Bias in Journalism | What it is & what to do about it.

Tucker Carlson goes on and on about how we must all give Donald Trump a fair shot, momentarily letting amnesia cloud his memory. You chuckle as you recall his “fair” coverage of Barack Obama and change the channel. Now it’s Rachel Maddow giving a 20-minute monologue about corruption in the Trump campaign. This is the same woman who didn’t seem to have any morals when it was Hillary Clinton and her camp in the spotlight. Next. Now we have Anderson Cooper. Now it gets a bit more complicated. With Carlson and Maddow, you know what you’re getting. They each have agendas and spout their blatant opinions all night long. But what about when a journalist decides to go the old-fashioned route? When you have a pretty solid guy who appears to cover both sides? Is he really unbiased? Is that even possible?

In order to answer these questions, one must first establish what, exactly, journalistic bias is. According to Holly Stocking & Paget Gross, “biases are normally thought of as the inappropriate intrusion of subjective opinion into an otherwise factual account.” A biased journalist is not giving the full picture, but rather, a chunk of it, particularly the chunk that he likes. With this definition you might think it’d be easy to spot a biased journalist miles away. To some degree, you’d be right. It wouldn’t take more than five minutes listening to Carlson or Maddow to know that objectivity is far from their minds. However, according to Stocking & Gross, there is a different type of bias that is a bit less obvious and a heck of a lot more dangerous. “Cognitive biases,” as they put it, “consist of a variety of ways of thinking that constrain one’s perceptions and interpretations of the world.” These are the biases that journalists don’t even realize they have. They’re the biases that have been clandestinely polluting newspapers and newscasts since the very beginning.

By nature, every single person sees the world in his or her own unique way. No two human beings have the same set of eyes, and because of race, class, gender, and personal experiences, we all have a very specific set of beliefs. To the extent that people cannot choose their race or gender, they also cannot choose how they view the world. Fighting against these beliefs – or pretending they don’t exist – is next to impossible. As a matter of fact, research has shown that even when people are instructed to be objective, they will seek and select information that confirms their predisposed beliefs. In no way are most journalists trying to be vindictive or cunning. They’re merely trying to prove what they believe is correct. They have a very specific way of thinking because of their own biases that, many times, they don’t even realize exist. It’s second nature for them, the same way you pour water into your glass each morning instead of nail polish remover.

In a 1976 study, people were shown a video in which they were asked to observe two separate interactions. The first consisted of two white males while the second consisted of one black man and one white. When describing the interactions of the whites, they referred to physical interplay as a bump or accidental lean. When reviewing the interactions between the white and black man, however, the same exact actions on the part of the black were reported as a shove. This is not a case of racism, but rather, labeling. Categorizing people as “typical black” or “typical white” seems unfair, unjust, and plain wrong. In many ways, it is, but in many ways it’s simply human nature. Labeling and categorizing different things helps people make connections and draw conclusions quickly, a survival mechanism that dates back to the prehistoric era. How can we expect journalists to simply turn this switch off in their brains? It would be impossible.

There are times bias isn’t even prevalent in the stories a journalist covers, but rather, the selection of the stories a journalist covers. As extensive as newspapers seem to be – The New York Times probably kills five forests a day – the truth of the matter is that they cannot possibly cover it all. With a finite number of writers, editors, and – especially – hours in the day, decisions must be made. Say, for example, a news director has only one more reporter available, but three possible stories to cover: a Planned Parenthood protest, an LGBT parade, and a rape/murder a few blocks away. He or she has to make a decision, which comes down to one thing, really: which story is most important. Naturally, the news director is going to draw on his or her own personal experiences, views, and opinions to come to that conclusion. Simply put, there is nothing objective about allocating news coverage.

No matter how truthful one tries to be, any number of biases will surely find their way into the news. Arguably one of the biggest detriments of bias is the underrepresentation of certain groups of people. If every news editor and news director decides to cover that Planned Parenthood protest, does that mean the LGBT parade basically never happened? Does that mean the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders simply don’t matter?

