Bias

Contents
Questions
  • Is bias a bad thing?
  • The New York Times is said to have a liberal bias.  Is that a bad thing if true?
  • Is a biased criminal investigation a bad thing?
  • Is everyone biased?
  • Can people overcome their biases?
Précis
  • Person Bias
    • A person is biased if they have …
      • …. an outlook, perspective, opinion, inclination, or preference that inhibits impartial judgment
        • This is the inhibiting sense of bias (most common)
      • …. an outlook, perspective, opinion, inclination, or preference.
        • This is the inclining sense of bias (less common)
  • Reasoning Bias
    • A piece of reasoning is biased if it is flawed due to person bias.
  • Media Bias
    • Opinion pieces, analyses, and news reporting (especially investigative reporting) are subject to Reasoning Bias 
    • Media ratings of left-right bias seem to be based on the wording, amount of coverage, and the placement of news stories.
    • The left-right bias or slant of a news source results in part from editors’ value judgments.
Example of Bias
  • National Intelligence Estimate 2002
    • National Intelligence Estimate 2002
      • We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade. (See INR alternative view at the end of these Key Judgments.)
    • Report On the U.S. Intelligence Community’s  Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, by the Select Senate Committee on Intelligence, 2004
      • Conclusion 1. Most of the major key judgments in the Intelligence Community’s October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction, either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting. 
      • Conclusion 3. The Intelligence Community (IC) suffered from a collective presumption that Iraq had an active and growing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program. This “groupthink” dynamic led Intelligence Community analysts, collectors and managers to both interpret ambiguous evidence as conclusively indicative of a WMD program as well as ignore or minimize evidence that Iraq did not have active and expanding weapons of mass destruction programs.
  • A bias (in the most common sense) is an outlook, perspective, opinion, inclination, or preference that inhibits impartial judgment.
    • The bias in this case was the “collective presumption that Iraq had an active and growing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program.”
  • A person is biased if they have a bias. (person bias)
    • The analysts, collectors, and managers were biased toward thinking that Iraq had WMDs
  • A process or product of reasoning is biased if it is flawed due to a person’s bias. (reasoning bias)
    • The process of judging that Iraqi had WMDs, along with the resulting judgment, was biased.
  • Thus the analysts, collectors, and managers had a bias that biased their reasoning, making the resulting judgment biased.
Example of Non-Bias
  • Report Criticizes Comey but Finds No Bias in F.B.I. Decision on Clinton
    • “The Justice Department’s inspector general on Thursday painted a harsh portrait of the F.B.I. during the 2016 presidential election
    • The 500-page report criticized Mr. Comey for breaking with longstanding policy and publicly discussing an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server in handling classified information.
    • Nevertheless, the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, did not challenge the conclusion that Mrs. Clinton should not be prosecuted.
    • “We found no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations,” he wrote. “Rather, we concluded that they were based on the prosecutor’s assessment of facts, the law and past department practice.”
    • Mr. Horowitz repeatedly said he found no evidence that the F.B.I. rigged the outcome. “Our review did not find documentary or testimonial evidence directly connecting the political views these employees expressed in their text messages and instant messages to the specific investigative decisions we reviewed,” the report said.”
  • Horowitz found that the investigation of Hilary Clinton was not biased by the investigators’ political views.
Two Senses of Bias
Inclining vs Inhibiting
  • Dictionary definitions of bias.
  • Meaning of especially in definitions
  • So there are two senses of bias:
    • Most common (inhibiting sense)
      • An outlook, perspective, opinion, inclination, or preference that inhibits impartial judgment.
    • Less common (inclining sense)
      • An outlook, perspective, opinion, inclination, or preference.
  • Cognitive biases are biases in the incliningsense.
Person Bias
  • A person is biased if they have a bias.
  • Two senses of person bias
    • Inhibiting sense (most common)
      • A person has an outlook, perspective, opinion, inclination, or preference that inhibits impartial judgment.
      • The analysts assessing Iraq’s WMDs were biased (inhibiting sense) toward thinking that Iraq had WMDs.
    • Inclining sense (less common)
      • A person has an outlook, perspective, opinion, inclination, or preference
      • The prosecutors investigating Hilary Clinton were biased only in the inclining sense, which they overcame.
  • A person may have a liberal or conservative bias without being biased.
    • That is, a person may have a bias (in the inclining sense) yet not be biased (in the inhibiting sense).
