Posts tagged with ‘bias’

Cable on Climate Science

Via the Union of Concerned Scientists:

CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC are the most widely watched cable news networks in the U.S. Their coverage of climate change is an influential source of information for the public and policy makers alike.

To gauge how accurately these networks inform their audiences about climate change, UCS analyzed the networks’ climate science coverage in 2013 and found that each network treated climate science very differently.

Fox News was the least accurate; 72 percent of its 2013 climate science-related segments contained misleading statements. CNN was in the middle, with about a third of segments featuring misleading statements. MSNBC was the most accurate, with only eight percent of segments containing misleading statements.

Read the overview here, or jump to the study here (PDF).

Images: Science or Spin?: Assessing the Accuracy of Cable News Coverage of Climate Science, via Union of Concerned Scientists

Welcome to the Filter Bubble: Government Shutdown Edition

The government shutdown came and went this week as some Republicans finally convinced other Republicans that threatening a global economic cataclysm isn’t the best thing to pursue.

Good on them, we suppose, but what we saw during this latest generated crisis was the filter bubble in full effect.

While the concept specifically refers to how algorithms increasingly inform what information we receive and are exposed to, it can be broadened to include the active choices we make with our media diets, who we choose to friend or follow on our social networks and how willing we are to accept intellectual dissonance when reading, watching or listening to views that run contrary to our own.

The danger of the bubble, of course, is that once inside we only hear information we want to hear. Sympathetic to the shutdown and unworried about the consequences of defaulting on the debt? Fox and friends reframed it for you. This wasn’t a shutdown, it was more of a pleasant “slimdown.”

Observations about the echo chamber the shutdown’s leaders were operating within came from both left and right. Let’s start left with Salon’s Alex Pareene:

What’s funny about all of this, though, is how much it just reinforces the insane bubble that all of these people — conservative members of Congress, conservative media people and professional conservative activists — live their entire lives in. They are all talking to each other, and only to each other. The fact that the conservative position is deeply unpopular, the fact that conservative strategy is incoherent and self-defeating, none of that is reaching them. John Boehner and Ross Douthat know what’s going on. Rep. Tim Huelskamp only knows what he reads at RedState and what he hears from people who only read RedState.

Over on the right was National Review’s Robert Costa:

[S]o many of these [conservative] members now live in the conservative world of talk radio and tea party conventions and Fox News invitations. And so the conservative strategy of the moment, no matter how unrealistic it might be, catches fire. The members begin to believe they can achieve things in divided government that most objective observers would believe is impossible. Leaders are dealing with these expectations that wouldn’t exist in a normal environment.

In a study of the increasingly obvious, Pacific Standard reported on the increasingly obvious. Namely, how polarizing media — our intellectual cocoons — give us respite from an outside, cruel world. This is why we gravitate toward our left/right media, silly and outrageous as they may be.

"The data suggests to us that outrage-based programming offers fans a satisfying political experience," write Tufts University Researchers. "These venues offer flattering, reassuring environments that make audience members feel good. Fans experience them as safe havens from the tense exchanges that they associate with cross-cutting political talk they may encounter with neighbors, colleagues, and community members."

Put another way: Our day to day is hard. When we come home we want to kick back, relax and hear people stroke, if not necessarily our ontological egos, our day to day political ones. Twenty-first century life is a hassle. When a day comes and goes we want somewhere, someplace, that simply lets us rest peacefully in our beliefs.

Take it away, Pacific Standard:

In other words, being a part of, say, the community of Rush Limbaugh listeners—an identification talk-show hosts regularly attempt to instill in their fans—is a comforting social experience. It’s a way of feeling like part of a community that shares your values…

…Discussing politics with your colleagues or neighbors comes with the fear of saying something unacceptable, and subsequently being excluded from the next barbecue or water-cooler conversation. In contrast, “the comfort zones provided by the shows we studied present no such risk,” [the researchers] write. “In fact, they offer imagined and, in some cases, tangible social connections.”

