(The Knife Media) Since the rise of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, much of the coverage of sexual misconduct has been highly sensationalized and involved allegations that haven’t followed due process or gone through the proper legal channels. In those cases, the sensationalism is more problematic because it riles society up, biasing it against the individuals accused often before an investigation has even begun. It corrodes our regard for the presumption of innocence, which is one of the founding principles of the U.S. justice system.
(The Knife Media) We’ve all experienced news that’s clearly sensationalized. It’s easy to cut through all the unnecessary drama, right? Not always. Sometimes language can incite hype without it being so evident. This was the case in the coverage of Sessions and the Mueller investigation. Most outlets covered the news in a seemingly objective and data-based manner. But upon further review, The Knife’s analysts found subtle ways the outlets distorted the news that may affect how readers perceive the story.
(The Knife Media) State-run news outlets are known for strong bias that portrays their governments favorably, and opponents negatively. That’s not a surprise given that these agencies are part of the government. Yet many times, while their articles feel biased, the slant isn’t that easy to spot — unless you know where to look for it. The writing itself tends to be more data-based than that of traditional, corporate-owned media outlets in the U.S. and other countries, which use more sensational language and blur the line between fact and opinion. Instead, state-owned media coverage often omits key data that, if included, would provide a more thorough understanding of a story. Take a look at five recent examples.
(The Knife Media) Since misinformation surfaced on social media during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, companies like Facebook and Twitter have been closely watched and criticized. After all, fabricated news stories reached readers primarily through those channels.
(The Knife Media)
“ I think the blame game is ridiculous on both sides. Republicans and Democrats … But when both sides do it, I think the American people see through it,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).(This opinion — expressed by Sen. Paul on CNN and quoted by The Hill — suggests that blame isn’t helpful to lawmakers looking for a solution to the government shutdown. But in the articles we analyzed (published on the second day of the shutdown), it stands alone as the only voice questioning the validity of blame. Instead, outlets such as Fox News, The Hill and AP focused on the so-called “blame game,” hyping it with sensational language, focusing on lawmakers faulting each other, and leaving out specifics about the issues that were still being negotiated.
(The Knife Media) As Women’s March protests continued for a second day, much of the news coverage portrayed them positively and suggested they were successful. To determine whether something is successful, one must measure it against a standard, and this is something you won’t necessarily find in the outlets we analyzed. Here are a few techniques four outlets used to portray the events in a positive way.
(The Knife Media) Here are three significant events that occurred involving the U.S. media over the last couple of days. First, Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain criticized President Trump’s treatment of the media, suggesting his criticisms threaten or undermine the country’s democracy. Then Trump announced the so-called “Fake News Awards” the GOP published for what he described as “the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media.” Finally, the media reported on both these things and either implied the senators were wrong to make their comments (in the case of Fox News), or implied the president was wrong to make his (as CNN, Los Angeles Times and The New York Times did). Here’s an example from CNN:
(The Knife Media) If you mention DACA or the issue of illegal immigration to a group of Americans, you’ll likely get some strong and oppositional responses. It’s a polarizing topic, but that doesn’t mean that news coverage needs to be, too. Rather, having more neutral and balanced reporting will give us a more complete view of the issues at play and could help us understand other people’s perspectives.
(The Knife Media) CVS recently announced it’ll begin including a watermark in ads to identify which images haven’t been digitally altered, and it’ll ask the brands it sells to do the same. The thinking behind the measure is that digitally altered images can encourage people to have an unrealistic body image, which “is a significant driver of health issues,” according to Helena Foulkes, who leads CVS’ retail business.
(The Knife Media) Media coverage can affect legal proceedings by introducing bias, often before a case has even gone to court. If the justice system is a tool to discover the truth while protecting the presumption of innocence, then ideally reporting would remain impartial.
Jens Erik Gould
Jens is editor-in-chief and co-developer of The Knife Media, a digital publication that presents news without bias and rates media outlets on their level of objectivity.