Partisan Bias and Neutrality in News Sources

Elayseah Woodard-Hinton

Hagel visits Kuwait

Jacob Pfau
February 6, 2013

” It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity “. Nowadays it often seems as though Republicans and Democrats along with Fox and MSNBC should be included in Dickens’ list of opposites. By examining partisan biases in recent articles on Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel from The Economist, The New York Times, Fox News, and The Associated Press, these sharp contrasts become all the more evident.

I’ll start with the most partisan: from Fox News and The Associated Press.

The AP article alleges to Republicans asserting that Hagel “endorses automatic cuts to the defense budget, [and] that he wants to decimate the nation’s nuclear arsenal.” However, Fox News is not as biased as I would have initially thought. The Fox article’s main bias lies not in asserting that those claims are true, but rather that the article presents the claims mentioned by the AP, presents (conservative) affirmative arguments, then jumps to suggesting we should reserve judgment without having presented the other (liberal) side. 

Similarly in the portion of the AP article, “FACT CHECK: The Stretched Case Against Chuck Hagel,” the AP presents their side of the argument, refuting conservative attacks on Hagel’s position on the U.S. nuclear arsenal, military budget cuts, and Hagel’s Chevron board position.  On the other hand the  AP article ignores Hagel’s potentially less defensible past: opposing the successful Iraq surge and his previous opposition to gay rights. Both the AP article and the Fox News article demonstrate bias, not by twisting the facts as the other side would have us believe, as much as by omitting information contrary to their point.

The Economist avoids such cherry picking of evidence in the article “Obama picks his soldiers”. The Economist dismisses some Republican criticism as “wilder comments” and “huffing and puffing,” but the article does acknowledge other points.  For instance, “in 2006 he triggered a minor storm by saying that the ‘Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people’ in Congress.”

It appears mainstream news sources retain their integrity, although some coverage bias appears in the AP and Fox News articles, neither source brought up any misleading information or falsehoods, and blatant advocacy for one side remains restricted to editorials such as the New York Times’ “A Confirmation Ordeal”. However, the fact that news publications present such bias by omission demonstrates how clearly partisan lines have divided our country and society.

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Comments

6 Responses to “Partisan Bias and Neutrality in News Sources”

  1. David Schmitt on February 7th, 2013 1:31 pm

    I believe that MSNBC is also worth evaluating; I’ve had a couple of teachers mention its bias to me

    josephrabinovitsj Reply:

    I agree, for as notorious Fox News seems to be in terms of bias on the right-hand end of the spectrum, MSNBC at times seems to be almost as bias on the other end.

    jacob.pfau@gmail.com Reply:

    Thanks for the input, maybe there will be a follow up piece around the next major election time.

  2. rgordan on February 7th, 2013 3:26 pm

    Great article! Recognizing bias can be very hard, but it’s a really valuable skill.

  3. amacfarlane on February 11th, 2013 10:39 pm

    The media is certainly home to a healthy crop of bias, whether it be political or cultural, harmful or harmless. It is just always infuriating when it angles away from our personal beliefs, and is of passing concern when it supports our convictions.

  4. Tyler Finn on February 20th, 2013 12:25 am

    This is a very interesting article Jacob. I believe that overt bias in the media is harmful to the public and political process, for many Americans accept what they hear at face value. Some people who are very close to me are heavily influenced by biased media sources and no longer think for themselves, but mindlessly repeat what they hear on TV or the radio. Just as alarming is the 24-hr news cycle that has developed, in which stories of substance are often drowned out by sensationalism. Take the recent State of the Union Address as an example. Both the ideas in the speech and those in the Republican rebuttal were reported on only by a few news outlets, while far more coverage was given to the Christopher Dorner manhunt and Marco Rubio’s “drinking problem.” When a local crime story and sip of water get more coverage than a worthwhile debate over the policies that will shape the future of this nation, the press should be ashamed.