The New York Times’ David Carr started to think about this last week. Much has been written about how our gerrymandered congressional districts has lead to extremism. Carr writes that our collective media habits are gerrymandered too:

The polarized political map is now accompanied by a media ecosystem that is equally gerrymandered into districts of self-reinforcing discourse…

…As I flipped through cable channels over the last week, the government shutdown was viewed through remarkably different prisms. What was a “needless and destructive shutdown” on MSNBC became a low-impact and therapeutic “slim-down” over at Fox News.

But cable blowhardism would not be such a good business if there hadn’t been a kind of personal redistricting of news coverage by the citizenry. Data from Pew Research Center for the People and the Press on trends in news consumption released last year suggests people are assembling along separate media streams where they find mostly what they want to hear, and little else.

But more media, and more diverse media, won’t solve any of this, argues Reuters’ Jack Shafer. Instead, he writes, Americans are purposefully, willfully and perpetually, perhaps, political imbeciles. That’s the way we roll.

Despite greater access to information than ever before. Despite all the news apps at our fingertips, Shafer cites a 2012 Pew study showing that “total minutes of daily news consumption between 1994 and 2012 is down for all age groups.”

Channeling Ilya Somin and his book Democracy and Political Ignorance, Shafer goes economic and concludes that collective ignorance isn’t due to a lack of information supply. Rather, it’s demand. Politics is too confusing. Our sense of belonging to and being able to affect the system is too obtuse. We’d rather watch football.

And so here we are. A debt crisis averted by punting it down the road. The current budget deal between Democrats and Republicans lasts until mid-January. Then we’ll be back with partisans hunkered in their bubbles while the rest of us try to grab some sanity in the next shiny thing.

Too negative a take? Facebook researchers report that our networks aren’t echo chambers at all but instead expose us to more varied opinions than what I write might lead you to think. — Michael

Gender Balance in News
Open Gender Tracking Project is a software program that collects digital content from news sources and analyzes gender balance within news organizations. The project was created by Irene Ros and Adam Hyland of Bocoup and Nathan Matias of the MIT Center for Civic Media. 
The program collects data on who is writing the articles and who the articles are written about. It also measures audience response data directly associated with specific articles (like how many times a post is shared in social media). The goal of the program is to make news sources aware of content diversity (or lack thereof) so organizations can work toward maintaining a balanced set of voices. 
For the most part, women are currently being underrepresented in digital media. 
Via Guardian:

In the UK, newspaper front pages rarely include women, and women write a minority of articles. Women are prominent at the Daily Mail, where they write most of the celebrity news, fewer news articles, and almost no sport. Even when publications do include women, they’re often at the mercy of their audiences. 20% of Telegraph opinion articles are written by women, but women’s opinion articles attract only 14% of the Telegraph’s shares and likes on social media.

And according to studies done by the Women’s Media Center, in both legacy and newer news sites, women are too often relegated to writing about “pink topics” like fashion, relationships, and food, rather than urgent and/or international issues.
On a positive note, Global Voices, an international citizen media news site, is one of the only news organizations currently known to have equal gender participation. According to The Guardian, 764 women wrote 51% of all articles from 2005-2012. 
Related: Gender balance is the new rage. I just wish somebody had spread the word to the Wikiverse: Wikipedia Bumps Women From ‘American Novelists’ Category. - Krissy
Image: Screenshot of graph from Open Gender Tracker

Gender Balance in News

Open Gender Tracking Project is a software program that collects digital content from news sources and analyzes gender balance within news organizations. The project was created by Irene Ros and Adam Hyland of Bocoup and Nathan Matias of the MIT Center for Civic Media

The program collects data on who is writing the articles and who the articles are written about. It also measures audience response data directly associated with specific articles (like how many times a post is shared in social media). The goal of the program is to make news sources aware of content diversity (or lack thereof) so organizations can work toward maintaining a balanced set of voices.

For the most part, women are currently being underrepresented in digital media. 

Via Guardian:

In the UK, newspaper front pages rarely include women, and women write a minority of articles. Women are prominent at the Daily Mail, where they write most of the celebrity news, fewer news articles, and almost no sport. Even when publications do include women, they’re often at the mercy of their audiences. 20% of Telegraph opinion articles are written by women, but women’s opinion articles attract only 14% of the Telegraph’s shares and likes on social media.