A perfect example of just how unbalanced news coverage can be is the disparity of news coverage in victims. If you watch or read the news, you would think that nearly ever killer or rapist is black and every victim is white. Crime statistics, however, do not match this narrative. The name Elizabeth Smart is likely familiar to most people in the country. She was a beautiful, blonde girl who was abducted from her home and subsequently featured in nearly every magazine and newspaper for years. What about the name Alexis Patterson? Does that ring a bell? Most likely it doesn’t, despite the fact that she had nearly an identical story occurring one month before Smart’s. The only real difference? She was black. Once again, this is not out of evil or vindictive behavior, but rather, because of cognitive biases. People feel differently about black people than they do white. They feel differently about men than women; the Irish than Italian. It’s simply a matter of personal experiences and stereotypes and labels.

The solution, therefore, is to create newsrooms that look a little more like America. No longer can we have a bunch of white males sitting around a long table, smoking cigars and knocking back glasses of whiskey. That would make for a very one-dimensional newspaper telling a one-sided story. Naturally, similar groups of people are going to have similar points of view. They’re likely going to cover similar topics and give airtime to similar causes. Why? They’re biased, but that’s nothing new because we all are. The trick, therefore, is not to eliminate these biases, but to expand them.

When you have a diverse group of people covering the news, you’re going to have a newspaper or newscast that actually resembles America. You can’t stop the woman who was put up for adoption as a baby from wanting to rally behind Pro-Life marches any chance she gets. What you can do, however, is throw in a young man who possibly has different views. And someone who’s Chinese. And African American. And transgender. The best thing you can do is expand the newsroom in a way that every group of people gets representation. You need as many people with as many different ideas and beliefs sitting around the editorial table to get the full picture each day. As a matter of fact, “it has been long argued that the reason Washington Post police reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were able to break the Watergate story was because they did not see things in the same way as those on the White House Beat” (Stocking & Gross 24). The only reason Woodward and Bernstein covered this story at first was because it at first presented itself as nothing more than a trivial burglary. Had Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post known the significance of this burglary at the time, he likely never would have assigned these two novices to the story. The veteran White House Beat writers would’ve surely done a better job, but ironically, that turned out to not be true. It took two entirely different sets of eyes to crack the case.

Of course, diversifying the newsroom is not going to solve the problem entirely. With deadlines, space constraints, and specific news policies, journalists are often swimming against a very strong current. They might not always have the time to explore all the sides they would like to explore and definitely don’t have the room to say all the things they would like to say. However, this is of no fault to the journalist and has absolutely nothing to do with bias. Believe it or not, far greater hindrances exist in the world of journalism than bias. For instance, Eric Alterman says that “most reporters are ignorant about most things, which is rarely seen as a barrier to coverage.” No one really speaks about these journalistic constraints, simply because it does not fit their narrative. A so-called “biased media” has become one of the most powerful political weapons, whether or not those claims are warranted.

In the year 2017, Donald Trump has made famous the term, “biased liberal media.” If someone reports something he does not like or does not wish to believe, he simply hurls this phrase into the universe. What many fail to realize is that this is not a new concept. Richard Nixon, for instance, deemed the press the enemy. Of course, the press was not so much an enemy as it was a collective body simply seeking the truth, and journalists were later vindicated when Nixon’s corruption and dishonesty were revealed. Still, it didn’t stop him from bashing the profession of journalism, and Donald Trump has clearly taken a page or two out of Nixon’s playbook.

The press is not perfect and they’re certainly not all gems. They have their own opinions and biases and lives and families that might affect some of the things they say. And they’re going to screw up sometimes, like when Brian Williams fibbed or Dan Rather failed to verify. But we don’t live in a world with a “biased media.” They each might have their own biases and opinions, but collectively, for the most part, they don’t have hidden agendas. Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow, arguably, aren’t even journalists. They clearly don’t seek the truth, as they spin the same tired narrative each and every night. They’re not listening to both sides or seeking all the facts. People like Carlson and Maddow actually do a disservice to journalists everywhere because they give everyone a false impression of what journalism is all about. They turn it into some sort of political game full of tunnel vision and cheap shots. Yes, that is something to worry about, but a true journalist is not, and although it’s not possible for anyone to be completely objective, his reporting will be. A true journalist will have his own set of beliefs, opinions, and viewpoints, but he will report not because of them, but in spite of them.

