Many people think that “media bias” consists primarily of simple falsehoods and omissions, lack of balance in selecting spokespeople, lack of context, etc. All this exists, but there are even more subtle techniques, which are highly effective because they come in “under the radar” of even a relatively skeptical reader or viewer, and because they are constantly repeated.
Such things as diction, passive or active voice, order of presentation, etc. combine with the more obvious techniques to produce ‘news’ stories with a powerful propaganda effect. Given the amount of psychological research undertaken to develop advertising that works, it’s not surprising that these methods find their way into political literature. It is somewhat disconcerting when one recognizes them in what is supposed to be ‘news’.
As in The New York Times, for example.
Honest Reporting has done a tremendous job of analyzing the NYT’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past six months. Here is their summary of this analysis:
- Balance: Despite an evenly balanced selection of stories on Israel and the Palestinians, the New York Times gave far more weight to Israeli military incidents in text location, headlines and photo selection than to Palestinian attacks. More than 60% of images sympathetic to one side or the other favored the Palestinians.
- Consistency: Israeli and Palestinian actions were not treated consistently in choice of language. Israel or the Israel Defense Forces were the subject of strongly worded, direct headlines in 18 out of 20 cases (90%). However, in the 20 cases where the Palestinians were responsible for attacks, the language was mostly passive and the group responsible was only named in eight instances (40%).
- Context and Accuracy: Inaccurate statements or important context that would give readers a fuller picture of news events was often omitted. Terms such as “militants”, “occupied territory,” and “illegal settlements” were used without providing a proper explanation.
The entire “New York Times 6 Month Study“, is fascinating reading. It puts the lie to the NYT’s pretense of objectivity and provides a classic example of how to do critical media analysis.