Introduction

 

One of the benefits of working out at a fitness gym is the ability to watch multiple monitors simultaneously broadcasting news from different networks as you work out. It was several years ago I noticed a perplexing phenomenon. Two news stations were reporting on the same subject but they were presenting different facts and completely opposite conclusions! I knew that both reports could not be true at the same time. If one was right, the other news station was misreporting the facts. It was then I was awakened to media bias.

 

News reporting has changed since the days of Walter Cronkite (1960’s-1970’s) when people trusted the news media for reliable information. Recent polls show that millions of Americans no longer trust the main stream news. This distrust has grown as many began to recognize that there is bias in the mainstream news reporting today. Bias in the news can be defined by what they report, how they report it, and what they choose not to report.[1]

 

This is disturbing because the news media are one of the most powerful forms of communication today. With its powerful images and persuasive reporting, the news media can persuasively communicate ideas and influence one’s thinking and perception of the world. It is my belief that this contributes significantly to the divisiveness in our country today.

 

In 1979-1980, it is estimated that 75 percent of the population in the United States tuned in to the big three mainstream networks for their sources of news; ABC, CBS, or NBC, for their news source. However, twenty-one years later, in 2001, the audience of the “big three” networks had sunk to 43 percent.[2]

 

The goal of the news media was once to report the news in an objective manner so as not to influence thinking. Today there is an apparent agenda among the news networks to influence the thinking of the culture. President Donald Trump labeled main stream news as “fake news” and even declared that “Fake news is the enemy of the people.” Today more than ever, all people must practice discernment when watching, listening, or reading the news.

 

The Call for Discernment

 

In the Bible, the term discernment (anakrinō) means to study thoroughly or to seek to learn the truth by the process of careful study. It is the ability to criticize and evaluate carefully.[3] Another Greek word (dokimazō) means to examine, to try out or test. It means to regard as worthwhile or judge as good, to regard something as genuine or worthy.[4] The ability to understand and carefully distinguish truth from error is a skill every disciple of Christ is commanded to develop.

 

Paul writes in Ephesians 5:7-10, “Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”

 

John writes in 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Discernment, the ability to study and identify truth and error, is a skill every person, especially a disciple of Christ is called to develop. Today more than ever, all people, must use the skill of discernment to identify bias in the news media.

 

Influence of the Media

 

According to a 2018 Pew Research poll, most Americans prefer to get their news from mainstream media.

 

  • (TV), 41%,
  • 37% online,
  • 8% radio,
  • 13% newspaper.[5]

 

According to a 2016 Pew Research poll, 25 million Americans watch mainstream news (NBC, CBS, ABC).[6]  Cable news reveals Fox News is at the top0 with 2.5 million viewers, followed by CNN and MSNBC. Cable news is growing quickly but the mainstream news media continues to have a powerful influence on a large segment of our population.

 

Freedom and Fairness of the Press

 

Freedom of the press is one of the key virtues of a free society. Citizens need a press that can report freely and unhindered from the government. This is one of the ways citizens can hold their government accountable. Our founding fathers understood this and made freedom of the press the First Amendment to our Constitution. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

 

We need not only a free press but also a press that is trustworthy. Bernard Goldberg states, “Freedom of the press is foundational for a free society. You cannot have a free country without a free press.  However, what isn’t said nearly enough is that you can’t have it without a fair press, either. Not in the long run anyway.”[7] The press must be free to report the news without hindrance from the government. However, the press must report the news accurately and fairly. You cannot have a free society if the press presents a skewed version of the stories. When this happens, the press attempts to control the people and the people are not really free to make their decisions on an issue, the press has actually made it for them.

 

Understanding News Media Culture

 

Studies have revealed that the vast majority of members of the press are liberal. An analysis of news reports done by researchers from UCLA and the University of Missouri concluded: “Our results show a strong liberal bias: all of the news outlets we examine, except Fox News’ Special Report and the Washington Times received scores to the left of the average member of Congress. . . . CBS Evening News and the New York Times received scores far to the left of center.”[8]

One of the best-known studies of media bias was done by professors Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman who published their work in the journal Public Opinion. Lichter and Rothman’s study of 240 editors and reporters of New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, ABC, NBC, and CBS revealed the following: [9]

 

  • 54% stated they were politically liberal and only 19% conservative.
  • 86% seldom or never attend religious services and 50% have no religious affiliation.
  • On moral issues such as adultery, only 15% felt it was wrong.
  • 90% are pro-abortion
  • Only 24% opposed gay marriage.

