5 Exercises to Break the Bias

I met with three businessmen yesterday and they all had the election on their mind. Their key concern was how the media manipulates the message to persuade the populus vote.

One businessman talked about Christopher Nolan’s latest Batman movie and how it seemed to send a message about our country’s problems being caused by the small business owner. The man’s concern was birthed in the fact that small buisness owners employ more people than any other company, second to the government.

So here’s the situation. If small business owners get hit with higher taxes, thousands of companies would be forced to reduce their headcount, creating the worst unemployment disaster our country has ever seen. And, the situation becomes more volital when the media informs the people that the opposite is true – Even in Batman.

So, the businessman’s follow up question was straight forward. How do we discern the truth from the media’s lies?

A good starting point is understanding the number one way bias occurs in the news.

Veteran CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg suggests that extra effort doesn’t need to be exerted to lace a story with propaganda, since the liberal messages in the news just happen as a result of the reporter’s own beliefs and life styles. He states, “The old argument that the networks and other ‘media elites’ have a liberal bias is so blatantly true that it’s hardly worth discussing anymore. No, we don’t sit around in dark corners and plan strategies on how we’re going to slant the news. We don’t have to. It comes naturally to most reporters.”[i]

Since the news is a genre within the television industry, it is constrained by the parameters established within the arts and sciences of its production values. Simplified, television “is the act of transmitting information, ideas, and attitudes from one person to another.”[ii] The person sending the message may or may not take a significant amount of time to mold or plan his or her message prior to it being sent.

Some times, like in the case of fast-breaking television news broadcasts, there is very little time to prepare the messages, let alone develop liberal angles for its presentation. The result is off the cuff news presentations as the information trickles in a little bit at a time, as was the case on September 11, 2001.

The first story on that historic day suggested that up to 50,000 people might have been killed in the World Trade Center towers. Once more detail became available to the reporters, the stories were corrected to suggest that on any one given day there are approximately 30,000 people present in the towers. Within a couple of hours the reports suggested that many individuals were evacuated, leaving about 6,000 in the towers’ remains. Days later, the number of individuals lost at ground zero dropped to around 4,000. A few weeks later, the final count of those who died in the attack on the World Trade Center was 3,016 people. This was followed by a corrected statement of 2,606 – Folowed by another corection of “nearly 3,000 people.”

Regardless of the slow stream of facts entering the newsroom, the reporter is aware of the need to fill time during a live broadcast in as professional of a way as is possible. To accomplish this the newscaster must think quickly and come up with words off the top of his or her head. Since the best way of doing this is by drawing from experience, many comments will have his or her liberal or convservative slant — Bias.

Here are some activities that can help your family become more aware of how the media impacts the news you watch.

Family Activities

1.   Videotape the News: What would happen if you videotaped the news and watched it multiple times? Do the “live” or “urgent” feelings you receive while watching the news disappear? Can you more easily separate the hype from the facts of a story? Are you able to discern “what if” statements that raise curiosity? Can you find neutral, factual words from those slanted right or left?

2.   Outline the Stories: What would happen if you created an outline, titling each news story in a memorable way? Would certain types of stories jump out at you, or would you see a pattern developing over a period of a week? Would you be able to discern the bias of the news team and its potential agenda? Can you detect if certain types of stories always follow a given pattern? Are the opening news stories alarming and do the closing ones act as a teaser for another newscast, or do they reflect good will? By having one of your kids time the length of the news stories, can they determine if it’s enough time to give factual details or only promotional hype?

3.   Determine the Program’s Format: Is the newscast done in a magazine, newsroom, or stand-up format? Is the room functional for news or designed with flashy electronics to keep your attention? Is special eye-catching lighting used during the news? What about the clothing – do the field reporter’s outfits enhance or detract from the story or surroundings? Does the reporter look better than life? Does the overall conservative visual image of the sets and reporter’s clothing help you accept a liberal bias without consideration?

4.   Create a Family Newscast: Can you get your kids involved in creating a news story to share with the family? What would happen if you created a conservative setting, dressed them in their Sunday bests, designed conservative poster boards highlighting the news story, and then let your kids share a liberal bias? Would the rest of the family catch the bias or be swayed in their judgment? What would happen if you first hyped the story by stating biased feelings as if they were facts – would everyone assume what you say is true?

5.   Establish Family Benchmarks: What types of questions to help analyze the news can your family come up with from a brainstorming session? Can you develop questions that reflect an opposite perspective from the reporter’s? What time-tested value or character trait will you use to establish a standard for comparisons of information.

Copyright © 2012 by CJ Powers

[i] Bernard Goldberg, Bias (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2002), p. 13.
[ii] Warren K. Agee and others, Introduction To Mass Communications (Harper & Row), p. 4.