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When, exactly, did being nice lose its value?

As kids, it’s what we were taught; what we knew. My parents drilled this concept into my head since before I can remember, and when I entered school, our days were filled with learning all about kindness. I mean, they don’t call it KINDergarten for nothing. (I’m so punny. I know.)

QUICK SIDE NOTE: Who remembers Rainbow Fish? Oh, how I loved that lil’ guy.

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Seriously though, at that age, nothing in the world was more important than treating others with love and respect. Nothing was more important than kindness.

But somewhere along the way – particularly when we swapped our toy blocks for textbooks – nice lost its purpose. How was being nice going to help me solve that math problem? What did being nice have to do with receiving an A on that paper? Where was being nice going to go on my resume?

Growing up, we were taught to be nice, but as we got older, we learned that being nice gets you nowhere.

“Describe yourself in 3 words,” demands the woman interviewing you for a job. Never in a million years will the word nice leave your mouth, not because you’re mean, but because it serves no purpose. Just about every word in the dictionary will come to mind first.

You’re driven? Great. You’ll get assignments done.
You’re self-motivated? Awesome. You’ll be an efficient worker.
You’re…nice? Uh…Congratulations?

Needless to say, you probably wouldn’t get that job.

The thing is, I feel like nice is so undervalued and so underrated because you don’t even notice it’s there…until it’s not. Suddenly, smiles have been replaced by glares; inclusivity by ostracism. It’s like a light has burnt out without explanation. I didn’t know that bulb had an expiration date, you think as you rummage through your drawer, desperately searching for a replacement. But it’s useless. You’ll never find one because it’s not yours to find. You can’t control how bright others choose to shine. You can’t control how other people treat you.

The absence of nice is louder than nice itself.

Honestly, when it comes down to it, I don’t want to be anything other than nice. I mean, of course I want to be a lot of other things, but if I had to choose just one personality trait to posses, my decision would be easy. Ambition, drive, and intellect are all great, but they don’t really mean much if you’re not a good human being.

Each and every person has the ability to affect hundreds of people a day. You don’t have to be Mother Theresa or the president of the United States. All you have to be – literally, if nothing else, the only thing you have to be – is nice. A smile. A compliment. A gesture. When it’s this easy to be nice, there’s just no excuse not to be.

I have decided that there is no better word to be called than nice.

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An Honest Review of Megyn Kelly’s “Settle for More”

I read it in less than 24 hours.

For all of you scholarly bookworms out there, this probably seems like nothing. But for a gal like me who has multiple research papers to write, videos to edit, and friends to hang out with, this is a big deal. Bottom line: Regardless of how busy you are, when you find a good book, you’ll make time.

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Megyn Kelly’s Settle For More begins on what is easily the most talked about day of her life: Debate Day 2015. Ah yes, the day she made herself Public Enemy No. 1 of Mr. Donald J. Trump. After posing her now infamous question, which brought to light all of the negative, disparaging things Trump has said about women in the past, it was game on.

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But what many of us didn’t know is that the game had long ago begun. Just as we’re getting a taste of what really ignited this inextinguishable fire, we’re launched back to Syracuse, N.Y. where one of the most famous women in news/journalism/politics/life? was born.

Here’s the thing about this book: It doesn’t so much drop crazy bombshells as it does fill in the pieces. While it’s most certainly not a tell-all – there is a lot that Ms. Kelly chooses to keep secret, as she should – it is still interesting. Very interesting. In a world where everyone is expected to always be politically correct – especially journalists – Kelly isn’t afraid to actually speak her mind. She doesn’t take herself too seriously (like the time she accidentally said “Fuckabee” instead of “Huckabee” on live television) and never tries to be anyone but herself. I think that’s her strength. She’s not “Megyn Kelly: Journalist” or “Megyn Kelly: Former Lawyer.” She’s just Megyn Kelly.