    • A person’s liberal or conservative views can be based on unbiased reasoning.
Reasoning Bias
  • A process or productof reasoning is biased if it is flawed due to a person’s bias.
    • Flawed means the process violates the principles of logic and rules of evidence.
  • Examples of processes and products of reasoning
    • Criminal investigations, congressional investigations, reports by government agencies, news stories, the judging of competitions, audits, clinical trials, forensic analyses, scientific experiments, research polls, fact-checks, autopsies, arbitrations, editorials, op-eds, columns, criminal and civil verdicts, appellate opinions, decisions, evaluations, forecasts, estimates.
  • Every biased process or product of reasoning is flawed, but not vice versa. A
    process of reasoning may be flawed for reasons other than bias, e.g. sloppy thinking or honest mistakes.
  • Proving Reasoning Bias
    • To prove a process and product of reasoning is biased, you need to establish both that:
      • The reasoning is flawed.
      • The flaw is due to a person’s bias.
    • To prove a process or product of reasoning is unbiased you need to prove either that the reasoning is sound or that any flaws are due to something other than a person’s bias.
  • One-sidedness and Bias
    • A process or product of reasoning can be one-sided but not biased. A prosecutor’s closing argument is not (necessarily) biased, since it’s meant to be one-sided.   The same goes for editorials and op-eds.
Media Bias
Media Ratings for the New York Times
  • allsides.com/news-source/new-york-times
    • News: Lean left
  • allsides.com/news-source/new-york-times-opinion-media-bias
    • Opinion: Left
  • adfontesmedia.com/interactive-media-bias-chart
    • Reliability: 44.31 on a scale from 0 to 64.
    • Bias: -7.77 on a scale of -42 to +42.
  • thefactual.com/blog/nyt-bias-credible/
    • Over a dataset of 1,000 articles, the New York Times scored an average Factual Grade of 69.6%. This is well above the average of 61.9% for all 240 news sources and places the site in the 84th percentile of our dataset.
    • The Factual relies on third-party media bias ratings to inform our classification of news outlets. Using these metrics, the New York Times is classified as “Moderate Left.”
  • mediabiasfactcheck.com/new-york-times/
    • Overall, we rate the New York Times Left-Center biased based on wording and story selection that moderately favors the left. They are considered one of the most reliable sources for news information due to proper sourcing and well-respected journalists/editors. The failed fact checks were on Op-Eds and not straight news reporting. (5/18/2016) Update (M. Huitsing 03/18/2022)
  • influencewatch.org/for-profit/new-york-times/
    • While the NYT has featured a left-leaning editorial page for more than a century, its news coverage had been overseen by a succession of executive editors who were widely considered to make good-faith efforts to avoid partisan bias in the paper’s news coverage. In recent decades, that reputation has been eroded by the intrusion of increasing amounts of left-leaning bias and advocacy into news coverage under a succession of more activist editors and publishers.
Main Points
  • Slant
    • Media ratings of left-right bias or slant are based on the wording, amount of coverage, and placement of news stories.
    • The left-right bias or slant of a news source results in part from of the editor’s value judgments.
  • Reasoning Bias
    • Opinion pieces, analyses, and news reporting (especially investigative reporting) are subject to Reasoning Bias.
Media Bias: Slant
  • A news outlet has a left-right bias or slant that reflects the outlet’s value judgments about the wording, amount of coverage, and placement of news stories.
  • Value judgments and the News
    • News is not simply stuff that happens. A lot of mundane things happen everyday that don’t, and shouldn’t, make it into print. News is newsworthy stuff that happens.
      • A story is newsworthy if it’s “of sufficient interest or importance to the public to warrant reporting in the media.” (ahdictionary.com). 
    • A newspaper has to decide what’s news. Deciding what’s news requires making a value judgment: judging what’s worthy of being reported.
    • Different newspapers make different value judgments about newsworthiness. Thus, newspapers differ in the stories they print and how much coverage they give to each, giving rise to left and right slant.
  • What Drives the Political Slant of Daily Newspapers? Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro nber.org
    • Our analysis confirms an economically significant demand for news slanted toward one’s own political ideology. Firms respond strongly to consumer preferences, which account for roughly 20 percent of the variation in measured slant in our sample. By contrast, the identity of a newspaper’s owner explains far less of the variation in slant. We also present evidence on the role of pressure from incumbent politicians, tastes of reporters, and newspaper competition in determining slant.