And according to studies done by the Women’s Media Center, in both legacy and newer news sites, women are too often relegated to writing about “pink topics” like fashion, relationships, and food, rather than urgent and/or international issues.

On a positive note, Global Voices, an international citizen media news site, is one of the only news organizations currently known to have equal gender participation. According to The Guardian, 764 women wrote 51% of all articles from 2005-2012. 

Related: Gender balance is the new rage. I just wish somebody had spread the word to the Wikiverse: Wikipedia Bumps Women From ‘American Novelists’ Category. - Krissy

Image: Screenshot of graph from Open Gender Tracker

I don’t want to totally lump reporters and pundits in together, right? It’s kind of venial sins versus cardinal sins basically — right? — where reporting is very, very important and journalism is very, very important, and there are some things about campaign coverage that I might critique. Whereas punditry is fundamentally useless.

— Nate Silver, at a Google event in Washington D.C. Wednesday night.

H/T: Poynter, HuffPo.

Spin?
One could, of course, do this across all sorts of media outlets.
For the educators though, an interesting media literacy exercise in how news outlets exist as brands and the messaging they hope to transmit.
Take screenshots across news organizations and decipher how word choice, positioning, heds and deks illustrate an organizational bias.
Image: Fox News Home Page, November 2. Taken and annotated by Ethan Gold. Select to embiggen.

Spin?

One could, of course, do this across all sorts of media outlets.

For the educators though, an interesting media literacy exercise in how news outlets exist as brands and the messaging they hope to transmit.

Take screenshots across news organizations and decipher how word choice, positioning, heds and deks illustrate an organizational bias.

Image: Fox News Home Page, November 2. Taken and annotated by Ethan Gold. Select to embiggen.

This election year, so much of the broadcast networks, their cable counterparts, and the major establishment print media are out of control with a deliberate and unmistakable leftist agenda. To put it bluntly: you are rigging this election and taking sides in order to pre-determine the outcome. In the quarter century since the Media Research Center was established to document liberal media bias, there has never been a more brazen and complete attempt by the liberal so-called “news” media to decide the outcome of an election.

So begins “An Open Letter to the Biased News Media” from the Media Research Center co-signed by, among others, conservative media stalwarts Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Lars Larson and Rusty Humphries.

Bonus: New York Times media columnist David Carr thinks, perhaps, conservatives protest too much, noting how the top circulation newspaper in the country is the Wall Street Journal and its conservative editorial board, conservative radio crushes liberal haven NPR and Fox News runs circles around its cable bedfellows.

Then again, as Carr writes: “Of course, given that I am pointing out these disconnects in The New York Times, it will be seen as confirming what conservatives already know: that I went to the dark chambers where we cook up the conspiracy, met with my betters to receive my marching orders and then set about playing my small role as a cog in the manufacture of liberal consent. (Memo to headquarters: the Plan is in very high effect).”

wedia:

ilovecharts:

Do the Mainstream Media Have a Conservative Bias?

The data behind this chart only runs from May to July, but interesting to see a snapshot.

FJP: Despite cries to the contrary, it’s been like this for quite some time. What discourages me more though is the establishment “need” to have spokespeople from each side of the aisle who regurgitate the day’s talking points instead of, say, the best people to actually dissect and analyze what policies and events actually mean. — Michael

wedia:

ilovecharts:

Do the Mainstream Media Have a Conservative Bias?

The data behind this chart only runs from May to July, but interesting to see a snapshot.

FJP: Despite cries to the contrary, it’s been like this for quite some time. What discourages me more though is the establishment “need” to have spokespeople from each side of the aisle who regurgitate the day’s talking points instead of, say, the best people to actually dissect and analyze what policies and events actually mean. — Michael

The horror I feel when I imagine Newt assuming a position of responsibility can give way to melancholia if I contemplate the prospect of life without the feisty, aging smurf.

Robert Wright, The Atlantic. Why I Secretly Root for Newt.