Her downfall – at least when it comes to this book – is that she’s not very relatable. I mean, how many people do you know who got rejected from a job for being “too perfect?” True story.

Even her very emotional bullying story was marred by the fact that she was voted “Most Popular” the very next year. It’s just kinda hard to empathize, ya know?

But that’s not to say she didn’t have her struggles. For all the laughs this book brings – and yes, I did laugh out loud on several occasions – there are also a few dark times, one of which, yes, is the Year of Trump. Prior to reading this, I never realized just how bad it was for her. Having to bring a bodyguard on a trip to Disney World is some serious business.

Kelly also hinted at having been poisoned by her driver on the day of The Debate when she suddenly fell horribly ill and began vomiting uncontrollably. But then she added, almost as an irrelevant afterthought, “I later learned there was a stomach virus going around – Rand Paul was also sick that night.” Personally, I think she included this last part for lawsuit purposes, but really does believe she was poisoned.

If you picked up this book just to hear juicy, salacious details, you might want to put it back down. Settle for More is very tastefully written, which is a nice way of saying she really doesn’t reveal too much. As a reader, this is always disappointing, but as a human being, I respect it. She’s not trying to trash anyone and she’s not trying to bring anyone down. Even with the whole “Donald Trump thing,” she’s not downright bashing him as much as she’s just telling her side of the story. Unfortunately for you, me, and every other nosy human in this world, the Megyn/Donald meeting inside Trump Tower was “off the record.” Oh, to be a fly on the wall…

One thing is clear, though: Donald Trump is relentless and Donald Trump is mean.

On another note, I’m sure many people bought this book just to hear all about Roger Ailes’ sexual harassment, and if that’s the case, they’ll be sorely disappointed. It was only a brief mention in the last chapter with very few details. She actually hadn’t planned on including any of this until her former colleague Gretchen Carlson came out in July with her own accusations against Ailes. It goes to show how much goes on behind closed doors that no one will ever know about…

In a 324-page book about one’s entire life, of course things are going to get left out. Still, I was disappointed to see just how much was. For instance, I never really felt like I got to “meet” her first husband, Dan. He was just someone briefly mentioned in passing. Similarly, she had applied to Syracuse University’s journalism program before she decided to become a lawyer, but got rejected. Nowhere was this mentioned in Settle for More. It makes you wonder what else she left out.

Still, this is the kind of book that you devour in a day (unless you’re some kind of scholarly bookworm and it’ll take you an hour, but we’ve already gone over this – I’m average). Hearing about her journey from three-figure-salary, corporate law badass to I’m going to throw it all away and accept a $17,000 reporting job instead is riveting.

It’s also fun to hear Kelly’s thoughts and opinions on various topics from sexual harassment to bullying to feminism. I’ve taken a special interest in Megyn Kelly and her story mostly because I love journalism and politics, but I also think this is a book for women in general. Kelly’s not one of those deluded, politically correct robots. Sexism exists, she says, and you want to know something? It’ll continue to exist. But you don’t have to let it stop you.

“You may not get invited to the bar with the boys. But do better, be better, and the odds are the hungover boys will soon be asking themselves how you keep getting such great opportunities.”

Sounds like a plan, Megyn.

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Guilty or Not Guilty?

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Back when I was interested in law, I matter-of-factly declared to my mom one day, “I want to be a prostitute.” I couldn’t understand why she was so appalled by my ambitious goals until I realized I had misspoken. What my 10-year-old self meant to say was that I wanted to be a prosecutor. Prostitute. Prosecutor. Same thing.

But upon further investigation, I realized prostitution wasn’t the only thing that wouldn’t be in my future. Prosecution would not be as well.

When most people hear of a crime on the news, their first reaction is to instantly feel sympathy for the victim and anger toward the perpetrator. But for me? I immediately jump to the defense of the criminal.

What if he didn’t do it?
What if it was a mistake?
A misunderstanding?
What if he’s sorry?

