Journalists often dismiss claims of liberal media bias from conservatives as sour grapes or just plain partisan whining. Most journalists, in fact, think of themselves as impartial and balanced in their coverage of the news. So here’s an object lesson in why people think mainstream media are biased.
In today’s Boston Globe, we have an article looking at some lawsuits filed in New Hampshire against a new voter identification law. Right from the start, in the very lede, we see the journalist’s point of view on display:
The League of Women Voters of New Hampshire and three New Hampshire voters are suing to block a new state law that toughens voter registration requirements, part of a nationwide pushback against restrictions that advocates say are aimed at discouraging students, minorities, and other Democratic-leaning voters from going to the polls. [Emphasis added]
Notice that the description and characterization of the law is entirely from the point of view of those who oppose it from the Democrat side. Of course, proponents of the law wouldn’t say their motives were aimed at discouraging Democrat voters. So why do they support it?
Well, in the second paragraph we have the reporter’s paraphrase of their intent:
Supporters of the law, including New Hampshire’s secretary of state, say it is a necessary step to eliminate the possibility — and the perception — that the state’s voting laws are vulnerable to abuse by people who are in the state temporarily, with no intention of living there long term.
Then there’s a vague, anodyne statement from governor saying nothing about the law itself.
This is followed by more than 14 paragraphs totaling 720 words from critics of the law and others like it in other states with not a single defender of the law quoted or sourced.
Finally, at the very end of the article, right about where a reporter would throw in the very last thing they did before submitting to their editor, we have four paragraphs containing three direct quotes from elected officials who support the law. And even here, all of the quotes are recycled from articles and interviews from months ago. Did the reporter, Victoria McGrane, bother reaching out to political pundits and activists and other groups of a conservative bent for comment, like she did with the four liberals she quoted extensively above? This section reminds me of the infamous “need quote from supporter” gaffe in the New York Times in a 2005 story on Pope John Paul II.
In fact, this Boston Globe story illustrates precisely the concept of “false balance” we saw in that Times article. As Terry Mattingly wrote:
”False balance,” on the other hand, is when a reporter or news team has a very one-sided, slanted story written and then, to add balance, will call one person on the other side for one paragraph of protest to the revealed truths contained in the news report.
This is why people think there’s a bias in the media toward the liberal point of view. And yet journalists sincerely believe that they are balanced and accurate. So what is the discrepancy’s root? It’s not necessarily that we believe that talking points are being emailed from Democratic Party headquarters to journalists (well, sometimes they are), but that there is a left-leaning mindset in many reporters that comes out in how they report their stories. In this case, she knows her conclusion before it’s written, i.e. Republicans are trying to disenfranchise Democrat voters, and that’s how she pursues the story.
It’s not wrong for a journalist to have a personal political point of view, but too many journalists either don’t work hard enough at overcoming it in their reporting or, worse, they’ve decided that the reason they became journalists was to change the world and fight for what they see as right and so they use their stories to advance their political agenda.
And that, my journalist friends, is why so many people think there is a liberal media bias.