Media bias often comes down to framing, and the Associated Press just supplied us with a glistening example of how it’s done.
“AP-NORC poll: Very few Americans back full school reopening,” blared a Thursday headline in the outlet. Based on the survey’s results, however, that headline could easily have been rewritten to say “Very few Americans back full school closures” or “Most Americans back full or partial school reopening,” both of which would have been fairer descriptions of the results.
The poll actually found 68 percent of adults believe K-12 schools should open with major adjustments (46 percent), minor adjustments (14 percent), or “as usual” (eight percent). That means 68 percent of adults “back” schools reopening, including 56 percent of Democrats.
You can see what the AP did here, stretching to cast the results in the least favorable light for Republicans. That’s not because a bunch of reporters got together in a back room and conspired to undercut the GOP, it’s because their monolithic ideological perspective informs their interpretation of the news.
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Liberals and conservatives can look at the same glass of water and say it’s either half full or half empty. The goal of fair reporters is to document those disagreements, not weigh in on them. This task necessarily involves some judgment calls, like filling up the front page and determining news value.
The news value in this case would seem to be that a majority of adults want schools reopened, not that a tiny minority of them want “full” reopening, a position the poll itself found virtually nobody holds. Given that almost nobody is arguing we should reopen schools with zero precautions, the AP’s decision to insert “full” into the headline is revealing. They’re arguing against a conservative strawman.
In his coverage of the poll on “Special Report,” Bret Baier gave the results fairer framing. “A lot of focus today on the ‘open as usual’ being only eight percent, but if you add it all up, you’re at 68 percent that want it open somehow,” he said, tossing to the AP’s Julie Pace. “The majority, as you cite in our poll there, want schools to open, but most people want to see some kind of adjustments,” Pace acknowledged.
This is hardly the worst example of media bias, but it’s a very clear one.
Removing the element of news judgment from journalism is not possible — those calls about what to prioritize have to be made — but the media’s slant always goes in one direction, and often from people who purport to be reporting straight down the middle. All this is to say, whether you’re progressive or conservative, watch out for framing as a news consumer. It’ll leave you better informed.