Believe me when I say how ignorant and stupid I probably sound. If someone raped and killed a woman, he doesn’t deserve redemption. And if he’s not put behind bars, he’ll probably do it again. And if he does it again, well that’s just not okay.

I know all that. And yet I always play the role of the defendant in my head. Maybe it’s because I always want to see the best in people. Or maybe I just really believe in second chances. Either way, it’s instinctual for me.

I guess it’s not so much that I side with criminals, but rather, that I need to hear both sides. Instinctually, I gravitate toward anyone who’s being targeted. If 1,000 people are hating a person, then I guess I need to be that one who doesn’t. I love exploring the other side.

Take football games for instance. When Ryan Fitzpatrick of the New York Jets throws an interception, everyone hurls insults and curse words at their TV. Sometimes I’m a part of this, but mostly, I just feel bad for the guy. While everyone’s yelling away, I’m sitting there thinking, “I can’t imagine how sad he feels right now.”

Before you call me stupid, let me just say that my brother and dad already have you covered. They assure me that he and his multi-million dollar contract will be just fine. But as an extremely empathetic person, I just can’t help my reaction.

I don’t care about the fact that he just ruined the game for us. He’s human. And I guess that’s a big part of my weird instinct to defend people. If nothing else, humanity unites us all. It’s just so hard for me to give up on people. To find them purely evil. And yes, people like that do exist in the world, like ISIS. But I’m talking about the people who are sorry. Who have regrets. Who are truly human.

I’m not saying that criminals shouldn’t go to jail. Not at all. I’m just saying I could never be the one to put them there. I’m too much of a softy (in a bad way) and I have the utmost respect for the prosecutors who have the strength, skills, and resilience to put them there.

Prostitutes are pretty cool, too.

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Why Me?

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When I was younger, whenever something bad happened to me the very first thought that popped into my mind was, “why me?”

Why did I have to break my wrist?
Why did have to develop allergies?
Why do I have to wear glasses?

I can actually remember thinking, “This shouldn’t be happening to me. It should be happening to some random girl in China.” I didn’t mean this to be offensive in any way to China or Chinese people anywhere. China was just the farthest place away that my primitive brain could think of. It felt like it’d be easy to exchange my problems with a random girl across the world. Her life is probably perfect, I’d think. I’d gladly take her “problems.” Not that she probably even has any.

How naive!

Eventually I realized how horrible this mindset was and realized I needed to change. How could I be so willing to dump my problems on another human being? How could I be so stupid to assume her problems probably weren’t even that bad? Of course, my problems were the worst. was suffering the most. Oh, how wonderful it is that I’m no longer that callous.

Now whenever something bad happens to me, I immediately say to myself, “Why not me?” This is probably going to sound weird, but I always picture in my mind that little, fictitious girl in China. I’ll smile to myself and be glad that it’s me experiencing this instead of her. I know that’s not the way this whole thing works. Just because I fall and scrape my knee doesn’t mean I’m taking one for the team and preventing all kids across the world from scraping theirs. But still, it’s a comforting thought.

I just hope that little girl in China is doing okay, I’ll think to myself.

…yet another racist white woman

Ellen Degeneres made a joke…and the whole world went crazy.

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Ellen’s known for photoshopping herself onto celebrities in pictures. From posing next to a naked Kim Kardashian to joining the Harry Potter clan, she’s photoshopped it all. And Olympic athlete Usain Bolt was no exception. But because of this picture – this one singular picture – all of a sudden she’s a racist and sexist and a bigot. People immediately jumped to the defense of poor Usain Bolt who is the target of yet another racist white supremacist. How could Ellen be so insensitive?

GIVE ME A BREAK.

Sometimes it seems like there are people in this world whose sole purpose is to wait around, just looking for something to pounce on.

And honestly, these people are doing more bad than good for the fight against racism. Think about it like this: If cops were going around writing every single person tickets for absolutely no reason, we’d then have absolutely no respect for policemen and certainly no respect for the law. It would become a joke to us.