  • A newspaper’s value judgments are not confined to newsworthiness. Newspapers have standards and policies that reflect value judgments about:
    • Verification and fact-checking
    • Sources
    • Content of
      • News stories
      • Analyses
      • Opinions
    • Taste and decency
    • Writing style
    • Ethics and conflicts of interest
    • Corrections and retractions
Media Bias: Reasoning Bias
  • A process or product of reasoning is biased if it is flawed due to a person’s bias.
  • Being products of reasoning, therefore, opinion pieces, analyses, and news reporting (especially investigative reporting) can be flawed and therefore can be biased.
  • A newspaper’s liberal or conservative slant does not imply their news stories are guilty of reasoning bias.
Allsides
allsides.com/media-bias/media-bias-chart
Email Exchange with Allsides
  • My email to allsides.com, March 24, 2022
    • As a philosopher I was surprised at your blanket assertion that everyone is biased.
    • If you mean only that everyone has an outlook or inclination, your claim is true but uninteresting.
    • If you mean that everyone has an outlook or inclination that inhibits impartial judgment, your claim needs evidence.
    • Do you mean to assert the latter claim and, if so, what research supports the claim?
    • Thanks.
  • Response from Julie Mastrine, Director of Marketing and Bias Ratings, March 25, 2022
    • We mean the former claim — everyone has an outlook or inclination. We write at length about our thoughts on bias here
    • While bias is often characterized as a bad thing (something that inhibits impartial judgment), we don’t necessarily share that view. While that can certainly be the case, our position as a company is that it’s okay to have a bias, as long as we make bias transparent and get multiple perspectives.
    • Minimizing bias can be a worthy goal for journalists, and AllSides consults with journalists to help them do that. But it’s probably impossible to eliminate bias entirely — and that’s okay. The simple fact that journalists are limited in time, resources, and space means they’ll have to privilege one piece of information, story, or point of view over another sometimes. It’s also okay to have explicitly conservative-biased or liberal-biased media, as long as it is transparent. AllSides exists in part to make those biases transparent.
    • Hope that helps.
  • My follow-up email
    • Julie,
    • Thanks for your kind reply.
    • After reviewing your methodology, I’m inclined to believe:
      • Your methodology (of editorial review, blinded surveys, third party research, and initial Q&D reviews) could be used to rate the left-right leanings of things other than news media, e.g. people (politicians, celebrities), documentaries, and nonfiction books.
      • Your rating system is opinion-based rather than criteria-based. For example if you rated Supreme Court justices you would ask people (editorial reviewers, survey takers) their opinions rather than, for example, rating the justices based on their decisions per predefined criteria.
      • What your rating system measures is the perceived political perspectives of news media rated on a left-right continuum.
    • Am I right?
    • Thanks.
  • Julie’s reply:
    • Yes, that is correct. As far as criteria, yes, it’s largely opinion based, especially for our Blind surveys. But for Editorial Reviews, our panelists are guided by the Types of Media Bias guide that I wrote to help them know what to look for. So we are rating perceived political perspectives, but we do provide some objective criteria to panelists as to what different types of bias look like.
    • Thanks for your questions!
  • My final email:
    • Actually one last thing.  This is a point rather than a question.
    • In discussing dictionary definitions of bias in allsides.com/blog/what-media-bias you remark that:
      • “You may notice that in some dictionaries, a negative touch is added to definitions of bias.”
    • Which got me thinking about the use of especially in definitions, such as:
      • A preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment. 
    • I found the answer at merriam-webster.com/help/explanatory-notes/dict-definitions.
      • “The sense divider especially is used to introduce the most common meaning subsumed in the more general preceding definition.”
    • So for the definition “a preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment”:
      • The most common meaning is:
        •  A preference or an inclination that inhibits impartial judgment. 
      • The less common, more general meaning is:
        •  A preference or an inclination
Ad Fontes Media
  • Ad Fontes Media rates the reliability as well as the bias of news sources.
    • Static Media Bias Chart
      • Rates bias on the horizontal axis and reliability on the vertical axis.
    • Interactive Media Bias Chart
      • Rates both websites (icons) and articles (points)
      • Also rates TV and podcasts.
      • Rates bias on the horizontal axis from -42 to +42 and reliability on the vertical axis from 0 to 64.
