in Orlando where it was found that one in twenty white people who appeared on local news was a suspect of criminal activity. This is compared with one in eight blacks and one in four Latinos who were portrayed in the same light.
African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be given negative labels relating to criminal activity than white people. African Americans appear more often in handcuffs and in mugshot photos in the media. They along with Latinos are twice more likely to be given negative pretrial coverage than defendants who victimized nonwhites. When these stories are covered it is more likely than not that there is older white narrator covering the story.
It is because of this kind of media bias that fear and animosity is able to grow in the minds of white viewers. It also plays a major role in greatly influencing public policy which creates even more detrimental consequences and negative social outcomes for these groups and society as a whole. This can particularly be seen in white Americans support of the death penalty. If whites are within close proximity to a large population of African Americans they are more likely to support the policy of capital punishment. If it were not for these perceived correlations between race and violent crime, high rates of support for the death penalty would not exist. On the other hand Latinos and African Americans are more likely to advocate for police reform as they see more police misconduct within their communities.
In 1988 George H. W. Bush’s campaign advertisement survey used the term “inner city” when asking respondents whether or not to allow more prisons or support antipoverty programs. The term generated a strong reaction in the minds of conservatives so much so that they favored more prisons over spending money to create antipoverty programs. This showed that racially explicit terms were not even needed for a negative racial correlation to be made in the minds of white Americans.
This behavior can be traced back to Lee Atwater’s Southern Strategy where he explained in an interview how to relay racial messages to conservative audiences without explicitly using racially charged language. In this way anyone who wanted to accuse a candidate or newscaster of being racist by using these messages could not back up their accusations with proof because the meanings were vague enough as to mean anything the user wanted them to mean.
These messages came to be known as Dog Whistle politics where only certain people would understand what the messages were truly conveying while the rest of the population remained oblivious to its intent.
Media bias has severely affected society in the political realm. It has created an atmosphere of low information voters and a sense of fear and division in our nation. Media bias creates a political division by news organizations depicting the opposing party’s candidates in a negative light. Positives about that person are rarely if ever mentioned and this creates a bias psychologically and emotionally in the viewers mind. News media will form their information to conform to what their audience already believes about certain subjects and as a result have a certain political ideology that they espouse on a day to day basis. These biases are also displayed in a racial context throughout the media and has a profound and detrimental effect on minorities and society as a whole. If news organizations would eliminate these biases and try to practice objective and fact based journalism it would result in a more accurate perception and portrayal of the world and allow their audience to think more critically about the news that they are being given.
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Gentzkow, M., & Shapiro, J. (2006). Media bias and reputation. Journal of Political Economy, 114, 280-316.
Gonyea, D. (2012, November 5). America’s changing face presents challenges for the GOP. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2012/11/05/164197936/americas-changing-face-presents-an-opportunity-for-the-gop
Groseclose, T., & Milyo, J. (2005). A measure of media bias. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 120(4), 1191-1237.
King, M., & Carson, S. (2007). The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr advocate of the Social Gospel : September 1948 – March 1963. (Vol. 6, p. 461). Berkeley, Calif.: Univ. of California Press.
M. Entman, R., & A. Gross, K. (2008). Race to judgement: stereotyping media and criminal defendants. LAW AND CONTEMPORARY PROBLEMS, 71(93), 105-106.
Rapoza, K. (2011, November 21). Fox News Viewers Uninformed, NPR Listeners Not, Poll Suggests.
TerBeek, C. (2015). Dog whistling, the color-blind jurisprudential regime, and the constitutional politics of race. Constitutional Commentary,
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