That’s precisely what happens when people try to label things as racist that just aren’t. Suddenly the word racist holds no meaning. If a lighthearted joke like Ellen’s is racist, then I guess I’m racist too. And then I guess racism isn’t even so bad after all. Obviously I’m not racist, nor do I think racism is okay in any circumstances. But labeling things as racist that aren’t is doing such an injustice to every single person involved.

The most ironic thing of all is that out of everyone involved in this situation, Ellen is probably the least racist. The opposite of racism is seeing people for who they are, regardless of skin color. It’s when you look past someone’s exterior and into their heart, without even thinking about it. That’s exactly what Ellen did when she posted that photo. Its implications didn’t even cross her mind because why should they? His skin color didn’t even matter because why should it? The truth is, if Usain Bolt was a white man, none of this would be happening. But because he’s black, people saw an entirely different meaning to the picture. Ellen, however, did not. Nor did any person who isn’t racist. Because once again, skin color didn’t even cross our minds.

These people are doing the exact opposite of what anyone who is fighting against racism should be doing. They are further segregating us; further dividing us. They are creating good guys and bad guys and enemies out of innocent people.

Do you want to know what Usain Bolt did when he saw the picture?

He retweeted it.

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The Curse of Curiosity

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I’ve always been intrigued by people who don’t wonder.

Whenever someone tells a story, no matter the topic, a million questions instantly pop into my mind. It’s like I turn into some sort of investigator who needs to know every single minute detail from the what to the who to the when. Before the (understandably) annoyed storyteller can get halfway through the story, I’ve already made her go back to the beginning a dozen times. More detail. More information. More answers.

I never thought this was odd until I became the storyteller; the roles were now reversed. Time after time, my friends would listen to my tales, but time after time it was just that: they would simply listen. They wouldn’t feel the need to interject or push for any more detail than I had provided. They’d let out a laugh if it was funny or a gasp if it was shocking. But no questions ensued. When I realized this, two things happened.

(1) I became mildly concerned that my stories simply weren’t interesting enough.

(2) I became self-conscious. I need to be more laid-back. More chill. If someone leaves something out of the story, it’s probably not that important anyway. I made a note to simply listen the next time a friend told a story.

But I just couldn’t.

Why? Because I was too curious. There was so much I needed to know.

I’ve always been very interested in human beings. I have my own set of beliefs, morals, and standards, but I’m not the type of person who thinks it’s my way or the highway. I’m always interested in hearing the other side of an issue or what a person really thinks. While I often surround myself with like-minded people, there’s nothing I love more than speaking with someone who couldn’t be any more different than me. I’m open to change. Who knows? Maybe you just might change my mind. I want to be challenged and I want to challenge others. The problem? Not everyone likes a challenge.

As a matter of fact, most people don’t. When I fire my questions, people instantly become defensive. And 9 times out of 10, they perceive it as one thing and one thing only: judgment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called judgmental in my life. And sometimes people are right. We all judge others based on what they wear or how they talk or who they’re with. It’s human nature; instinct. But most of the time, I simply just want to know.

I have no idea why, but it seems as though everyone has it in their head that two people can’t disagree. God forbid two people have opposing views on religion or politics and it’s the end of the world. But WHY? If anything, that makes things so  much more interesting. Unfortunately, most people don’t see it that way and most people don’t even care.

This brings me back to my original thought: I’ve always been intrigued by those who don’t wonder. How can people simply accept the fact that the sky is blue and the sun sets every night? How can they not ask questions?

My curiosity has led me to over-think. And be perceived as judgmental. And nosy. And argumentative. And annoying.

That is its curse.

But it has also led me to explore. And gain understanding. And knowledge. And, as a matter of fact, to be the exact opposite of judgmental.

That is its blessing.

Bottom line: We all have different personality traits that make us who we are. In my opinion, I don’t think they’re inherently good or inherently bad. I think that’s up to us to decide. I’m curious. Nothing I say or do will change that. But instead of slapping on a label of nosy or contrary or argumentative, I choose to merely say: I’m curious. And what’s wrong with that?

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