An Explanation of Media Bias
Jay Cost, staff writer for the Weekly Standard and recent book author, writes in an article posted on Monday at the Weekly Standard:
“Most journalists will swear that, despite the fact they vote Democratic, they treat both sides fairly. Indeed, it is a rare event to read a news article that directly attacks the Republican party or one that praises the Democratic party.
“But that does not mean media bias does not exist. It does – its exercise is just subtler than this. And the last two weeks have been a great example of how it operates.”
Here’s the heart of Cost’s argument (emphases in the original):
“(T)he last two weeks have given us an excellent test case of whether, and to what extent, the media is biased in this way. Just ten days ago, we received an utterly terrible jobs report, which reinforced the suspicion that the economy might once again be falling into recession. This could have substantial second-order effects on public policy, especially the deficit, and call into question the efficacy of the Obama administration's policies.
“In other words, talking about the rotten economy is bad for this president.
"So, the media – following cues from the Democratic party – has pursued an alternative storyline: Mitt Romney is rich! He worked at a firm dealing in high finance! His money is invested overseas!
“To be clear, these are legitimate storylines to pursue. Indeed, that is the typical response we hear from journalists, who argue that this is just part of the vetting process, a noble journalistic duty. Instead, the timing of these otherwise legitimate inquiries is biased. There was a bad narrative out there for the Democratic party, but it has been replaced with a bad narrative for the Republican party.
“After all, Mitt Romney has basically been running for president for five years. Why are these stories about Bain Capital cropping up now? It is not as though the “scoops” in these stories were that hard to come upon; everything is in publicly available documents filed with the federal government.
“Generally speaking, we can perceive media bias on a whole different level when we start asking ourselves, “Why is the public discourse revolving around this question at the moment? Whom does this help?” This is where we can often see the alliance between the mainstream media and the Democratic political class. Journalists do not bend facts to support their ideological allies, but they ask questions that help them.
“Sometimes, we can see the media change its questions even if the only difference is who is helped by the answer. For instance, exactly eight years ago job growth was anemic and an incumbent president was up against a fabulously wealthy Massachusetts politician. What was the media talking about then? Was it about the sources and uses of the politician’s wealth, or was it about the “jobless recovery” we were going through?”
Cost concludes the article saying, “Whatever Romney does, he cannot take the media's bait on this. Despite how effective establishment journalists are at utilizing a neutral news frame, they are not neutral. They are looking to keep this story on the front page as long as possible, and if Romney tries to respond directly to the charges, he is playing right into their -- and Obama's -- hands.”