Thursday, April 13, 2006

Is mass media biased?

I know that a lot of people feel that the mass media is biased. There is an interesting entry addressing this belief over at Mixing Memory - Hostile Media Effects. Take a look and make sure you read the comments.



Teresa said...

Since I don't have time to read through the studies, I can't figure out how they came to their conclusions. Did they take into account that most people will read only the headline and first paragraph of 99.9% of newspaper stories? Or the fact that most people will only hear a headline as announced on the radio or tv without ever hearing more than that? If you analyze the news in that way - I wonder how much bias is found then.

The other thing I noticed - one that drives me straight up the wall - is that people don't seem to understand the difference between news and opinion. They are constantly citing Fox News as conservative - if you actually listen to the station (which I have done - but don't do on a regular basis) you find that the news itself - the news breaks on the half hour - are directly from the AP wire services. You can even go read it online verbatim. The other shows - O'Reilly, Hannity, etc are Opinion on the News. Huge difference! People have the same problem with CNN.

He didn't really talk about war reporting - which is nearly 100% biased against saying anything good. For instance - there are no headlines of our troops winning battles... ever. There are no front page stories of the man who has earned the Medal of Honor (yes there has been someone). Back in WW1 and WW2 those men were given ticker tape parades and became very well known! The only way to find any balance is to read it directly from the milblogs. They don't sugar coat - they say what's wrong and what's right. But you get a much better picture.

All in all it was an interesting post - but there are too many points not covered (or able to be covered) in the space allowed for me to form too much of an opinion. This makes the points very difficult to take at face value as presented.

If you want to see how something like that should be written, check out Mystery Pollster - MP takes apart polls to show whether or not they are valid as to the data given. LONG posts - but very interesting.

MathCogIdiocy said...

Teresa -
A very long and rambling response.

I read the study on media bias in covering elections. This appears to be a fairly typical psych study. It is not a poll of people's beliefs but rather a statistical/quantitative analysis of the coverage in the different medias. The paper is 24 pages long and worth reading just to see how the study was done. The other information cited in the post are also studies, not polls.

Since the post deals with the belief people hold that the media is biased in one way or another, war coverage as a specific area wouldn't be covered.

Op-ed pieces are part of what people use when they determine bias. If my daily paper prints op-ed pieces that are mostly conservative, or that I perceive as conservative, I will most likely see that paper as having a conservative bias. As a group, we do not separate opinion from fact when deciding on the media's point of view.

It is important to note that none of these studies were polls. Personally I believe that all polls are biased. One of the things covered in my stats class and my research methods class and lab were all the ways you can ask questions in order to skew the answers. Although psych studies don't use polls, they will use surveys and it is very important not to word survey questions in such a way as to bias the results. There are other guidelines for surveys including making sure that you have enough participants from a broad enough spectrum. For example, a survey done at my college has no validity in terms of generalizing to the wider population. The campus is too homogenous to produce useful data for use in understanding any larger population.

I'm done. :-)

Teresa said...

Hmmm... I think I'd have to go back and read all the links he gave (don't know if I have time or not). I'm not sure I really get the difference between a poll and a survey.

But I think the major problem with his post is the fact that while he (it was a he wasn't it?) might know the terms and how they are used -people in the general population won't - thus the confusion and thus my link to MP - who while he is blogging about polls (as opposed to studies) goes to great lengths to present as much explanatory information in the post as possible. I think that was more like what I was getting at - than calling the study a poll (which I didn't intend to do). In other words - much like MP takes apart a poll to show how conclusions were derived - he should have disected the study to show how those conclusions were reached. By not doing that - and linking to a fairly long paper to read - he creates confusion for the blog reader.

At the moment I'm not quite seeing how they can lump everything together (news and opinion) and talk about bias as a whole - once again I would have to read the whole paper. Although he is quite right when he says that people on both sides see bias against their own beliefs in newspapers and on tv news - this has always been the case. The problem is - you now see people who are closer to the "middle" ground who perceive bias. And whether a study shows the perception is valid or not - really doesn't change that perception.

MathCogIdiocy said...

Teresa - Mixing Memory (and it is a he) as well as Developing Intelligence, Ars Mathematica, Philosophy of Real Mathematics, and a few others I read are not written for the general population. They all assume a measure of knowledge of the subjects addressed and are written by professors in the respective fields. Since I find them relatively easy to understand (Philosophy of Real Mathematics is the most difficult for me), I tend to forget that the terminology used may not be familiar to everyone. It also helps that I've been reading Chris's posts on motivated reasoning. It's a fascinating theory that covers many aspects of our responses to the world and our relationships with people and events.

Now if you want a headache, go read Developing Intelligence. *grin*

Harvey said...

I think Clark Goble pretty much nailed it:

With the advent of conservative talk radio - and now blogs - more people are becoming more aware of the best arguments for their positions on any given issue. When they see the MSM not giving those best arguments, bias is assumed, and thus the Hostile Media Effect.