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Media Bias: Rise and Fall

Updated April 19, 2022
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Media Bias: Rise and Fall essay

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Bias, a one-sided view heavily influenced by the emotional appeal or gain of an individual or group. In a democracy, it is important that readers are educated to make wise decisions to further the advancement and profitability of their country. However, agendas exist with politicians, businesses, and events reliant on mass support to advance their plans. Unfortunately, the news through mass media influences with bias reporting. Media bias, its presence today evolved through U.S. history to shape public opinion; it is exemplary in events such as the eighteenth century, the Civil War, the Iraqi War, and the 21st century.

Americans in the eighteenth century were hungry for information. Whether it was taverns or hotels, a newspaper was in every man’s hands. Philips Freneau, established and edited the National Gazette; an Anti-Federalist and anti-Washington newspaper funded by Thomas Jefferson (Kuypers 18). A worthy counterpart to John Fenno’s Federalist Gazette of the United States. The printed press set clear political biases, even the Founders sought to not have proceedings recorded due to distrust of the printed press.

The National Intelligencer, was chosen by Congress to record their proceedings to distill fear amongst the people of a secretive government; “the Intelligencer’s status constituted a political monopoly” (Kuypers 18). The newspaper’s policies did not allow lawmakers to edit their writings to provide an accurate depiction of the event, yet the final prints were bias. Consequently, politicians like Martin Van Buren, would collect the reporters’ notes at the end of a hearing and destroy them while providing an “official” record. Despite all attempts from Congress to provide objectivity in news, people would rely heavily on regurgitated news from brazen locals who declared themselves spokesperson for political parties.

Partisanship ran rampant in the government until the 1860s when the Government Printing Office was founded. The Mexican War, another contributor that severed partisan in journalism, followed a trend of objectivity to increase consumer base. For the first time, newspapers were covering entertainment, sports, cultural events, and crime to increase profits than polarizing politics. For instance, “By 1865, The New York Times reported a gross income of more than $380,000” (Kuyper 29). Objectivity was the new standard in journalism, then a catalytic event accelerated the transformation from partisan journalism, The Civil War.

The public craved accuracy in newspapers than opinionated pieces; “It did families little good to know how valiant each unit was; rather, they wanted to know was their son dead or alive?” (Kuyper 35). A fact driven press strictly reported war news of casualties, battlefield results, troop movements, or new commanders of the Union and Confederate armies. So, the accuracy of information from newspapers was utilized by both fronts; The New York Tribune, leaked the location of the Union’s Gen. William Sherman’s forces, and Gen. William J. Hardee of the Confederation, a reader of the Tribune, used the information to attack the Union forces.

The telegraph, a wire service delivery system, proved to be an adversary for “straight news.” Writers were charged by the telephone lines, so they provided only facts when delivering war news via telegraph to avoid high costs; “The impact of the war and the influence of the wire services transformed journalistic styles and introduced a powerful emphasis on fact” (Kuyper 38). Lincoln’s assassination increased the telegraph’s influence as a tool for delivering news; the news of Lincoln’s assassination was shared in less than 12 hours from Boston to San Francisco. An ongoing development in technology from the late eighteenth to 21st century, led to an overwhelming and instantaneous exposure of information. Today’s news, objective or partisan, can be found on radio, television, and the internet.

Media bias, in the eighteenth century, even with the rise of objectivity in The Civil War is prominent in the 21st Century. The Iraqi War, an international conflict, proved to be exemplary in bias views from different foreign nations who interpret the actions of countries involved as terrorism or patriotism. “…collective bias is pro-business-government-establishment—most evident when any administration wants to spend billions on weapons, wage a war, and deny the existence of civilian casualties” (Schroth 2002). In 2003, a battle was fought in Samarra, Iraq in which The New York Times and Al Jazeera, an Iraqi satellite network, wrote an article based on the same underlying facts but radically different.

The New York Times Article

American commanders vowed Monday that the killing of as many as 54 insurgents in this central Iraqi town would serve as a lesson to those fighting the United States, but Iraqis disputed the death toll and said anger against America would only rise. (Gentzkow 281)

Al Jazeera

The US military has vowed to continue aggressive tactics after saying it killed 54 Iraqis following an ambush, but commanders admitted they had no proof to back up their claims. The only corpses at Samarra’s hospital were those of civilians, including two elderly Iranian visitors and a child. (Gentzkow 281)

Bias was prominent in the Iraqi war, and it influenced public opinion. The Coalition Provisional Authority, a transitional government established in 2003-2004 by the U.S reported several bias accounts of their “progress” in Iraq. “Al-Jazeera fanned embers of dissidence throughout the Arab street by showing the world an unvarnished view of the American war in Iraq” (Alvarez 35). The CPA was justifying their actions in Iraq, yet the Arab media analyzed their statements and reported on their “false” accounts

Substantial evidence from Iraqi civilians on their poor quality of life would be reported by Arab media. Iraq’s streets was filled with garbage, no civil services for the citizens, and failing economy, yet the CPA claimed a “vibrant civil society.” The CPA’s effort to report on their successful establishment of a “thriving economy emerging out from three decades of isolation” was an attempt to leave Iraq on a good note with the public (Alvarez 36). The choice to slant information in their official statements was made to distort the views on their progress.

For example, one report said that “Over the past four months, more than $200 million has been obligated toward more than 200 emergency projects in nine different districts.” However, this report only states the sum dedicated to the project, and skillfully avoids mentioning any progress. The CPA’s, consistent bias reporting did not fare well with the American people. On May 2004, a Gallup polled 44 percent Americans believed that it was a mistake to have sent military forces into Iraq from 22 percent on May 2003.

In today’s news, comparable to The Iraqi War, the accuracy of events is omitted by choice of words or information is suppressed to influence public opinion. Social media platforms, Google and Facebook have been on the forefront of several accusations from politicians that there are exclusively supporting “leftist” publications over the “right.” “The president and other conservatives have repeatedly complained that they believe Facebook and Google (owned by corporate parent Alphabet) bias the way they show news to users by dampening down conservative voices or outlets” (Edwards 2018). Several claims have surfaced prompting antitrust investigations on the platforms; U.S President Donald Trump, claimed that Google did not highlight news in their headlines about his State of the Union speech like they did previously with President Barack Obama.

Works Cited

  1. Media bias and Reputation, Matthew Gentzkow; Jesse M. Shapiro. In: Journal of Political Economy. 114(2):280-316; the University of Chicago Press, 2006. Language: English, Database: JSTOR Journals.
  2. Edwards, Jim. ‘The White House Is Considering an Antitrust Investigation into ‘Online Platform Bias’ at Google and Facebook.’ Business Insider, 22 Sept. 2018, www.businessinsider.com/white-house-executive-order-investigate-google-facebook-antitrust-2018-9. Accessed 27 Sept. 2018.
  3. Schroth, Raymond. ‘Rooting Out the Media ‘Bias.’’ National Catholic Reporter 38.32 (2002): 14. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Aug. 2008.
  4. Swift, Art. “Six in 10 in US See Partisan Bias in News Media.” Gallup News Service, Apr. 2017, p. 2. Points of View Reference Center, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=pwh&AN=122757028&site=pov-live. Accessed 27 Sept. 2018.
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