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Research Guides

Bias by headline

Headlines are the must-read part of a news story because they are often printed in large and bold fonts.  Headlines can be misleading, conveying excitement when the story is not exciting, expressing approval or disapproval.  These two headlines describe the same event.

Example 1:

Headline from the New York Times stating: "Judge Allows Testimony of Another Accuser in Cosby Case."

Headline from SF Gate that reads "Bill Cosby Sex Assault Trial: Judge Allows Only 1 Other Accuser to Testify, not 13."

Bias through selection and omission

An editor can express bias by choosing whether or not to use a specific news story.  Within a story, some details can be ignored, others can be included to give readers or viewers a different opinion about the events reported.  Only by comparing news reports from a wide variety of sources can this type of bias be observed.

Image of President Obama giving a speech in front of a crowd.

Image: Shotgun Spratling/Flickr (CC)

If people boo during one of Mr. Obama's speeches, the booing can be described as "remarks greeted by jeers" or the boos can be ignored as "a handful of people who disagree".

Bias through placement

Where a story is placed influences what a person thinks about its importance.  Stories on the front page of the newspaper are thought to be more important than stories buried in the back.  Many television and radio newscasts run stories that draw ratings first and leave the less appealing for later.

Tiger Woods on the cover of Time magazine with the headline, "Tiger's Tale."

Cover credit: Herb Ritts

Tiger Woods wins TIME's cover space on the August 14, 2000 vol. 156 no. 7 issue.  Coverage of the Republican National Convention begins on page 26.

Bias by photos, captions, and camera angles

Pictures can make a person look good, bad, silly, etc.  Which photos a news producer chooses to run can heavily influence the public's perception of a person or event.  On TV, images, captions, and narration of a TV anchor or reporter can be sources of bias.

Image of Trump with Melania in the background and the headline, "Melania Trump is 'Miserable as First Lady."

Italiano, L.  (2017, February 15).  Details emerge of Melania's misery as first lady.  New York Post.  

Is this a good photo of First Lady Melania Trump?  While the photo may support the headline, Melania Trump has not said whether or not she is happy in her role. 

Bias through use of names and titles

News media often use labels and titles to describe people, places, and events. In many places around the world, one person's friend is another person's enemy.  A person can be called an "ex-con" or be referred to as someone who "served time for a drug charge".  

Example 1:

Screenshot of CNN politics headline, "Trump picks Sessions for attorney general."

Screenshot of The Intercept headline, "Career Racist Jeff Sessions is Donald Trump's Pick for Attorney General."

Screenshot of NAACP Press Release with title, "NAACP Statement of Appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General."

NAACP Statement on Appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.  (2016, November 18).  NAACP.  Press Release.  

Does the way Mr. Sessions is referred to influence your opinion of him?  Do you pass judgment on him before you have read the story?

Bias by choice of words

People can be influenced by the use of positive or negative words with a certain connotation. People can also be influenced by the tone that a newscaster uses when saying certain words.

This example appeared in TIME magazine, August 14, 2000, page 37.  See the original in Suzzallo & Allen Stacks at call number AP2. T37

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