The real ‘bias’ in the news

OK, here’s another point I’ve made many times before, but the reporting on the Michigan Democratic primary offered another illustration of it.

There is one predominant “bias” in news reporting, and it’s very harmful to the country. It’s journalists’ addiction to conflict. This is very harmful to the country. (Another one that may be just as harmful is the tendency to explain and interpret everything, from global security to pop culture trivia, in terms of the next election. But that’s somewhat less relevant to what I’m writing about today.)

I don’t think reporters and editors are doing it on purpose. Their brains are just stuck in this mode. When they encounter a story that lacks significant conflict, they instinctively exaggerate what little they can find. It happens on a subconscious level, I believe. At least I hope it’s never conscious.

Anyway, we saw it in Michigan, where Joe Biden won the essentially uncontested primary with 81 percent. It was a victory margin Trump would kill for (and assume his MAGA mob would still support him, of course).

And yet what sort of coverage did we see, over and over and over? On the GOP side, it was about how Trump continues to crush his opposition. And as he always does, he gloated and boasted, and everything he said was dutifully reported.

On the Democratic side, headline after headline after headline said “Biden wins, BUT…” (The one you see above from my NYT Audio app — “Biden Takes a Hit in Michigan…” — was the most disproportional, unhinged hed I saw. Most stuck with the milder “but” construction.)

The “but” is a reference to the small number of Democratic primary voters who opted to vote “Uncommitted.” How small? 13 percent. This is attributed to a campaign in that state to protest the war in Gaza.

So, what do you think that means? Not much, as I see it. These voters did not choose to vote in the Republican primary.* They would have been crazy to do so, if their goal is to stop the fighting over there. They apparently realize that Trump is FAR less likely to do what Biden is constantly doing — trying to restrain Netanyahu (which is an uphill battle, since Netanyahu’s best chance of staying in office is to prolong the war). But of course, lots of voters do entirely irrational things — a phenomenon you can see amply demonstrated over in the Republican contest.

And they didn’t vote for another Democrat, presumably because one who will magically make them happier about Gaza doesn’t exist.

Mind you, this small “but” isn’t some harbinger of what will happen elsewhere. Michigan has the largest number of Arab-Americans in the country. This is the one place you would expect such a protest. But what if it did happen elsewhere? What would that 13 percent mean in this primary or another? Nikki Haley got twice that percentage in Michigan, but where’s the foreboding language about what a problem that is for Trump?

The only remotely plausible reason I saw or heard presented anywhere for making a big deal of this was the idea that Michigan is a swing state, and anything that might cut into Joe’s vote even slightly could be important in November. But that’s not gonna keep this Biden supporter up nights between now and then. (This brings up a third harmful “bias” we see in political reporting these days — the obsession with trying to predict WHAT WILL HAPPEN far in the future rather than simply reporting what actually has happened.)

Anyway, I just thought I’d point this out before the memory fades. Media outlets were desperate to find a fight somewhere in this boring non-contest, and this is all they could come up with…

This sort of headline was more typical.

18 thoughts on “The real ‘bias’ in the news

  1. Barry

    I’ve now seen reporting on at least 2 focus groups in Michigan with Democrat voters who say they will not vote for Joe Biden in November.

    If 10% of that 13% doesn’t vote for him, it’s going to just make it much more difficult for Joe to win Michigan- a state he is currently losing to Trump to in every single poll.

    The noise that 13% of those people made was pretty loud. At a time when Democrats need every single vote they can get, including from young people who will be voting for the first time in November (usually favoring Democrats), if that 13% keeps up their protesting and anger, they are going to drive down Biden’s numbers even further.

    For a man who the great majority of Americans think is too old to serve as President in a 2nd term, it’s a bad position to be in.

    As even friendly Democrat pollsters are saying now in off the record comments to reporters who are writing stories about this election, President Biden is in trouble.

  2. Ken

    “Michigan is a swing state, and anything that might cut into Joe’s vote even slightly could be important in November.”

    Yeah, that.
    Because recent electoral experience shows a few votes this way or that can have serious consequences.

    “But that’s not gonna keep this Biden supporter up nights between now and then.”

    The campaign can’t be as blasé about it as … some … people are.
    And because it matters to them, it matters to media, too. At least for a couple of days around the Michigan primary. It’s called topicality.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I don’t make predictions, but I tend to agree with Dick Nixon on this:

          Of course, he oversimplifies. As I replied to him, “Ah, but he’s not up against a baseball guy. He’s up against an honoree of the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame…”

          And there lies the rub.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            In case anyone is confused, my point is that no incumbent president in U.S. history has ever faced an honoree of the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame.

            Which is another reason not to try to make predictions, even if you’re as smart as Dick…

          2. Barry

            If by “fundamentals” he means low unemployment, strong stock market, some big policy wins in Congress, etc… then he is correct. But that’s old news.

            We’ve talked to death the idea that many people say they are personally doing pretty good but they also hold the view that the country is in a mess. It’s not really logical, but the way people feel is not all that logical. – Most people vote based on their feelings though.

            Oh – not political people- or people that talk politics all the time and take Slate quizzes on the weekends. But most everyone that really doesn’t pay politics that much attention do vote based on their feelings.

