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An analysis of the bias in national media headlines

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A news story’s headline can often be its most salient point, but a headline can also be misleading, divisive and inflammatory.  In a time where information is constantly transmitted and consumed as events unfold, viewers often only see news headlines. While many outlets claim to be fair and unbiased, this is not a realistic reflection of their own reporting. Inaudible shouting matches and banter between pundits, anchors and hosts can be seen any night on national news channels.

Every person and media organization has some sort of opinion, and no one person or news organization can describe all pertinent facts in every news story. FOX News and CNN at times have very similar, or even equivalent headlines, but not all the time.  Those subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, differences can prime viewers to think of a person, organization or topic in a specific way before the viewer reads the content of the news story.

Below is a side by side comparison of Fox News (left) and CNN (right) headlines regarding some of the major developments that led up to the special investigation of Russian ties to the Trump campaign. It is important to keep in mind that the dates included are dates of publication, not necessarily the date of the event described in the headline.

FOX

 

July 5, 2016: FBI’s Comey: Clinton ‘extremely careless’ about emails, but bureau will not advise criminal charges

Oct. 28, 2016: FBI reopens Clinton probe after new emails found in Anthony Weiner case

Nov. 4, 2016: Dems trying to nudge Comey out at FBI after Clinton probe decision

Feb 24, 2017: Trump blasts FBI ‘leakers’ after reports on Priebus conversation

March 20, 2017: White House stands ground after Russia probe confirmed, says no ‘collusion’

 

May 3, 2017: Comey hearing: FBI chief defends ‘right choice’ on handling Clinton email probe

 

May 10, 2017: James Comey fired: Ousted FBI director learned he was fired from TV

May 16, 2017: Report: Trump asked Comey to end Flynn investigation

May 17, 2017: Robert Mueller to oversee Russia election probe as special counsel

May 18, 2017: Trump rails against ‘witch hunt’ amid special counsel appointment

 

 

CNN

 

July 5, 2016: FBI director: Hillary Clinton ‘extremely careless’ but no charges recommended

 

Oct. 28, 2016: Comey notified Congress of email probe despite DOJ concerns

 

Nov. 7, 2016: FBI clears Clinton — again

Feb 24, 2017: FBI refused White House request to knock down recent Trump-Russia stories

 

March 21, 2017: FBI: Trump campaign, Russia ties investigated, no wiretap evidence found

May 3, 2017: Comey hearing: FBI chief defends ‘right choice’ on handling Clinton email probe

May 9, 2017: Trump’s letter firing FBI Director James Comey

 

May 12, 2017: Sources: Rosenstein sees no need for special prosecutor in Russia probe

 

May 17, 2017: Memo: Trump asked Comey to end Flynn investigation

May 18, 2017: Special counsel appointed in Russia probe

 

 

For potentially more neutral sources, readers can also check timelines on FactCheck.org or PolitiFact.com.

FactCheck.org claims to “seek to devote an equal amount of time reviewing claims by Republicans and Democrats,” and they compare media stories with primary, original documents. They are funded by the Annenberg Foundation, founded by Walter Annenberg who also established the Annenberg School for Communication at University of Pennsylvania and Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Reagan.

PolitiFact is a Pulitzer Prize-winning website operated by the Tampa Bay Times, currently owned by the non-profit Poynter Institute. Bill Adair, formerly of the Washington Times, started PolitiFact (The Times has been accused of bias to the right by Right Wing Watch, a site run by People for the American Way; however, it has also won a Pulitzer prize and has background and expertise in investigative media practices). PolitiFact discloses that it “currently receives funding from the Democracy Fund, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation” as well as reader contributions.

All fact checking sites receive some complaints related to bias, but The Mainstream found these two to be the most neutral, reputable and transparent.

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