The biggest news story of the past year has been the presidential election. Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have spent the last year campaigning all around the nation, bringing with them a fleet of reporters. One of the biggest stories of this election was the third and final presidential debate. This debate was considered crucial by the media because both candidates had won one of the prior two debates, so the story was highly covered. Almost every major news organization had an article related to this debate on the front page of their website, or on the front page of their newspapers themselves.
This story was covered many different ways by many different media outlets. Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and National Public Radio (NPR) all had an abundance of material available for readers both during, and immediately after the debate. For most of these outlets though, their coverage was filled with bias. Fox and the Wall Street Journal both tended to have a conservative bias, while the New York Times and NPR had a liberal bias. Though all of these outlets had bias towards one party or another, they still had some pieces that were full of fair, unbiased reporting.
NPR displayed some liberal bias in an article analyzing the debate strategy of Mitt Romney. The first display of bias was in the idea of the article itself. NPR took the time to make an analysis of Romney but there was no analysis of Obama. This willingness to criticize and break down only one candidate, while leaving the other one untouched, shows that NPR may have a liberal bias. In the article itself, that bias became more apparent. NPR began the article by describing Romney as having “contentious, uncivil tone” in the two previous debates. The article then later praised Obama as “playing the restless attacker, finding fault with his rival even when the two agreed on policy basics”. The tone of these two comments clearly praises Obama while putting down Romney. The rest of the article continues with this tone, at one point even stating that Romney was “retracting” his “horns”. While this article reference Romney as some sort of devil, this article offered no analysis of Obama with the same depth. The article only succeeds in portraying Romney as a calculated, cold leader.
In another NPR article, the most important things to take away from the debate were highlighted with little bias. This discussed both positive and negative things that both candidates did, but still had some subtle liberal bias. Two of the headings in the article stated mistakes that Romney made and then went on to describe him as a weak leader. Though these descriptions were not overtly offensive, they were still present. Overall, the angle of the story was fair though. Obama was criticized for his at times sarcastic tone and praised for his aggressive style. Romney was criticized for his inability to attack Obama when he had the chance and praised for his attempt at projecting a strong sense of leadership. The closing sentence remained unbiased, saying, “In short, each candidates continued with his campaign’s overall game plan of making his opponent seem unacceptable.”
The New York Times, which is commonly seen as a liberal leaning news outlet like NPR, had debate coverage that was unbiased. The unbiased reporting was done in an article that was an interesting combination of a fact checking article and a play-by-play of the debate. The article contained a full video of the debate, a written out transcript, and on the right hand side, a bar that had corrections to all the facts that were wrong in the debate. The facts were compiled by their fact checkers, were unbiased and presented with no spin. This allowed for the readers to read/listen to what was said, check the facts, and then come to their own conclusions. In fact, there isn’t really much writing at all in this article. The entire page is covered with transcript, fact check boxes and videos, leaving no space for any bias or spin.
The blogs that the New York Times promoted were not as unbiased. I noticed three different blogs that were easily accessed and featured on the websites “Politics” homepage. One of these blogs was an editorial piece called “The Final Debate”. A more appropriate title would have been “I Hate Romney”. This piece is a blatant attack against Mitt Romney with overwhelming liberal bias. Since this is an editorial, it is meant to be someone displaying their opinion. What makes this so biased (other than all the attacks against Romney in) is the fact that there were no editorials that were against Obama to compare it to. Any political enthusiast who was reading this piece would have had to go to another website to find an equally biting editorial. This is a clear liberal bias that was featured well on the website which could affect the opinions of readers. Another blog that was featured was a series of short blog post by New York Time contributors. Some of these posts were focused mainly on facts, while others took a detour from the facts to put down Romney. Though not every post was against Romney, the overall slant of the article was that Romney was not prepared for office. In one of the blog posts, contributor Marisa L. Porges said:
“Regarding the ongoing threat of extremism in the Arab World, Mr. Romney simply suggested a shopping list of grand objectives: economic development, better education, gender equality and rule of law — a plan that sounds an awful lot like nation building. What remained entirely unclear is how Mr. Romney would actually make progress on any of these fronts, particularly in countries of critical concern. Meanwhile, Mr. Obama pointed out that we ‘cannot just meet these challenges militarily’ and quickly mentioned religious minorities and women and encouraging economic development before neatly sidestepping to ‘nation building here at home.’”