Wright asks, and answers, if “members of the ‘elite liberal media,’ as Newt Gingrich would put it, [are] secretly rooting for him.”

If the mass media is dominated by a few corporations, the risk for bias and interference with editorial independence increases.

Thomas Hammarberg, Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe. Public service media needed to strengthen pluralism.

Hammarberg writes:

Media pluralism is necessary for the development of informed societies where different voices can be heard. However, in several European countries there is little genuine media freedom and therefore limited space for pluralism. Independent television and radio channels are denied licences, and critical newspapers are prevented from buying newsprint or distributing their papers.

Other state controls are more discrete. By buying advertising space solely in “loyal” media, governments can signal to businesses to follow their lead, which means that independent media are effectively boycotted. The increase in bureaucratic harassment and administrative discrimination is also of concern.

Of course, a million blogs aside, mainstream media consolidation is accelerating globally. And, of course, with deference to our Italian friends, let’s not forget that Silvio Berlusconi was the largest shareholder of the largest television station while prime minister.

And then there’s Russia and its very… um… troubling media environment.

People, Press and Trust

Good takes findings from a Pew Research Center survey and dresses them up.

Good doesn’t say, but I think the infographic comes from Views of the News Media: 1985-2011. —Michael

Image: Details from Good News/Bad News, via Good.

jayrosen:

Journalists Washing Their Hands of the Truth.

NPR goes all “He Said, She Said” on us. Do they really think that fools anyone?

The audio clip (3:42) is an NPR report about a new set of regulations for abortion clinics that the state of Kansas has tried to put in place. They are currently suspended because of a lawsuit. Among other provisions, the new rules say that procedure rooms must be at least 150 square feet and that storage areas for “janitorial supplies and equipment” must be at least 50 square feet per procedure room. Reuters: “The new law sets minimum sizes for surgery and recovery rooms, has room temperature range parameters for each room, and sets broader equipment and staffing rules.”

Ready for the he said?… In the NPR report, Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President and CEO Peter Brownlie says ”[The] regulations are riddled with requirements which do nothing to improve the safety and health of women, make it more difficult for women to obtain a service they need and to which they are legally entitled.”

And now for the she said…. But several groups that oppose abortion say the regulations are common sense and necessary. Cheryl Sullenger with Operation Rescue asked the state to consider 2,500 pages of documents that detail what she descibes as abuses across the country. “If abortion clinics close, then that is for the protection of the public. It’s a good thing…”

Which is only one of several examples in the report. Here’s the complaint I sent to the NPR ombudsman about this method of hand-washing.

I would like the ombudsman to listen to this story because I have a complaint about it. My complaint is not the usual one that you probably get: biased reporting. No. This is he said, she said reporting, one of the lowest forms of journalism in existence, in which the NPR reporter washes her hands of determining what is true. The new Kansas regulations may be a form of harassment, intended to make life as difficult as possible for abortion providers in that state. Or, alternatively, these rules may be sane, rational, common sense, sound policy: just normal rule-making by responsible public officials.

According to this report, NPR has no idea who is right. It cannot provide listeners with any help in sorting through such a dramatic conflict in truth claims. It knows of no way to adjudicate these clashing views. It is simply confused and helpless and the best it can do is pass on that helplessness to listeners of “Morning Edition.” Because there is just no way to know whether these new rules try to make life as difficult as possible for abortion providers, or put common sense public policy goals into practice in Kansas. There is no standard by which to judge. There is no comparison that would help. There is no act of reporting that can tell us who has more of the truth on their side. In a word, there is nothing NPR can do!  And so a good professional simply passes the conflict along. Excellent: Now the listeners can be as confused as the journalists.

It is obvious to me that there’s something else going on here. NPR has, in this case, allowed its desire to escape criticism to overwhelm its journalistic imagination.  ”He said, she said” does not serve listeners. It tries to shield NPR from another round of bias attacks.  That’s putting your needs—for political refuge—ahead of mine as a listener. I don’t appreciate it. It makes me trust you less. And one more thing, a little lesson in realism. They’re going to attack you anyway, and crow in triumph when your CEO is forced out by those attacks. Ultimately there is no refuge, so you might as well do good journalism. 