            The problem Nixon’s comment is:

            1) 81 year old who a strong majority of DEMOCRATS say is too old to serve as President.

            2) The immigration issue- that Biden is blamed for in big numbers – in polling- by both Republicans AND Democrats is the #1 issue in the country per various polls.

            3) Is underwater in most swing states and has been underwater for a year now- and only seems to be slipping further.

            A comparison I recently used with my 16 year old daughter recently when we were talking Trump and Biden (she asked because she saw a news report on ABC news) –

            Biden is the nice guy wanting to shake hands at the end of the basketball game at the local high school. He wants to do the right thing, might not be smooth, but he wants fairness and wants a good, fair game. His fans at the game appreciate good sportsmanship and so they like him. They like that Biden is the captain of the team because he’s a senior and it’s his turn,, plus, he’s a decent guy and he led the team to some wins, even though- over the last 4-6 games, he’s looked way off and isn’t getting better as the team is near the playoffs.

            Trump isn’t the nice guy after the game. He’s the captain because he demanded it and screwed over his teammate that was in line for the job. He doesn’t care if anyone shakes hands. If he thinks doing the right thing will help him, he will do it. If he thinks it will hurt him, he’ll go the other direction. He doesn’t care if the game is fair. He is out to win, and if he can poke the captain of the other team in the eye without the official seeing it, he’s happy to do it and laugh about it along with his fans.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    * Oops. I assumed voters registered by party in Michigan. I thought I’d heard that.

    But they don’t, according to the Michigan Department of State:

    Does a political party preference have to be declared when registering to vote?
    No. Michigan voters do not register by party affiliation.

    They have open primaries in Michigan. So forget what I said above about changing parties. Every one of those “uncommitted” Democratic voters could have voted in the Republican Party if they were so mad at Joe — as crazy as that would have been…

    I’ve removed the incorrect observation on this point in the post. But I explain here in case you read it earlier. I had said:

    So, what do you think that means? Not much, as I see it. These voters did not choose to vote in the Republican primary. (Assuming that would be a viable option — I’m not sure how much trouble it would be there to change party registration.)

    We now know it was an entirely open option.

  4. bud

    I’m going to side with the media on this one. This could turn into a huge problem for Biden. 100,000 people voted uncommitted. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Biden is not handling Israel well at all. He should immediately halt arms shipments to Israel until Netanyahu is gone. Many voters, and not just those of Arab decent, are furious at Biden. Sure Trump will be worse but that is of little comfort when 30,000 civilians are slaughtered. You need to stop this bumper sticker mentality toward Israel. You claim to be against “ones/zeroes” thinking on important issues. But on perhaps the most nuanced issue of our time you fall in line with one one side like a robot. Here’s another perspective.

  5. bud

    Nikki Haley got twice that percentage in Michigan, but where’s the foreboding language about what a problem that is for Trump?

    Not sure what news outlets you read but I’ve seen lots of stories suggesting Trump may lose Republicans that are offended by his behavior. That’s reflected in the Haley vote. Maybe you need to stop being a Biden cheerleader and try to actually consider there are legitimate reasons to be upset with Biden. His handling of the Middle East mess has been poor. Time to acknowledge that.

  6. Barry

    Speaking of bias- this is a crazy- but detailed story about the biased Clarence Thomas. He’s as unethical as one can get and stay out of prison.

    (The summary – lots of conservatives are now lying about what happened to protect her).

    Conservatives are totally silent about it.

    Eric Segall, a law professor at the Georgia State University College of Law, who served in George H. W. Bush’s Justice Department, told me, “Can you imagine what would happen if a Black person who said ‘I hate all white people’ ended up clerking for Sotomayor? You’d never hear the end of it on Fox News. But there’s almost total silence about this.”

    The Scandal of Clarence Thomas’s New Clerk

    Crystal Clanton became notorious for sending outlandishly racist texts. Now she’s been hired to work for the Justice—and a dubious new story has surfaced to clear her name.

    The start of the story… (I edited out one word)

    Last week, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas shocked the legal community when the news broke that one of his new law clerks will be Crystal Clanton—who became notorious in 2015 for apparently sending texts that said, “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like f$$$ them all . . . I hate blacks. End of story.”

    For most young lawyers, sending such a text would indeed have been the “end of story.” Instead, Clanton is on the cusp of clinching one of the most coveted prizes in the American legal system. In the past several years, as Clanton has risen through the ranks of conservative legal circles, the story of her alleged racist outburst has been curiously transformed into a tale of victimhood. The new narrative is that Clanton was somehow framed by an unnamed enemy who—for motives that remain unclear—fabricated the racist texts to defame her.

  7. Doug Ross

    NY Times poll just released showed Trump has gone from 4% support from black voters in 2020 to 23% in 2024… Explain how a racist does that? If that’s not the red flag Democrats need to know Joe has to go, then they are purposefully deciding to lose the election.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I didn’t know we’d had an election yet in 2024. And you say 23 percent of black voters chose Trump?

      Well, I guess that shows us that the United States doesn’t WANT to survive…

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