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Wringing Out Media Bias This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


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It was ten minutes to the bell in my fifth period English class when I became inspired to write a piece on media bias. My teacher had engaged several of my classmates in a debate on the Trayvon Martin case. I had no interest in participating. The matter was futile; we would never be able to reignite a 17-year-old boy's extinguished future. At one point, however, my attention was attracted by an interesting comment from my teacher: “If we observed all the images of Trayvon released by the media, we would realize that most are of a younger Trayvon, not the six-foot-three 17-year-old that he was when he was shot. This is a clear example of the media manipulating us and pulling at our heartstrings.”

Trayvon Martin's death is a terrible tragedy that must be investigated to the fullest extent to determine if wrongdoing was involved. I was shocked that the media failed to provide an impartial perspective on the case. This is just one example of media bias this year alone.

With the upcoming presidential elections, it's important to recognize and counter the influence of media bias in politics. Echoing the partisanship of American newspapers at the onset of the Civil War, when political parties actually subsidized many newspapers, recently politically motivated bias appears to be as rampant as ever. Fox News, known for its conservative slant but self-proclaimed “fair and balanced” reporting, has repeatedly argued against the excessive scrutiny under which Republican presidential candidates were investigated by CNN and other allegedly liberal news sources. Ironically, Fox has been simultaneously scrutinizing President Obama with similar rigorousness.

According to a January report by the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans who believe there is a lot of political bias in news coverage has risen to 37 percent, an all-time high. Unfortunately, media bias has been skewing the public's perception of presidential candidates as long as this country has existed, with a strong growth in partisan journalism during the 19th century. During the 1828 elections, future president Andrew Jackson was depicted in a negative light when it was revealed that he had married his wife before her divorce was final. Rather than providing an impartial account of Jackson's political beliefs, newspapers that opposed Jackson invaded his personal life. Later in the 19th century, the Republican Los Angeles Times simply failed to report that Democrat Grover Cleveland had won the presidency in 1884 until a few days later. More than a century later, 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain made strong remarks against the media, which he claimed was wholly in favor of candidate Obama.

Regrettably, politically motivated media bias has gone even further than impacting election results. Prior to the start of the Spanish-American War in 1898, “yellow journalism,” or exaggerating facts to sell more newspapers, was popular, especially among widely read papers such like the New York World and the New York Journal. Their sensationalistic accounts of the Spanish “atrocities” committed in Cuba incited the public to favor the war. Media bias can also affect public policy.

My opinion of media bias is not one of absolute aversion. Quite the opposite, I believe media bias is a healthy (perhaps inescapable) practice that, in a topsy-turvy way, allows for greater free thought.

It is indisputable that human nature takes sides. Never have I come across a literary or journalistic work that didn't at least subtly favor one argument over another. This phenomenon extends to other facets of life too. We have all favored one team over another during sporting events like the Super Bowl or the World Cup. During my visit to Brazil two summers ago, a common Portuguese proverb I heard was, “For each mouth, a different soup.” Choosing is clearly a universal human trait.

Since media magnates and their employees are human, it is not inherently wrong for a newspaper or news channel to place emphasis on the views of its creators. I believe this is fine as long as two conditions are met. First, a news medium cannot argue that it is “wholly unbiased.” Second, its followers must be aware of this fact. The first condition is repeatedly broken but should not be hard to fix. The second, surprisingly, has already been met. Even in extremely oppressive political regimes, the citizenry is aware of media manipulation. In the past decade, Chinese awareness of media control has spurred the development of personal news feeds. Bloggers like Han Han have become famous for their courageous efforts to unveil the truth.

Our awareness of media bias is, in turn, prompting us to be more analytical of current events and making us stronger in our desire for freedom and truth. If my English teacher had not made her observation about Trayvon's photographs, a debate about the Martin case might never have occurred. If Chinese bloggers had disregarded the wholesale corruption of their country's media, popular uprisings in favor of civil rights and civil liberties would not be challenging the Chinese government.

Just as we consider it a daily task to think about where we will go after the ringing of each school bell, we should also learn to scrutinize every bit of information the news industry presents us.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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ConstanceContraireThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Jan. 4, 2013 at 3:28 pm
Given your opinion on the news (NBC for example) you should check out Frontline, Bill Moyers, Charlie Rose, and NPR. I listen to them and think they give better more honest reports
 
esn0622 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 3, 2013 at 2:13 am
I really enjoyed reading this exposition on media bias in history, modern day, and your experiences. It was insightful, well-written, and also shed light on the truth of the whole media bias situation. As humans, we all have our preferences. No one can be perfectly objective and report the news for some perfectly objective audience (except perhaps in Scandanavia.) Media bias is the task we need to learn how to carefully judge the information given to us. It's a really interesting and origina... (more »)
 
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