This statement shows a liberal bias towards Obama. Statements like this one were echoed throughout the other posts. Much like the editorial piece, its easy accessibility and bias emphasizes to readers that voting for Romney this election is the wrong thing to do.
Though NPR and the New York Times displayed a liberal bias, this story was also reported with a conservative bias by some news outlets. The Wall Street Journal had an article on the front page of their website which showed their clear support for Romney, though this was not the main article that was featured. In this article the Wall Street Journal was quick to ask which of the two candidates was “the incumbent and which was the challenger”, followed with immediate praise of Romney’s calm and leader like demeanor. It continues on praising Romney but also pointing out a few mistakes he made throughout the course of the night. Though Romney’s flaws and successes were both mentioned, only Obama’s flaws were shown. The article declared that Obama had the “biggest gaffe” of the night and hinted that Obama’s facts may not have been completely correct in the following sentence. The final paragraph declared Romney the winner because he did not have to “defend the miserable record of the last four years”, emphasizing Obama’s incompetence. This article has a slant that paints Obama as a leader who is unfit to continue to lead and Romney as a man ready to take on his role.
The featured article on the Wall Street Journal’s home page was not a biased one though. This piece was basically a play-by-play article, much like the one the New York Times posted. Positives and negatives of both candidates were displayed and at the end, rather than saying who won, the article merely stated poll numbers to indicate how close the race was. Videos were posted throughout the article so readers could see and hear exactly what was said and make their own opinions. There was also a transcript of the debate complete with corrected facts for anyone who wanted it. With such unbiased reporting and the availability of correct facts, there was no evident slant or emphasis towards either political party.
Fox News, like the Wall Street Journal, had a conservative bias. This bias though was much more apparent in the pieces by Fox News. In one piece that was on the front page of the “Politics” section of their website, Romney was portrayed as an underdog and calm leader, citing that Romney, “appeared at times to scold Obama for getting too aggressive. After Obama pointedly told him, ‘every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong,’ Romney responded: ‘Attacking me is not an agenda.’” This displays his stable approach while also painting Obama as a hot headed attacker. Romney was also praised when he “weaved in sharp critiques of the president’s foreign policy”. Obama on the other hand was called “dismissive of Romney” and “often snarky”. The article ends with a firm assertion that “Romney entered the debates as the slight underdog, but since his opening performance has surged to even or better with the president in many polls.” The article does not show these polls that are mentioned, which make their assertion seem less like a credible fact and more like a hopefully cheer.
On the left hand side of this article is a link to a related article called “Time is Running Out for Obama to Reset Race”. This article was the most overtly conservatively slanted article I found. This article leads off with a quote of Obama’s instantly famous “bayonet” comment which was widely viewed as rude by conservatives and jarring by liberals. After that, the article is a full on attack on Obama and his performance. Obama was displayed as hateful with quotes like this: “The contempt in which Obama holds Romney was never more evident than it was last night. As he glared and mocked, attacked and derided, Obama was hoping that voters were sharing in his disdain for the Republican nominee.” This painted Romney as a victim of unnecessary hate from Obama and made Obama seem scared of Romney’s leadership qualities. The piece also declared that Obama’s plan to make Romney look unfit to lead was thwarted as “Romney again came through looking plausibly presidential and said or did nothing to suggest to voters that he would be a danger to national security.” After countless more attacks against Obama the article ends with an endorsement from Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and political commentator, Charles Krauthammer that he said on the Fox News T.V. show Special Report with Bret Baier.
Though news is supposed to be unbiased and fact driven, these particular news outlets sometimes allowed bias to be more important than fact. NPR and the New York Times put their support of Obama over reporting what happened in the debate fairly. Fox News and the Wall Street Journal were more concerned with building up Romney to deliver the facts without a conservative spin. With laptops, smart phones and tablets, hundreds of news outlets are available on demand. Reading news from numerous sources can help readers make informed decisions and not be swayed by the emphasis of one news source. While it may be hard to notice occasionally, bias and spin can have a large effect on people’s decisions.