I was once accused of bias in an opinion column I wrote.
That this person took issue with my opinion appearing on the opinion page of the newspaper was not a first but it did get me to thinking about bias in news.
There are several types of bias: institutional, bias by omission, spin, bias by laziness and ignorance, and so on.
There is also something called “perceived bias.”
Perceived bias happens when a person doesn’t like what someone else has to say and they internalize the information as incorrect regardless of its veracity; conversely, incorrect information which reinforces their beliefs is considered valid and true.
Granted, there are cases of purposely bad reporting, but it’s not usually the case.
A good example of this are political candidates who decry news gatherers that report past incidences of bad behavior.
However, a story isn’t biased just because you don’t like what it says.
Part of the problem is we are all biased to a certain degree.
And, whether you have a solid state B.S. detector or the critical thinking skills of dry toast, you can fall victim.
If you don’t think you are biased in any way, congratulations—you are a turnip.
Some bias is caused by peer pressure. After all, no one wants to be singled out for failing to parrot the talking points furthered by their political, racial, religious, socioeconomic or gender group.
We should all consider whether our opinions develop after research of reputable source material, experience and consideration … or from the flapping lips attached to an overpriced toupee on the TV.
While I’ve never knowingly felt the urge to include my opinions in a news story, I have been guilty of bias … usually by reason of idiocy.
In my first year on the job, I committed bias by omission when I gave the wrong date for an election.
Among the cries of “idiot” and “moron” were allegations by some that we had done it to suppress voter turnout.
It was an accident, but how was the public supposed to know?
Selection criterion of sources is another area wherefrom bias can stem.
There is a saying in this business that writers are the biggest procrastinators—I didn’t say it was a catchy saying.
Due to this penchant for putting it off, we sometimes rely too heavily on the usual gang of experts and officials.
Sometimes it is due to time and availability, and other times it’s simply a matter of laziness.
Also, we try to vet our sources and identify any potential conflicts they may have.
But, when you’re relying on someone to explain foreign material like the complexities of science, religion, law or history unfamiliar to you, you are pretty much at their mercy.
Bias by placement is an easy charge to levy because determining which stories should go where is a challenge. And space in print products is always at a premium.
Do I go with the budget story or the bus crash? The festival affects more people, but seniors being defrauded is important.
Sometimes, big stories don’t make page one because they came in too late to rearrange the paper prior to the print deadline.
During a late-night frenzy many years ago at another newspaper, I included a press release concerning escalator safety.
Did my love of motorized people-movers fuel my bias for two-story shopping malls in an area that’s at least a hundred miles from the nearest escalator?
No, I was tired and hurried and inexperienced and frankly overwhelmed by my new position as news editor.
We can never completely eliminate our prejudices.
But, by being honest with ourselves and fair in our assessment of others, we can mitigate our misperceptions for the betterment of society.
But, then again, I may just be biased.