 

Another significant study on media bias was a 1996 survey conducted by the Freedom Forum and the Roper Center. Their survey of 139 Washington Bureau chiefs and congressional correspondents showed a decided preference for liberal candidates and causes:[10]

 

  • The journalists were asked for whom they voted in the 1992 election and 90% voted Democrat and only 7% voted Republican.
  • They were also asked, “What is your current political affiliation?” Fifty percent said they were Democrats, 4 percent were Republicans.
  • In answer to the question, “How do you characterize your political orientation?” 61 percent said they were liberal or moderately liberal, and 9 percent were conservative or moderately conservative.

 

In the world of media elites, Democrats outnumber Republicans by twelve to one

 

Is there a left-wing conspiracy? I do not believe there is a left-wing conspiracy. I believe that many reporters are trying to provide objective reports, but it is very hard for any of us to completely set aside our biases and agendas. Many reporters are surrounded by a liberal culture and view that as the “normal” American perspective. Bernard Goldberg writes, “Liberal journalists may indeed try to keep their biases in check (as they keep telling us), but— mainly because they don’t even recognize that their liberal views are liberal— they often don’t succeed.” [11]

 

Steve Cable of Probe Ministries writes, “Part of the reason for biased reporting is the view held by most people in the news media that their calling is to shape society into a better place, not just provide people with the facts. Therefore, news reports are not simply unbiased facts but rather a product created by news people to impact society.”[12]

 

Signs of Media Bias

 

Radio talk show host Kerby Anderson hosts “Point of View,” a news talk show heard on over three hundred radio stations in the United States. Anderson, a thirty-year veteran of news media lists several ways to uncover bias. First, carefully observe the language and labels. People can be influenced by the use of positive or negative words with a certain connotation. People can also be influenced by the tone that a newscaster uses when saying certain words.[13] Abortionists are called “pro-choice” but the pro-life audience is labeled as the “anti-abortion” crowd. Evangelical Christians are often called “fundamentalists” the same label given to while radical Muslims. Since the same term is used, the general public has a negative view of Evangelical Christians and the Church even though a radical Muslim has very different beliefs from an Evangelical Christian.

 

A second tool used by journalists is inclusion and exclusion. Reporters will include favored stories that fit their narrative and exclude unfavorable stories. The press will highlight stories that favor their cause and ignore those that do not fit their narrative. Favorable stories receive extensive coverage while another receives little coverage.[14]

 

Goldberg writes, “Bias in the media isn’t just about what they cover; it’s also about what they don’t cover. Sherlock Holmes once solved a particularly thorny crime using as his key piece of evidence the dog that didn’t bark. It’s the same with the news media. What they don’t make noise about also tells us a lot about their preconceived notions and their biases.”[15]

 

A third practice is placement. Front page or highlighted stories are perceived as more important. Reporters place stories important to them on the front while stories they do not wish to gain attention are placed later in the section or newscast and have a brief mention.[16]

 

A fourth method is the interview. Reporters may interview only people they agree with. If they interview a person from the other side, they will repeatedly ask questions until they get a clip they feel they can use or they may select a person not well qualified.[17]

 

A fifth practice is cherry picking. This is a technique of selectively emphasizing the facts that support the journalist’s point of view while either discounting or leaving out facts that run counter to that point of view.[18]

 

A sixth technique is distorting the facts. The journalist misrepresents the information and/or presents faulty conclusions as established fact.[19] A seventh practice is the use of photos and captions. Pictures can enhance a person’s image or negatively downgrade a person’s public persona. Publications will choose pleasant photos of people they favor and unflattering photos of people they disagree with. On television, the choice of which visual images to display is extremely important. The captions newspapers run below photos are also potential sources of bias. A photo can make someone look good, bad, noble, sleazy, etc. Ask yourself the following questions: What impression does this photo imply about this person? Could a more objective photo have been used?

 

A final technique is quotes out of context. A reporter may take a partial quote from a speech or answer to question and use it out of context. For this reason, it is important to read the full speech or look at the context in which an answer was given.

 

Practicing Discernment

 

How can one discern truth in the media? This is a challenging task since we often do not have access to all the information we need. However, here are some helpful suggestions. We must first acknowledge there is bias in the news media. Therefore, if a story does not sound reasonable, we should investigate further.

