Media Bias: Real or Imagined?

Homosexuality Under Focus

Rome, (Zenit.org) Father John Flynn, LC | 2056 hits

Accusations of media bias are common, and according to a recent study there is good reason to doubt the impartiality of the mainstream media.

A report published this week by the Pew Research Center found that news coverage was strongly in favor of same-sex marriage, outweighing articles opposing it by a margin of roughly 5-to-1.

The study covered America’s media in the period when the issue was being raised in the U.S. Supreme Court. In the period from March 18 through May 12 hundreds of stories were examined, along with more than 2.4 million Tweets. No less than 47% of the news stories were oriented in favour of changing the law. Only 9% were mainly opposed to a change, while 44% were largely balanced.

The Pew Center explained that for a story to be classified as supporting or opposing same-sex marriage, statements expressing that position had to outnumber the opposite view by at least 2-to-1.

Contrary to the belief that news stories are more balanced, while opinion material is more partisan, the study found that bias in favor of same-sex marriage was consistent regardless of content being news or opinion.

For news articles, 47% featured mainly support, while 8% were opposition and 45% were mixed or neutral. In opinion pieces 48% were in support of same-sex marriage, compared to 10% opposed and 43% that were neutral.

The pro-same-sex marriage bias was uniform in about all the media sectors, the Pew Center observed. According to the study the Wall Street Journal and USA Today were the most balanced, while the Huffington Post stood out for its support of same-sex marriage.

Interestingly, the study found that when it came to user-generated material, on Twitter, that postings were almost even between support and opposition for same-sex marriage, something that reflects public opinion polls on the issue. Twitter posts were 31% in favor of same-sex marriage, 28% opposed, with 42% being mixed.

The study also confirmed that the media lacks a more in-depth examination of issues, as it found that only 8% of the stories were focused on the morality or ethics of same-sex marriage.

Vatican lobby

For anyone doubting the accuracy of the Pew Center study a confirmation of its findings came with the media frenzy following what Pope Francis said recently on homosexuality.

On June 6 Pope Francis met with representatives of the Latin American and Caribbean federation of leaders from religious orders and he allegedly referred to a “gay lobby,” in the Vatican.

The federation published a statement on the matter, pointing out that the reports were simply a personal summary of what someone had remembered as having being said and only gave a general sense of the content, without being a precise account.

Nevertheless, this was sufficient for New York Times’ opinion writer, Frank Bruni, to author a Sunday opinion article on June 16 titled “The Pope’s Gay Panic.”

According to Bruni the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality is characterized by “mystery and madness.” From his comments it would seem he is the one in panic, not the Pope.

The first source Bruni cited in support of his views was Sister Jeannine Gramick, who, as he did bother explaining, along with Father Robert Nugent, was the subject of a notification by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1999 as having “ambiguous positions” on homosexuality and of being in public opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church on this subject.

It is certainly not the first time the media has revealed its bias when it comes to matters regarding homosexuality and the Church, as I pointed out in an article (http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/putting-words-in-the-pope-s-mouth) early last year regarding the selective reporting on what Pope Benedict XVI said in his address to the Vatican’s diplomatic corps.

Progressive media

It’s not just Catholics who detect problems with media coverage of controversial issues. Last year, Arthur S. Brisbane, in his August 26 farewell column as public editor for the New York Times, said that many departments of the paper “share a kind of political and cultural progressivism.”

“As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects,” he commented.

On March 16, shortly after his election, Pope Francis met with thousands of representatives from the media. He recognized the important role they have and his gratitude for their work.

He also pointed out that events in the Church have a very different dynamic from other issues as: “they follow a pattern which does not readily correspond to the ‘worldly’ categories which we are accustomed to use, and so it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wider and more varied public.”

“Your work calls for careful preparation, sensitivity and experience, like so many other professions, but it also demands a particular concern for what is true, good and beautiful,” he said.

“It should be apparent that all of us are called not to communicate ourselves, but this existential triad made up of truth, beauty and goodness,” he added. Probably not considerations at the forefront of many media reports.

Pew Center study - http://www.journalism.org/analysis_report/news_coverage_conveys_strong_momentum

March 16 papal audience for media representatives - http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/speeches/2013/march/documents/papa-francesco_20130316_rappresentanti-media_en.html