I think journalists in the mainstream media are largely unaware of how many people are catching on to “he said, she said.” They still think of it as the best way to be trusted when things are dispute, but little by little it’s becoming the opposite: a reason for active mistrust. That’s why I wrote the ombudsman. I want him to know about this shift. And push back against this shit.

UPDATE: Over Twitter, the NPR ombudsman says he will look into it, though he doubts that he said, she said reporting is the lowest form of journalism. Of course, I didn’t say it was the lowest. I said it’s one of the lowest.

FJP: Journalism programs generally drill into their students that “objectivity” is the golden rule. As Rosen points out though, this prevents journalists from calling a spade a spade as they perpetually search for a response “from the other side.”

Rosen calls such reporting “the view from nowhere,” which, in an interview he conducted with himself he writes:

In pro journalism, American style, the View from Nowhere is a bid for trust that advertises the viewlessness of the news producer. Frequently it places the journalist between polarized extremes, and calls that neither-nor position “impartial.” Second, it’s a means of defense against a style of criticism that is fully anticipated: charges of bias originating in partisan politics and the two-party system. Third: it’s an attempt to secure a kind of universal legitimacy that is implicitly denied to those who stake out positions or betray a point of view. American journalists have almost a lust for the View from Nowhere because they think it has more authority than any other possible stance. 

Seven years ago, Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films released Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism. While it wasn’t released theatrically, MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress helped organize “house parties” around the country where people could come together to watch it. 

Writing in the New York Times at the time, AO Scott noted:

The partisan nature of ”Outfoxed,” a series of expository and analytical talking-head segments interspersed with the high-octane flag-draped shouting-head segments that have become Fox’s trademark, is obvious. It is also, therefore, a little beside the point. In the American media, like it or not, the job of exposing bias is often taken up by people and organizations with a definite point of view. 

This evening, Greenwald will host an event to discuss the movie and the continuing Murdoch empire. He’ll be joined by Cenk Uygur (The Young Turks; former MSNBC host), Janeane Garofalo (Actor/Comedian), Katrina vanden Heuvel (The Nation), James Rucker (ColorofChange.org) and Ilyse Hogue (Media Matters). Should be lively in light of the the News Corp / News of the World phone hacking scandal.

If you have questions for Greenwald or his guests, you can submit them here. And if you’d like to watch, the Webcast kicks off at 5pm PT (8pm ET).

Comics: Selected Doonesbury from July 2004.

America is becoming more polarized in part because of Google’s algorithms which show us only relevant search results, which in turn means that we see only what we agree with – also referred to as confirmation bias. So the problem of polarization, also described brilliantly in Cass Sunstein’s book Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide is increasing because of technology’s push toward relevancy – giving us what we want and what we agree with…

…It is not the editorials and the opinion pieces that are causing the polarization, it is the entire spectrum of more sophisticated technology and the instant availability of diverse information and opinion that allows us, even motivates us, to seek out only those facts, information, and opinions that agree with our view of the world and our own multiple biases.

How Brand Identity Affects Perceptions of the News

William Youmans and Katie Brown, PhD candidates at the University of Michigan, have published a fascinating paper on how Al Jazeera English is viewed in the United States.

In their study, they showed 177 participants a news clip [above] of “the Taliban’s position towards peace talks.”

The first group watched the original clip with AJE’s branding…

…The second group saw the same news piece re-edited to carry CNN International’s (CNNI) logo…

…The third group, the control, viewed no clip. We then asked participants in each group to rate, in general, how biased they thought AJE and CNNI were.

Watching the AJE clip — branded as AJE — did not seem to have an impact on perceptions of bias; bias ratings were equal between those in the AJE-clip-watching group and the control group.

But in the group that had just watched the clip with fake CNNI branding, participants rated CNNI as less biased than those in the control group.

Paper (PDF) | Arab Media Society | Nieman Lab

Youmans and Brown go on to discuss AJE’s difficulty breaking into the US cable market, saying the issue is part politics and part perceived market potential.