Media Bias & Criticism: Definition, Types & Examples

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  • 0:01 Media Bias and Criticism
  • 1:33 Omission and Selection
  • 3:40 Story Selection and Placement
  • 5:14 Labeling and Spin
  • 7:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

Media bias occurs when a media outlet reports a news story in a partial or prejudiced manner. There are many different types of media bias. This lesson takes a look at the most common types of media bias.

Media Bias and Criticism

Have you ever listened to a news story and thought it sounded one-sided? Or have you thought the news didn't seem to report the whole story or the most important aspect of a story?

I thought this recently when watching news coverage about some puppies stuck in a storm drain. The story focused on how firefighters worked for hours to successfully rescue the puppies. But the puppies in the drain came from a nearby animal shelter. The news story never mentioned how they escaped from the shelter or why they ended up in the drain! Were the puppies improperly supervised or neglected?

Let's start by looking at media criticism. Media criticism is the act of closely examining and judging the media. When we examine the media and various media stories, we often find instances of media bias. Media bias is the perception that the media is reporting the news in a partial or prejudiced manner. Media bias occurs when the media seems to push a specific viewpoint, rather than reporting the news objectively. Keep in mind that media bias also occurs when the media seems to ignore an important aspect of the story. This is the case in the news story about the puppies.

There are several different types of media bias. Let's take a look at a few of the most common.

Omission and Selection

The story about the puppies is an example of bias by omission. Bias by omission means the media leaves out one side of a story, or one aspect of a story. In our example, perhaps the shelter is underfunded and therefore understaffed. Maybe the reporter didn't want to criticize the city or the shelter workers. Or, maybe the reporter didn't want to open an investigation regarding the city budget.

Bias by omission is often associated with political news stories. Sometimes the media reports a story from a liberal political viewpoint, neglecting to include facts that support a conservative point of view. Or perhaps the media reports a story from a conservative political viewpoint, without including facts that support a liberal point of view.

This type of media bias is often used to describe entire newspapers or networks. For example, FOX News has been heavily criticized for having a conservative bias, meaning the network reports stories from a largely conservative point of view without including other political viewpoints. CNN, on the other hand, has been accused of having a liberal bias. A common nickname was once the 'Clinton News Network.'

This is similar to bias by selection of sources. Bias by selection of sources means a media outlet leaves out sources that support an opposing point of view. For example, the media might quote conservative sources without including a proportional number of liberal sources.

In our story about the puppies, a reporter might say, 'Experts believe the animals are poorly supervised,' thus blaming the situation on the workers. Another point of view might include information that the shelter is understaffed due to a lack of funding, therefore blaming the situation on a larger city problem.

Story Selection and Placement

Now let's take a look at bias by story selection. This is a pattern of reporting news stories that coincide with a specific agenda. This type of bias occurs when a media outlet regularly reports stories that support only one political point of view.

For example, a newspaper might print a story or study released by a liberal group while passing on similar stories and studies released by conservative groups. Or, a television station might cover an allegation of corruption against a liberal political candidate while neglecting to cover a similar allegation against a conservative candidate.

This is similar to bias by placement. Bias by placement occurs when a news outlet prominently places news stories that coincide with a specific agenda while 'burying' those that represent an opposing point of view. Unlike bias by story selection, the news outlet reports on differing political viewpoints. However, one viewpoint is highlighted, with opposing views receiving less time or print space.

In our story about the puppies, a newspaper might run a front page story about the shelter workers sleeping on the job. The same newspaper might place a small blurb toward the back of the paper about how only three shelter workers are working around the clock to cover the load of what should be twenty people.

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