Thomas Sowell

Denials of media bias seem to have become more frequent or more vehement lately. Some in the media try to dismiss the accusation as old stuff. But the only real question is whether it is true, because the truth doesn't wear out with the passage of time.

Media bias does not consist simply in the often cited fact that nine out of ten journalists voted for Democrats, in a country that is very closely divided between the two political parties. If, as many journalists claim, they do their job in a professional way, what they do in the voting booth is their own business.

What really matters is how they report the news. The remarkable success of Fox News, with its motto of "We report, you decide," suggests that many people suspect much of the mainstream media of filtering and slanting the news. Unfortunately, such suspicions are all too well founded.

Whether the issue is abortion, gun control, affirmative action or a whole range of other controversies, too many in the media seem less concerned with letting their readers and viewers know what the arguments are on both sides than with promoting the liberals' views.

One particularly bitter controversy within the over-all abortion issue is over a medical procedure known as a "partial birth abortion." Even some people who favor a right to abortions in general balk at this particular procedure.

Yet you could read some leading newspapers and watch some television news programs for years on end without having the faintest idea what a partial birth abortion is -- which is the killing of a newborn baby as he emerges from his mother's body. The very phrase is banned in some places, where "late-term abortion" is substituted, as if the controversy is about the time when this act occurs, rather than the act itself.

How are you supposed to make up your own mind about this or any other issue when large parts of the mainstream media seem determined that you not hear one side? It is not -- or should not be -- a question of which side the reporter is on. The question is whether the reporter is there to report or to filter, conceal or spin.

When the issue is gun control, you may have heard innumerable times that murder rates are much lower in countries like Britain or Germany, which have more restrictive gun control laws than ours. But how often -- if ever -- have you heard that murder rates are much higher than ours in some other countries like Russia or Brazil that also have more restrictive gun control laws than ours?

How often have you heard that murder rates are lower in some countries, such as Switzerland and Israel, where gun ownership is more widespread than in the United States?

Not very often, if at all, because liberals in the media leave the impression that gun control is a key to the murder rate. They have every right to believe that. But that does not include the right to filter out facts that go against their theory.

One widespread example of media bias is reporting the arguments of one side and the emotions of the other side. Usually both sides have both arguments and emotions but the liberal media often report only the liberal arguments.

In the recent Supreme Court decision upholding affirmative action at the University of Michigan Law School, a front-page news story in the New York Times reported the arguments used in Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's majority opinion but simply dismissed the dissenting arguments of Justice Clarence Thomas by saying that he "took as his text not the briefs but his own life story."

Those who doubt the existence of media bias should go on the Internet to find Justice Thomas' opinion ( www.supremecourtus.gov ) and read it for themselves to see if there is anything anywhere in it that bears any resemblance whatever to the characterization used by the New York Times to keep its readers from knowing what his arguments were.

The New York Times has every right to be in favor of affirmative action. But that is very different from preventing its readers from knowing what the arguments are against it -- especially in what is presented as a "news" story, rather than a front-page editorial. Media bias is still alive and well at the New York Times, and so apparently is the spirit of Jayson Blair.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate