The Subtleties of Media Bias: Spotting Spin

The very competitive GOP presidential primary has produced a thought-provoking dichotomy after each battle — there’s the score and then there’s how the media covers the score.

On Super Tuesday, 10 states were contested. This was the lead paragraph of the NY Times story the next morning:

Mitt Romney appeared to pull off a narrow victory in Ohio on Super Tuesday but lost several other states to Rick Santorum,  a split verdict that overshadowed Mr. Romney’s claim of collecting the most delegates and all but ensured another round of intense infighting on the road to the Republican presidential nomination.

Is there any doubt in your mind the writer is hoping the race continues? It makes for good copy and sells more newspapers. But is that lead really an objective treatment of what happened?

Note the subtleties in the lead. There was a consensus Ohio was the big prize on Super Tuesday. Romney won it, yet that win is immediately contrasted to Santorum victories in three states, not with Romney’s wins in five others. The lead suggests the “split verdict” overshadowed Romney’s claim of collecting the most delegates. Who says it “overshadowed” it? That’s the reporter speaking. And what does he mean Romney’s “claim?”  He collected the most delegates. The numbers are what they are.

How often are three items (the number of states Santorum won) referred to as “several?” Wouldn’t you typically refer to three as a few?

Media bias is often a thousand cuts disguised in subtlety.

Here’s a more objective description, very factual, with the appropriate emphasis on states and delegates:

Mitt Romney won twice as many states as his closest opponent on Super Tuesday, including the biggest prize, Ohio. The wins expanded Romney’s lead in the delegate count. Rick Santorum won three states, strengthening  his claim he is Romney’s chief rival.

My analysis is of a news report, not commentary. The pundits are allowed to say whatever they wish and, often times, they have their own agendas. But that’s not news reporting, it is commentary. Unfortunately, the line is getting harder and harder to find.

The writer is a former TV news anchor/reporter and current adjunct media professor.

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