6 Media Bias

Elizabeth Morrissette, Grace McKeon, Alison Louie, Amy Luther, and Alexis Fagen

Media bias could be defined as the unjust favoritism and reporting of a certain ideas or standpoint. In the news, social media, and entertainment, such as movies or television, we see media bias through the information these forms of media choose to pay attention to or report (“How to Detect Bias in News Media”, 2012). We could use the example of the difference between FOX news and CNN because these two news broadcasters have very different audiences, they tend to be biased to what the report and how they report it due to democratic or republican viewpoints.

Bias, in general, is the prejudice or preconceived notion against a person, group or thing. Bias leads to stereotyping which we can see on the way certain things are reported in the news. As an example, during Hurricane Katrina, there were two sets of photos taken of two people wading through water with bags of food. The people, one white and one black, were reported about but the way they were reported about was different. For the black man, he was reported “looting” a grocery store, while the white person was reported “finding food for survival”.  The report showed media bias because they made the black man seem like he was doing something wrong, while the white person was just “finding things in order to survive” (Guarino, 2015).

Commercial media is affected by bias because a corporation can influence what kind of entertainment is being produced. When there is an investment involved or money at stake, companies tend to want to protect their investment by not touching on topics that could start a controversy (Pavlik, 2018). In order to be able to understand what biased news is, we must be media literate. To be media literate, we need to adopt the idea that news isn’t completely transparent in the stories they choose to report. Having the knowledge that we can’t believe everything we read or see on the news will allow us as a society to become a more educated audience (Campbell, 2005).

Bias in the News

The news, whether we like it or not, is bias. Some news is bias towards Republicans while other news outlets are biased towards Democrats. It’s important to understand this when watching or reading the news to be media literate. This can be tricky because journalists may believe that their reporting is written with “fairness and balance” but most times there is an underlying bias based around what news provider the story is being written for (Pavlik and McIntosh, 61). With events happening so rapidly, journalist write quickly and sometimes point fingers without trying to. This is called Agenda-Setting which is defined by Shirley Biagi as, how reporters neglect to tell people what to think, but do tell them what and who to talk about (Biagi, 268).

The pressure to put out articles quickly, often times, can affect the story as well. How an event is portrayed, without all the facts and viewpoints, can allow the scene to be laid out in a way that frames it differently than it may have happened (Biagi, 269). However, by simply watching or reading only one portrayal of an event people will often blindly believe it is true, without see or reading other stories that may shine a different light on the subject (Vivian, 4). Media Impact  defines this as Magic Bullet Theory or the assertion that media messages directly and measurably affect people’s behavior (Biagi, 269). The stress of tight time deadlines also affects the number of variations of a story. Journalist push to get stories out creates a lack of deeper consideration to news stories. This is called Consensus Journalism or the tendency among journalists covering the same topic to report similar articles instead of differing interpretations of the event (Biagi, 268).

To see past media bias in the news it’s important to be media literate. Looking past any possible framing, or bias viewpoints and getting all the facts to create your own interpretation of a news story. It doesn’t hurt to read both sides of the story before blindly following what someone is saying, taking into consideration who they might be biased towards.

Stereotypes in the Media

Bias is not only in the news, but other entertainment media outlets such as TV and movies. Beginning during childhood, our perception of the world starts to form. Our own opinions and views are created as we learn to think for ourselves. The process of this “thinking for ourselves” is called socialization. One key agent of socialization is the mass media. Mass media portrays ideas and images that at such a young age, are very influential. However, the influence that the media has on us is not always positive. Specifically, the entertainment media, plays a big role in spreading stereotypes so much that they become normal to us (Pavlik and McIntosh, 55).

The stereotypes in entertainment media may be either gender stereotypes or cultural stereotypes. Gender stereotypes reinforce the way people see each gender supposed to be like. For example, a female stereotype could be a teenage girl who likes to go shopping, or a stay at home mom who cleans the house and goes grocery shopping. Men and women are shown in different ways in commercials, TV and movies. Women are shown as domestic housewives, and men are shown as having high status jobs, and participating in more outdoor activities (Davis, 411). A very common gender stereotype for women is that they like to shop, and are not smart enough to have a high-status profession such as a lawyer or doctor. An example of this stereotype can be shown in the musical/movie, Legally Blonde. The main character is woman who is doubted by her male counterparts. She must prove herself to be intelligent enough to become a lawyer. Another example of a gender stereotype is that men like to use tools and drive cars. For example, in most tool and car commercials /advertisements, a man is shown using the product.  On the other hand, women are most always seen in commercials for cleaning supplies or products like soaps. This stems the common stereotype that women are stay at home moms and take on duties such as cleaning the house, doing the dishes, doing the laundry, etc.

Racial stereotyping is also quite common in the entertainment media. The mass media helps to reproduce racial stereotypes, and spread those ideologies (Abraham, 184). For example, in movies and TV, the minority characters are shown as their respective stereotypes. In one specific example, the media “manifests bias and prejudice in representations of African Americans” (Abraham, 184). African Americans in the media are portrayed in negative ways. In the news, African Americans are often portrayed to be linked to negative issues such as crime, drug use, and poverty (Abraham 184). Another example of racial stereotyping is Kevin Gnapoor in the popular movie, Mean Girls. His character is Indian, and happens to be a math enthusiast and member of the Mathletes. This example strongly proves how entertainment media uses stereotypes.

Types of Media Bias

Throughout media, we see many different types of bias being used. These is bias by omission, bias by selection of source, bias by story selection, bias by placement, and bias by labeling. All of these different types are used in different ways to prevent the consumer from getting all of the information.