 

Second, check to see if any of the techniques for biased reporting were employed. We cannot “leave our brains at the door” when watching or reading the news. We should have our mental radar active, making sure we are not being misled.

 

Third, checking the source of the story is critical. What news source is the report coming from? The major news networks tend to be slanted toward the left while Fox News and talk radio tend to slant toward the conservative position. Websites will often have a particular leaning, so it is wise to know this when reading a particular site. If you read a story and see it nowhere else, you should question it.

 

Fourth, practice the art of cross examination. Proverbs 18:17 states, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” It is wise to look at two or more sources with different views. A wise person should look at all the facts from different perspectives before drawing conclusions. Sometimes a news network or publication will leave out key facts to a story that another network or publication will include.

 

Fifth, look at the context. In other words, examine the full story or speech. Do not rely solely on the clips the media presents. Often when people are quoted, we see only a few seconds or read parts of the speech. Sometimes reporters will only take a piece of the speech, interview, or story that promote their views or agenda. The phrase may be taken out of context. A certain conclusion or verdict may seem right, until you examine the full story and may discover there was more to the story than the brief article or news clip that was presented. Therefore, it is wise to read the entire speech, discussion, or the full comprehensive report. This often requires that we go to other sources to get the full account.

 

Sixth, wait and see what develops. Sometimes the truth does not come out immediately but as the story develops, the truth may come out.

 

Finally, here are some good questions to ask as you view the news. Ask yourself the following questions:

·      Are the conclusions reasonable? In other words, do they match the facts?
·      What are the sources and are there multiple sources?
·      Does it consider all the evidence?
·      What kind of evidence is being presented?
·      Are there various perspectives or just one view?
·      When watching or reading interviews, determine whether there were experts on
        both sides or only one side?
·      Is it consistent with the Bible?

 

 

Conclusion

 

How will we eliminate bias in the media? How can we hold the press accountable? Can we return to the days when we can trust the media?  I believe the answer is yes to all three. This will require that all people practice discernment when it comes to news media. People must discern media bias, know how to identify the techniques, and recognize reliable sources. News networks that are presenting biased and distorted news must be rejected and no longer relied upon. Eventually as ratings fall, the news networks will need to reform and report with integrity or become irrelevant. This is how we can restore confidence in our new networks. In order for this to occur, we must all practice discernment.

 

 

© 2020 Evidence and Answers.

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[1] Bernard Goldberg, Arrogance: Rescuing America From the Media Elite (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2003), 16.

[2] Bernard Goldberg, Ed Morrissey. Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News (Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2002), Kindle Locations 2724-2727, Kindle Edition.

[3] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[4] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[5] A.W. Geiger, “Key Findings About the Online News Landscape in America, Pew Research Center, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/09/11/key-findings-about-the-online-news-landscape-in-america/

[6] Pew Research Center, “State of the News Media 2016,”  http://www.journalism.org/2016/06/15/network-news-fact-sheet/

 [7] Goldberg, p. 19, Kindle Edition.

[8] Tim Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo, “A Measure of Media Bias,”  www.sscnet.ucla.edu/polisci/faculty/groseclose/Media.Bias.8.htm.

[9] Kerby Anderson, Christian Ethics in Plain Language (Nashville, TN.: Thomas Nelson Publihers, 2005), 195-199.

[10] Bernard Goldberg, Ed Morrissey, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News (Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2002), Kindle Locations 1799-1801, Kindle Edition.

[11] Goldberg, p. 8, Kindle Edition.

[12] Steve Cable, “Seeing through Media Bias,” Probe.org.  https://www.probe.org/seeing-through-news-media-bias-exposing-deception-and-proclaiming-truth-in-a-age-of-misinformation/

[13] Anderson, 197.

[14] Anderson, 197.

[15] Goldberg, p. 14, Kindle Edition.

[16] Anderson, 197.

[17] Anderson 197.

 [18] Steve Cable, “Seeing Through News Media Bias: Exposing Deception and Proclaiming Truth in an Age of Misinformation,” Accessed 6/22/2020, https://probe.org/seeing-through-news-media-bias-exposing-deception-and-proclaiming-truth-in-a-age-of-misinformation/

[19] Cable, https://probe.org/seeing-through-news-media-bias-exposing-deception-and-proclaiming-truth-in-a-age-of-misinformation/

 

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