      • Vertical Axis Categories
        • Original Fact Reporting
        • Fact Reporting
        • Complex Analysis of Mix of Analysis and Fact Reporting
        • Analysis or High Variation in Reliability
        • Opinion or High Variation in Reliability
        • Selective or Incomplete story / Unfair Persuasion / Propaganda
        • Contains misleading info
        • Contains inaccurate / fabricated info
      • Search tool enables you to drill down to particular articles and shows (but limited to 5 searches per day)
Static Media Bias Chart
Interactive Media Bias Chart
Kobach’s Biased Proof of Illegal Voting
  • Kris Kobach, former Secretary of State of Kansas and former Vice Chair of the defunct Election Integrity Commission, has made debunked claims of voter fraud, supported Trump’s claim that millions voted illegally in the presidential election, and implemented strict Voter ID laws in Kansas.
  • On 9/7/2017 Breitbart published an article by Kobach in which he alleged to have proven that thousands of people voted illegally in New Hampshire. But his “proof” was fallacious, as analysts have pointed out. 
  • Kobach’s argument was thus flawed. Moreover, it’s likely the flaws resulted from Kobach’s bias toward the existence of voter fraud, in light of his debunked claims, other public statements, and his implementation of strict Voter ID laws in Kansas.
  • It’s thus likely that Kobach’s article in Breitbart is biased.
  • View Slides on Kobach’s ‘Proof’
Crossfire Hurricane
  • Review of FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation by the DOJ IG, Dec 2019
    • “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced Priestap’s decision to open Crossfire Hurricane.”
    • We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to seek FISA authority on Carter Page.
    • “Finally, we also found no documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivations influenced the FBI’s decision to use CHSs or UCEs to interact with Trump campaign officials in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.”
Georgia Investigation of Trump’s Interference in Election
  • Georgia judge skeptical of claims of political bias in 2020 election probe WaPo
    • The judge presiding over the grand jury investigation into possible election interference by Donald Trump and his allies expressed skepticism Thursday over arguments from Republicans that the prosecution, led by a Democratic district attorney, was politically motivated.
    • Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert C.I. McBurney  issued a decision rejecting a request from 11 of Georgia’s 16 Republican would-be electors who sought to disqualify the prosecution team because of political bias. Prosecutors say these electors may have been part of a plan to try to cast electoral college votes for Trump in Georgia and other states despite Joe Biden’s victory. Lawyers for the electors deny any wrongdoing, citing a pending court case over the Georgia election at the time they were certified.
    • The ongoing inquiry, McBurney wrote, “is inherently ‘political’ in the simple and unremarkable sense that politicians and leaders of a specific political party are alleged to have undertaken efforts to defeat the will of the Georgia electorate.”
    • A prosecutor who takes on such a case, he wrote, “is not automatically biased and partisan — and subject to disqualification — because of the common political affiliations of the subjects (and targets) of the investigation.”
Arguments that news media are politically biased (in the inhibiting sense)
The New York Times editorials are one-sided, expressing a liberal point of view.
  • A paper’s Editorial Point of View, or Editorial Slant, is the official opinion of the paper, set forth in its editorials. 
  • First Objection
    • A process or product of reasoning is biased only if it violates the canons of rationality because of person bias.
    • Like a lawyer’s closing argument, an editorial may be one-sided but perfectly rational, in which case it’s not biased. 
    • Therefore, the fact that a paper’s editorials take a political stand does not logically imply they’re biased.
  • Second Objection
    • A paper’s editorial point of view doesn’t mean its news reporting is biased.  Reputable newspapers have strict policies on the separation of news and opinion.
      • Washington Post Policies and Standards
        • “The separation of news columns from the editorial pages is solemn and complete. This separation is intended to serve the reader, who is entitled to the facts in the news columns and to opinions on the editorial and “op-ed” pages.”
  • Kinds of Articles in the News Media
    • News Reports report newsworthy events
    • Feature Articles explore news stories in more depth or cover related topics.
      • News Analysis, Fact-Checks, Timeline, Background, Text of Documents, Opinion Polls, Videos, Photos, Graphics, Interviews, Personality Profiles, Historical Parallels, Maps, Expert Opinion, Primer, Explainer, Retrospective, Follow-up
    • Opinion Pieces set forth opinions and arguments, make value judgments and normative statements
      • Editorials: official opinion of the newspaper, written by the editorial board.  Editorials set forth the newspaper’s point of view.