  • Bias by omission:  Bias by omission is when the reporter leaves out one side of the argument, restricting the information that the consumer receives. This is most prevalent when dealing with political stories (Dugger) and happens by either leaving out claims from either the liberal or conservative sides. This can be seen in either one story or a continuation of stories over time (Media Bias). There are ways to avoid this type of bias, these would include reading or viewing different sources to ensure that you are getting all of the information.
  • Bias by selection of sources:  Bias by selection of sources occurs when the author includes multiple sources that only have to do with one side (Baker).  Also, this can occur when the author intentionally leaves out sources that are pertinent to the other side of the story (Dugger). This type of bias also utilizes language such as “experts believe” and “observers say” to make people believe that what they are reading is credible. Also, the use of expert opinions is seen but only from one side, creating a barrier between one side of the story and the consumers (Baker).
  • Bias by story selection: The second type of bias by selection is bias by story selection. This is seen more throughout an entire corporation, rather than through few stories. This occurs when news broadcasters only choose to include stories that support the overall belief of the corporation in their broadcasts. This means ignoring all stories that would sway people to the other side (Baker).  Normally the stories that are selected will fully support either the left-wing or right-wing way of thinking.
  • Bias by placement: Bias by placement is a big problem in today’s society. We are seeing this type of bias more and more because it is easy with all of the different ways media is presented now, either through social media or just online. This type of bias shows how important a particular story is to the reporter. Editors will choose to poorly place stories that they don’t think are as important, or that they don’t want to be as easily accessible. This placement is used to downplay their importance and make consumers think they aren’t as important (Baker).
  • Bias by labeling: Bias by labeling is a more complicated type of bias mostly used to falsely describe politicians. Many reporters will tag politicians with extreme labels on one side of an argument while saying nothing about the other side (Media Bias). These labels that are given can either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the side they are biased towards. Some reporters will falsely label people as “experts”, giving them authority that they have not earned and in turn do not deserve (Media Bias). This type of bias can also come when a reporter fails to properly label a politician, such as not labeling a conservative as a conservative (Dugger). This can be difficult to pick out because not all labeling is biased, but when stronger labels are used it is important to check different sources to see if the information is correct.

Bias in Entertainment

Bias is an opinion in favor or against a person, group, and or thing compared to another, and are presented, in such ways to favor false results that are in line with their prejudgments and political or practical commitments (Hammersley & Gomm, 1).  Media bias in the entertainment is the bias from journalists and the news within the mass media about stories and events reported and the coverage of them.

There are biases in most entertainment today, such as, the news, movies, and television. The three most common biases formed in entertainment are political, racial, and gender biases. Political bias is when part of the entertainment throws in a political comment into a movie or TV show in hopes to change or detriment the viewers political views (Murillo, 462). Racial bias is, for example, is when African Americans are portrayed in a negative way and are shown in situations that have to do with things such as crime, drug use, and poverty (Mitchell, 621). Gender biases typically have to do with females. Gender biases have to do with roles that some people play and how others view them (Martin, 665). For example, young girls are supposed to be into the color pink and like princess and dolls. Women are usually the ones seen on cleaning commercials. Women are seen as “dainty” and “fragile.” And for men, they are usually seen on the more “masculine types of media, such as things that have to do with cars, and tools.

Bias is always present, and it can be found in all outlets of media. There are so many different types of bias that are present, whether it is found in is found in the news, entertainment industry, or in the portrayal of stereotypes bias, is all around us. To be media literate it’s important to always be aware of this, and to read more than one article, allowing yourself to come up with conclusion; thinking for yourself.

Works Cited 

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Baker, Brent H. “Media Bias.” Student News Daily, 2017.

Biagi, Shirley. “Changing Messages.” Media/Impact; An Introduction to Mass Media, 10th ed., Cengage Learning, 2013, pp. 268-270.

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Davis, Shannon N. “Sex Stereotypes In Commercials Targeted Toward Children: A Content Analysis.” Sociological Spectrum, vol. 23, no. 4, 2003, pp. 407–424.

Guarino, Mark. “Misleading reports of lawlessness after Katrina worsened crisis, officials say.”  The Guardian, 16 Aug. 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/aug/16/hurricane-katrina-new-orleans-looting-violence-misleading-reports.

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Levasseur, David G. “Media Bias.” Encyclopedia of Political Communication, Lynda Lee Kaid, editor, Sage Publications, 1st edition, 2008. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/sagepolcom/media_bias/0.

Martin, Patricia Yancey, John R. Reynolds, and Shelley Keith, “Gender Bias and Feminist Consciousness among Judges and Attorneys: A Standpoint Theory Analysis,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 27, no. 3 (Spring 2002): 665-701,

Mitchell, T. L., Haw, R. M., Pfeifer, J. E., & Meissner, C. A. (2005). “Racial Bias in Mock Juror Decision-Making: A Meta-Analytic Review of Defendant Treatment.” Law and Human Behavior, 29(6), 621-637.

Murillo, M. (2002). “Political Bias in Policy Convergence: Privatization Choices in Latin America.” World Politics, 54(4), 462-493.

Pavlik, John V., and Shawn McIntosh. “Media Literacy in the Digital Age .” Converging Media: a New Introduction to Mass Communication, Oxford University Press, 2017.

Vivian, John. “Media Literacy .” The Media of Mass Communication, 8th ed., Pearson, 2017, pp. 4–5.

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Introduction to Media Studies by Elizabeth Morrissette, Grace McKeon, Alison Louie, Amy Luther, and Alexis Fagen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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