Fake news and media bias are phrases the American public has been hearing a lot in recent times. Whether it be Donald Trump’s tweets, news broadcasts, and even memes, it seems that no matter where we look we come across the phrases in some way. The use of the phrases seemed to especially sky rocket during the 2016 presidential race and Trump’s presidency. During my investigation and research, I came to find that both fake news and media bias have been around for longer than I and most people would’ve guessed. In this paper I will discuss why media bias and fake news happen, and how they are detrimental to the public.
To understand why media bias happens, we must first know what exactly it is. In Daniel Quackenbush’s paper “Public Perceptions of Media Bias: A Meta-Analysis of American Media Outlets During the 2012 Presidential Election” he uses a law dictionary to define what exactly media bias is. “According to Black’s Law Dictionary, America’s most widely cited legal compendium, the term “media bias” refers to “a political bias in journalistic reporting, in programming selection, or otherwise in mass communications media” (Garner and Black 2009). Keeping this in mind we can think of examples of bias immediately. We attribute CNN and NBC to be liberal, and FOX News to be Conservative. When these news sources broadcast, they are pushing an agenda, and deliver news to make themselves look good and make the other side look bad. It’s hard to find a news source that isn’t pushing an agenda, because many of these sources receive funding from their respective parties and usually hire like-minded people.
Media bias has been around since before the days of the media we think of today “…the American Revolution was sparked by an intensely biased or partisan media. Pamphleteers like Sam Adams fought English-sympathetic newspapers by sensationalizing the early conflict in his writings.” (Del Beccaro 2016). Many states during the civil war era had both a republican and a democratic newspaper, and according to Del Beccaro’s article: “The Civil War-era media of the 1860s was far more overtly political than the newspapers of today, including numerous papers run by the parties or politico.” At one point Abraham Lincoln had many newspapers in border states closed and accused them of having a confederate bias. It seems that at times in American history, media bias might’ve actually been a good thing, however, there are many instances in which it was a bad thing.
An example is news reporting during the Vietnam war. During the war, many news outlets were against it. This led to them portraying the United States in a way that made it seem like they were the bad guys along with Southern Vietnam. Many facts were skewed and made to seem the opposite. As Bruce Thornton states in his 2013 article “A Brief History of Media Bias”:
The distorted reporting on the 1968 Tet offensive––an utter failure for the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese, who lost 40,000 men in their doomed attempt to bring down the government in the South––was depicted in the American media as a successful exposure of the corrupt South’s weakness and the futility of American intervention. Even the Wall Street Journal editorialized that “the whole Vietnam effort may be doomed.”
In this example, the media was straight up lying to American audiences and producing fake news. If it’s hard to be able to separate fact from fiction today, with all the easily accessible information we have, imagine how many Americans believed the fake news back then, when the only news sources were papers, television, and the radio.
The media vs the Black Panther Party is another prime example. When the Black Panthers would protest both sides portrayed the same story differently. The left seemed to not touch as much on the violent acts the Panthers would do, while the right would exaggerate everything and make them look like criminals no matter what they did. “Describing the Black Panther Party in a succinct way is difficult. The left tends to describe them as martyrs, the right as terrorists” (Pederson 2016). This led to the American audience not really know what to believe and what the actual truth was. People instead just started taking sides.
More recent examples of bias can be found in the 2016 presidential race, and Donald Trump’s presidency. It seems that no matter what he does, president Trump can’t do right for the liberal media, and they are always attacking him. In Jennifer Harpers 2018 article she writes:
It has been a pattern since President Trump was inaugurated well over a year ago. Coverage of the White House on the “Big Three” broadcast networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — remains 91 percent negative, according to a new study by the Media Research Center, which has been tracking the phenomenon since Mr. Trump hit the campaign trail in 2016.
You can believe what you want about Donald Trump, but there’s no denying that these networks are against him, and instead of only providing news, they want their viewers to also be against him. Quality journalism? I think not.
Many Americans don’t actually do research on topics but instead believe what their selected news sources provide for them. This is a problem because some don’t realize that what they are lead to believe isn’t actually true (fake news). I will now go over some instances in recent times in which fake news was thought to be real, much like it was with the coverage of the Vietnam war. Many police brutality shootings caused an uproar from the black community, this led to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement. While I am not saying the movement was fake news, some of the support did end up being it. A CNN article by Donnie O’Sullivan states “For at least a year, the biggest page on Facebook purporting to be part of the Black Lives Matter movement was a scam with ties to a middle-aged white man in Australia…” While it’s not fake news if people are being lied to, it is fake news when Facebook itself was pushing the movement toward that page that even they hadn’t realized was fake for some amount of time. It’s wrong to push people toward a belief especially when you don’t even know all the facts yourself. Another example of fake news came out during the recent separation of families at the US/Mexican border. Many people believed that children were being separated from their families, and while some were, many were not as was the case with the crying girl on the TIME magazine cover. The girl had reportedly been separated from her family right after the picture, but as Schmidt and Phillips wrote:
… the girl’s father told The Washington Post on Thursday night that his child and her mother were not separated, and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman confirmed that the family was not separated while in the agency’s custody.
While this was obviously not the case with many children, many people started to question what was fact and what was fiction around this time, when something that was stated before was actually proven to be false. There are too many incidents involving fake news to write about so I chose some big ones that would still be fresh in people’s minds.
Bias has led to the public not trusting news sources. This is a problem because it can lead to the public being less informed, especially in a day where newspapers are having trouble staying relevant in a time where each younger generation seems less interested in the news that the generation before it. Most people get their news from social media and are prone to believing the first thing they see, so instead of pushing an agenda why don’t news outlets focus on just getting the information out there again? And letting people make their own decisions. Bias is an enemy to Democracy, which in case you forgot was what this country was founded on. The liberal bias might’ve been good in the days when the voiceless were just trying to be heard but in recent times, it has just led to less and less credibleness.
Many bias outlets are out to expand some sort of agenda or make profit. Americans need to do their own research, and then decide what or who they do or do not agree with, not just believe the first thing they hear and blindly follow beliefs. Media bias in the United States has been around ever since media has, and will most likely continue, the only way the American public can avoid it along with fake news, is to stay informed, and to make their own decisions, not let news outlets make the decisions for them.
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