The Methodology of Media Bias

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Last week, Rabbi Avi Shafran discussed media manipulation, comparing “a Reuters photographer’s creative Photoshopping of images” to various other forms of story-twisting — for example, the recent story asserting that an unaffiliated shul whose namesake is Conservative and past Rabbi was a founder of the UTJ (a breakoff from the Conservative movement) is, in fact, Orthodox.

This morning, Michelle Malkin refers us to an excellent case study in the various forms of media manipulation: a report by the Media Research Center called “Election In The Streets: How The Broadcast Networks Promote Illegal Immigration.”

Here are the main conclusions evidencing bias, as found in the report summary:

  • While they celebrated “massive” immigration protests with “huge” crowds, the broadcast networks largely avoided scientific polling data that showed the protesters were in an overwhelming minority.
  • Advocates of opening a wider path to citizenship were almost twice as likely to speak in news stories as advocates of stricter immigration control.
  • While conservative labels were common, liberal labels were rarely or never used.
  • While protests centered on underlining the vital role illegal aliens play in the American economy, the burdens of illegal immigration in added government costs or crime were barely covered.

Without extensive research, one can easily think of ways we have seen a similar set of biases closer to home.

  • Implying that a small fraction represents the majority. Be it the Niturei Karta or hooligans on Shavuous, the hateful views or actions of the few are taken as reflecting the charedi community overall. After the elections this spring, a JPost reporter on the G. Gordon Liddy show attributed the anti-Zionism of Satmar to the leadership of the Shas party. [While that view is not necessarily hateful, it would certainly be inappropriate for one who opposes Israel’s existence as a Jewish state to sit in the government. Not that this stopped any of the Arab MKs…]
  • Interviewing people about us, rather than interviewing us. Speaking of Satmar, the dominant figure in both of these two Jewish Week articles about the succession conflict was Samuel Heilman, who considers all charedim to be fundamentalists if not extremists.
  • Use of inflammatory labels. The term “ultra-Orthodox” is inherently pejorative, given that “ultra-” implies extremism, and religious extremism is a term currently most often associated with people who blow up busses, planes and buildings in the name of A-llah. Neutral terms like “fervently Orthodox,” “strict traditionalists,” or, simply, “charedim,” are rarely used.
  • Reflecting one view, not our own. When some went so far as to burn wigs when they heard that the hair might have been consecrated to an idol, the NY Times caption claimed those individuals were “angry” rather than joyously performing what they regarded as a Mitzvah (with great self-sacrifice, by the way, given the cost of sheitls!). Similarly, stories about the “Women of the Wall” uniformly fail to point out that the Wall plaza was consecrated as a traditional synagogue in response to the demand of thousands of regular worshippers, and these women are trying to change the nature of that holy site.

It is rare, in my opinion, to find an article about our community in the Jewish or general media that does not fall prey to one or more of the above. Perhaps if you remain alert as you read a favorite publication, you will be tip us to an article that does so — or, even more welcome, one that does not.

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2 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    A new revelation! Liars lie, as creatively and as often as they can. Politically motivated liars assume that the glorious end justifies the underhanded means.

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    Bernard Goldberg, a former CBS news correspondent has written two excellent books on how liberal bias vs all conservatives of all stripes-political, cultural, moral and religious plays out in the “mainstream media” via the attachment of labels to a group in order to make them look inflammatory. The establishment and non Orthodox Jewish media also indulges in rhetoric of this nature by the use of these labels.