Editing Out the Bias in a News Report


Taking the initiative to edit a New York Times report about a Palestinian rock attack on Jewish civilians in Jerusalem, Kevin Williamson provides a good sampling of the way in which people who want objectively to know what is going on generally have to mentally correct the mainstream news:

The man was identified in local news reports as Alexander Levlovich, 64. His death was reported as the police and Palestinian youths clashed [ED: Is it the case that the police and the Palestinian youths “clashed,” or is it the case that the police tried to stop violent crimes from being committed? Do the police “clash” with bank-robbers or muggers?] for a second day at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, amid tensions [Who is tense about this? Are Jews experiencing “tension” over being allowed to move about freely for the purposes of having dinner?] over increased visits by Jews for Rosh Hashana. The two-day holiday began at sundown on Sunday.

In story after story, year after year, mainstream journalists use such writing to assign blame where there isn’t, or may not be, any and to excuse those who are culpable, because doing so reinforces the way they want people to see the world.  In a truly objective enterprise, at least one layer of editors of diverse points of view, themselves, would make corrections and ask such questions as those that Williamson suggests.  Instead, it’s up to the reader.

It would be a useful writing exercise for students (even just in a general, learning-how-to-live courses) to write events from multiple biases to get a sense of how it works, like so:

Last night, an elderly man collapsed onto the sidewalk downtown.  Authorities say the injury marked the twentieth incident during a week that has seen a dramatic increase in tensions across multiple neighborhoods.  In this case, the man encountered a youth with a baseball bat.  Witnesses familiar with the youth say he has been unable to find work and in frustration has been swinging the bat on the sidewalk at night.  After a brief confrontation police officers were able to recover the elderly man’s wallet.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    “Clashed”, I remember the first time I heard “clashed” used in a news story. It was a report of the Crown Point riot where blacks “clashed” with Jews. I recall it because I wondered who had found a neutral term to describe it.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    I was reminded of another “news tid bit” on the radio yesterday. “Refugees are massing on the border of Hungary AND THEY ARE NOT BEING PROVIDED ANY INFORMATION” Exactly what “information” is required to be provided? How about “This is our country, you can’t come in”. I think that message was getting through. Perhaps Eastern Europeans recall the Siege of Vienna when 300,000 Muslims, on their way to Rome, laid siege to Vienna. Those of Polish ancestry might like to recall that 20,000 Polish Calvary dispersed the 300,000 man Muslim army, killing about half of them.

  • Mike678

    News is now propaganda. The good thing is that most experienced adults see the bias and, as you say, mentally correct. The challenge is the under 30 crowd. Without experience and having been fed the victim culture message for years, there is little to make them aware of the bias so that they can critically think and self-correct.

    • Rhett Hardwick

      “News is now propaganda.” I am wondering if it was ever otherwise? Certainly Hearst managed the news in the late 19th century, I just finished a book on Operation Torch and the Campaign in North Africa. Reporters frequently agree that the “war effort” would be harmed if certain stories were published. Once you learn to bend, it becomes easier to bow.

      • Mike678

        Keeping the public morale up when fighting a war of survival on two fronts is probably in the public interest. I understand your point, but I find the “bend/bow” metaphor more an excuse for reporters than a rationale.

        Some news outlets today try to provide balance, but if one compares the information one can find on the internet with what the local stations care to share (and how), the bias becomes very evident. Investigative reporting today often follows the following path: 1) Have a bias/agenda. 2) Cherry-pick sources to support said bias/agenda. 3) Print.

        We can do better–and should demand it. I have written to the stations many times. How many others have?

        • Rhett Hardwick

          I agree that WWII presented a number of “national security”issues. Unfortunately those issues are subjective depending on your definition of “national security”. And, once you have learned to bend?

          I get most of my news form the Internet. When I listen to “national news” I frequently note bias by omission. If challenged I am sure they would respond with “we have limited time, we can’t get everything in”.

          • Mike678

            can’t say I agree with ‘subjective’ nature of the national security threat facing the U.S. in WWII, especially given the effort. from what perspective are you arguing?

          • Rhett Hardwick

            I am suggesting that concealing news which was a threat to national security got legs in WWII, not unreasonably. The idea being thus established, it became subjective as to what exactly was dangerous to national security.. Having made the decision that news could be concealed for reasons of national security, it is only a small leap to conclude it could be concealed for reasons of “national comfort”. Some,of course, was simply good taste. Who had heard of Gen. Eisenhower’s, or Gen. Patton’s, “nieces” before their deaths. Or, Jack Kennedy’s “pool parties” at the White House. I understand that most news sources knew, but chose not to report, the Clinton/Lewinsky affair.