July 13, 1998

Framing the News



The debate over journalistic bias is badly divided. Critics, particularly conservatives, see strong evidence of liberal bias in the personal characteristics of journalists. Studies noting a preponderance of journalists voting for Democratic presidential candidates, or widespread secularism, are cited as proof that journalists are disproportionately liberal. Many journalists and some other academic work counter that journalistic conventions such as fairness and balance help journalists overcome these personal biases, or that these personal characteristics are overwhelmed by other journalistic predilections, such as a desire to look tough, or an orientation toward conflict.

The debate is only intensifying as the press becomes more interpretative in its coverage and as the expanding media spectrum has created new genres of communication, many of which market themselves as alternatives to the liberal media.

Little empirical evidence exists to test these competing arguments. Studies of bias tend to have taken the approach of identifying an objective record on matters where there is statistical research, and then comparing the coverage to that research.

This study is a first step in trying to approach this area by creating several variables that might together provide a picture of the predilections of the press, notably topic, trigger, narrative frame and underlying or enduring message.