      • Op-Eds and Columns: written by regular and guest columnists
      • Letters to the Editor: letters written by the general public.
Journalists tend to be liberal and can’t help slanting their reporting. A Pew Research Poll, for example, found that reporters are more liberal than the population at large.
  • Objection
    • A person’s point of view doesn’t mean he’s incapable of being impartial in conducting an investigation. 
    • People can, and do, overcome their biases.
Partisan-leaning editorial pages are correlated with the amount of news coverage of scandals.
  • Newspaper Coverage of Political Scandals, published in The Journal of Politics
    • journalistsresource.org/studies/society/news-media/news-bias-political-scandals
      • Partisan-leaning editorial pages are strongly correlated with biases in the amount of reportorial coverage of scandals. Democratic-leaning newspapers devote significantly more attention to scandals involving Republican politicians than scandals involving Democrats, and Republican-leaning newspapers do the opposite. This apparent bias holds for scandals both local and national in origin.
      • On average, a news organization with a higher degree of editorial endorsements for one political party will devote 26% more reportorial news coverage to a scandal involving a member of the opposite party.
  • Objections
    • A paper may devote a large amount of coverage to a scandal because of its newsworthiness rather than its editorial point of view, e.g. The Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate Scandal
    • Correlation doesn’t prove causation
      • A and B’s being correlated proves neither that A causes B nor that B causes A
The tone of news coverage in national news outlets is anti-Trump
  • News Coverage of Donald Trump’s First 100 Days
  • The tone of a news article is judged from the perspective of the subject. Negative stories include stories where the subject is criticized directly or where an event, trend, or development reflects unfavorably on the subject.
  • Second Objection: A negative headline may be more objective than a neutral headline.
    • Headlines for Same Story (WaPo)
      • Fox News: Trump tells Congressional leaders 3-5 million ‘illegals’ cost him popular vote
      • Las Vegas Review-Journal: Trump insists voter fraud cost him popular vote
      • New York Times: Trump repeats lie about popular vote in meeting with lawmakers
      • Wall Street Journal: Donald Trump repeats unsupported claim that voter fraud skewed election tally
      • Washington Post: Without evidence, Trump tells lawmakers 3 million to 5 million illegal ballots cost him the popular vote
      • Politico: Trump repeats debunked voter fraud claim at meeting with Hill leaders
      • ABC News: Trump repeats unsubstantiated claim about voter fraud during election
      • CNN: Trump talks replacing Obamacare, reiterates unsubstantiated voter fraud claims
      • USA Today: Trump revives false claim that illegal ballots cost him popular vote
      • Slate: Trump, again, falsely claims he lost the popular vote because of millions of fraudulent votes
      • New York Daily News: President Trump still pushing unconfirmed claims that voter fraud cost him the popular vote
      • Business Insider: Trump repeats debunked claim that voter fraud caused him to lose popular vote to Hillary Clinton
      • New York Post: Donald Trump brings up bogus voter fraud claims — again
      • Associated Press: Trump wrongly blames fraud for loss of popular vote
Polls indicate that people believe the news media is biased
  • Bias Perceived in News Coverage, February 2012
  • Six in 10 in US See Partisan Bias in News Media, April 2017
  • Voters Say Media Still Anti-Trump, January 2017
  • Objection
    • According to the Gallup poll, most Americans say the media is “often inaccurate.”  Since there’s no evidence for this claim, the belief that the media is biased may also have no basis in fact.  The key question is not how many people believe the media is biased, but  why they believe the media is biased.  If they have good reasons, what are they?
Arguments news media are not politically biased (in the inhibiting sense)
  • If news articles were biased they would be logically flawed, making false or unsupported claims, cherry-picking the evidence, distorting the facts, drawing unwarranted conclusions, and so on.  There’s no evidence that news articles are in general logically deficient.
  • A person’s point of view doesn’t mean they can’t be impartial.  People can, and do, overcome their biases.
  • Reputable newspapers maintain journalistic standards of objectivity and fairness, keeping a Chinese Wall between news reporting and the editorial page
Conclusions
  • The burden of proof is on those who claim media bias.
  • The arguments considered fail to establish the news media is politically biased.
  • Reasoning bias is hard to prove since it requires showing that
    • the process violates the canons of rationality,
    • any logical flaws in the process result from person bias rather than from sloppy reasoning.
Addenda