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Fair and Balanced

I've been suffering from migraines all week, so I need to keep today's post short and sweet. Last week, I cited studies that found that a liberal bias does exist in American mainstream media.

But was that the whole story?

No, of course not. First of all, there are other kinds of bias out there. Does anyone detect a corporate bias in the media? I do! I'll talk about that sometime soon.

And what about accuracy? A good friend brought this up this week: various outlets may be biased to the left or the right, but which ones are the most accurate in their reporting? Good question! I hope to address that sometime soon too.

But for today, since I'm hurting, I want to simply answer an argument that I came up with myself. (Now that I think about it, arguing with myself might have something to do with my migraines. Hmm.)

Jennifer of last week: There's a liberal media bias. Here's the data, here are my conclusions. Ha! (Drop the mic.)

Jennifer of this week: Yeah, but the studies you cited compared positive or negative coverage of conservatives and liberals . You're not suggesting that journalists have to balance the scale for each individual they cover, right? As in, I wrote two negative articles about Trump so now I have to write two positive articles about Trump?

Good question, Jennifer!

The answer is NO. Journalists are under no obligation to write just as many positive articles as negative ones about a given issue or person. Journalists should simply follow a story where it leads and tell the truth, setting aside their personal opinions when reporting on it. Sometimes that will lead to an unbalanced amount of coverage, either negative or positive.

Sometimes "fair" and "balanced" are not the same thing.

Example #1

When O.J. Simpson was tried for murdering his wife, Nicole Brown, coverage of Simpson, the trial and everything around it was mostly negative. And even though Simpson was eventually acquitted of that crime, most articles I have read on him, his trial and subsequent behavior have been negative.

Is that okay? Yes, that's okay. As long as a journalist shares views from both sides of an issue (such as those from defense attorneys and those from prosecutors, or those from people who believe Simpson is guilty and those who believe he is innocent), she is under no obligation to make sure that the public reads just as many nice things about Simpson as negative things.

Example #2

Many of you may have read about Florida State wide receiver Travis Rudolph who sat with an autistic boy at lunch during a team visit to a Florida middle school this week. It was a sweet story that I personally found very touching (knowing exactly what it's like to have a spectrum child who often ate lunch alone). I don't think anyone would suggest that journalists must cover this story from a negative angle, right?

No, journalists simply must follow a story where it leads, whether that's negative or positive.

So does that negate everything we talked about last week?

No. The studies I cited covered hundreds of news stories spanning many years of coverage. If that many stories covering that many politicians demonstrate a bias, then the bias is real.

But what does that mean for this election season?

Yeah, that's tricky. Because if Donald Trump continues to say controversial things, and if Hillary Clinton continues to avoid the press while the deleted e-mails pile up around her ankles, there might just not be that much positive to say about either of them. When the public overwhelmingly disapproves of both presidential candidates, it may be harder than ever to judge a given article based on its negative or positive treatment of them.

Next week -- if I'm feeling better -- I'll talk about some other ways to identify bias. In the meantime, I'm going back to bed.

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