When it comes to media bias, many of my peers scoff at the idea that the political media is somehow coloring their opinions of the most contentious political issues today. Most of us want to believe we are coming to the most logical conclusions when it comes to the formation of our opinions. However, those of us deeply concerned about media bias feel the problem is so obvious and impactful that we aren’t sure how anyone can deny its reality anymore.
While the problem exists in the headlines on a daily basis, it was no more apparent than this past week as two of the nation’s most contentious protests — The 46th Annual March for Life and the third annual Women’s March — took to the streets of Washington, D.C. Many mainstream media outlets on the right and left are guilty of portraying the version of events that fit a predictable ideological narrative, but since several mainstream media outlets are decidedly left-leaning, liberal political sentiments often pop up much more often on social media timelines as well as in TV and print news. CNN, MSNBC, the Huffington Post, the Atlantic and The New York Times often all face criticism by conservatives for coming across as left-leaning news outlets. They proved these criticisms accurate with their coverage of these marches.
While I initially thought analyzing headlines from all of these sources would be a beneficial undertaking, I quickly realized delving into the full breadth of media bias would take a much more in-depth analysis than I am capable of providing in this space. So instead, I chose to analyze just one of these sources, The New York Times, to see how their coverage of the two political protests from this past week varied in both quality and quantity. I chose The New York Times over the others due to the prevalence with which I feel my peers tend cite its credibility and due to the amount I consume articles from The New York Times over other sources as well. I find that compared to very openly biased sources on the right and left — like Fox News and the Huffington Post, respectively — The New York Times is substantially more balanced in general, though I was disappointed with their coverage of these two marches this past week.
The New York Times coverage of the March for Life featured three news stories on the day of the march itself but had no articles in the days preceding. The first search result on their website was titled, “Thousands March in Washington at Annual Anti-Abortion Rally.” I was immediately incredulous that an article reporting on a march that has existed for 46 years and this year collected nearly 100,000 participants neglected to even call the march by its name. Rather, it referred to it by the politically charged characterization of being “Anti-Abortion.” By doing so, the headline already painted a negative picture in the minds of the reader. Not inconsequentially, the organizers of the March for Life portray their own message as positive. They don’t claim to be marching against abortion but rather marching for life. While this may seem like mere semantics, anyone well-versed in persuasive writing tactics understands positive versus negative persuasive language has a very strong effect on a reader both consciously and subconsciously.
Additionally, by the second paragraph, the article had shifted into a long tangent surrounding the government shutdown and President Donald Trump. It continued with a macabre tone as it delved into the difference in the climate of Washington this year versus the last due to the shutdown. It finally circled back to the march itself by the last paragraph, still without any substantive coverage of the details of what people were marching for or the history of the event itself, ending on a note about failed Republican attempts at anti-abortion legislation under Trump.
The other two articles also both featured headlines about Trump instead of talking about the march more substantively. While this may not appear on its face to be the boldest form of media bias, the reporters at The New York Times neglected to report on any of the pro-life perspectives provided at the march or even to detail the sheer mass of pro-life supporters from all walks of life who were in attendance. Instead, they continually turned the discussion back to Trump’s presidency with only occasional blips of reporting about the march itself.
The New York Times coverage of the third annual Women’s March varied substantially from its coverage of the March For Life. There were five total articles posted on the day of the march itself and another six articles were posted about the march in the preceding days. While the title of the first search result from the day, “Smaller Crowd Turns Out For Third Annual Women’s March Events,” did not initially inspire optimism, the article did boast the accomplishment of actually calling the march by its name. It also discussed the march with substance. Instead of depicting Washington as “a capital full of shuttered federal agencies” as the article about the March for Life did before delving into veiled criticism of President Trump, it began to discuss the positive aspects of this year’s march despite the low turnout, noting how “throngs of marchers” arrived with their “spirits visibly lifted.” The article went on to tout the march as a “celebration” of all that had been accomplished in women’s rights in the previous year — utilizing the type of positive language that was notably absent throughout the piece written about the March for Life. It did then go onto to discuss the controversy around alleged anti-Semitic comments made by two of the organizers of the march, however, noting how this fractured the movement as a whole and contributed to the decreased turnout. While this was most definitely an example of balanced reporting, it by no means excuses The New York Times of the disproportionate level of coverage given to the Women’s March versus the March for Life.
Compared to other sources covering these marches, The New York Times’ articles may seem more balanced as a whole. Yet they still dropped the ball when it came to the quality and quantity of their coverage of these events. If longstanding and respected publications such as The New York Times want to revive their reputation of objective credibility, they need to resist the temptation to cling to politically charged headlines and even to play to the ideological biases of their readers.
We as consumers of media therefore invariably have a similar responsibility to this as well. We need to expect and support balanced reporting from our favorite news publications, even if they are covering events we don’t approve of. If we don’t, media firms will continue to be incentivized to cater to readers biases for the sake of profit. We as consumers need to hold them to a higher standard in hopes that the next time there are two such stark examples as last week’s marches, there won’t be such a noticeable ideological slant in any direction.
Abbie Berringer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org