Charges of media bias – that “the media” are trying to brainwash Americans by feeding the public only one side of every issue – have become as common as campaign ads in the run-up to the midterm elections.
As a political scientist who has examined media coverage of the Trump presidency and campaigns, I can say that this is what social science research tells us about media bias.
First, media bias is in the eye of the beholder.
Communications scholars have found that if you ask people in any community, using scientific polling methods, whether their local media are biased, you’ll find that about half say yes. But of that half, typically a little more than a quarter say that their local media are biased against Republicans, and a little less than a quarter say the same local media are biased against Democrats.
Research shows that Republicans and Democrats spot bias only in articles that clearly favor the other party. If an article tilts in favor of their own party, they tend to see it as unbiased.
Many people, then, define “bias” as “anything that doesn’t agree with me.” It’s not hard to see why.