Thursday, March 19, 2009

Media Bias: 'The BLACK defendant' syndrome

Is the media truly objective and unbiased? How media agencies report stories show their prejudices (and, no, we are not talking about FOX News!)

Let's take this example --Pittsburgh Live! In this story, published May 12, 2007, about a dog attacking another dog, the headline reads: Pit bull attacks dog in Brackenridge (

In the following story, dated July 25, 2008, the headline reads: Dog attack in Erie County kills toddler (

At no time, in the second story, does the paper mention the breed of the dog. Other papers describe the dog (and include photos) as an Old English Sheepdog.

In April of 2005, News 10 of Sacramento reported a story where a Queensland Heeler and Pit Bull attacked another dog. ( The headline only referred to the PIT BULL. In response to this obvious bias in the reporting of the story, we sent the following email to News 10:

"Regarding this tragic story, we are almost as saddened by the bias displayed in the headline as we are by the horrible event itself. Why, if a Queensland Heeler AND a Pit Bull both attacked and killed the dogs was only the PIT BULL mentioned in the headline? That is akin to telling a news story about a white man and black man who rob a store together but having the headline read: Black man robs store."

To News 10's credit, they recognized the bias in the headline and responded as follows (in an internal email copied to us):

"The reader has a point. How about we change it to something like: Roseville Woman Mourns Pets Killed in Dog Attack?"

They subsequently changed the headline.

People who report the news are as subject to bias as the rest of society, but as the watchdogs of society, it is crucial that news professionals make a concerted effort to recognize their prejudices and report the news in as objective a fashion as possible. Bias in the media harms society by causing people to perceive issues in a certain way that may not represent reality, and these perceptions often find their way into laws that affect millions of people...and animals.

Author D. Capp holds an M.S. in medical science (biochemistry and genetics), a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and molecular biology, and a law degree.

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