Bias and political journalism go hand in hand. While the political pendulum from right to left is easy to detect, what often is underlying in most articles are subtle techniques journalists use that implicitly create a partisan-based political ping-pong game.
Respectively, the goal political journalists work to achieve is ideally providing succinct and informative articles that breakdown policies and politics in hopes of enabling educated voters. However, political journalism has steered away from its primary focus to engage in infestive framing techniques that fog the minds of readers to view politics through a strictly partisan lens.
“Tactical framing” for example, is one of the cryptic approaches that tend to hinder people’s ability to make informed choices and opinions about policies and politics. Instead of analyzing policies in their entirety, tactical framing refers to news coverage that focuses on strategy and polling. By placing a spotlight on polls that highlight the bipartisan majority opinions of covered politics, the audience is instilled with an inherent partisan view, regardless if it was initially absent. This enhances a partisan lens by acting along party lines, ultimately making it harder for people to find common ground.
Furthermore, tactical framing avoids the discussion of the material provided in policies. It targets a strategy over subject model by answering questions like how a policy will play in the next election. Beyond the partisan split, it steers away from directly discussing the subject matter of policy. Instead of helping analyze and understand policies, it centers around the discussion of the effects of the policy has to sway elections, political parties, and politicians.
The technique, tactical framing, was coined by the Director at Annenberg Public Policy Center, Kathleen Hall. In an interview with Vox magazine, Kathleen explains the direction of the technique.
“The discussion is focused on the players and the implications for them and their political careers, not the policy or its capacity to solve a problem,” Hall said.
While tactical framing will prevent readers from breaking away from anything outside a partisan lens, implicit bias is another controversial technique political journalist often implement into their works, further corrupting their own integrity.
Defined as the automatic or unconscious tendency to associate characteristics with particular groups, implicit bias can be detected in any aspect of life, but most importantly, it plays a critical role in determining the conception of politics and policies through the media. Although this is more subtle, it still manages to influence the audience to steer a certain way.
Studies conducted by Political Research Quarterly found that in articles about only women candidates running, there was a more direct focus on their character traits rather than on politics and policies. Not only does this amplify the presence of a double standard that a woman’s intelligence is not as important as her speech, but it suggests the influence that media coverage has on preventing women from succeeding in politics, due in part to implicit bias.
Furthermore, the issue of single-story coverage is also a threat to the integrity of political journalism. Single-story refers to the very one-sided coverage of topics that shields the audience from the full truth. The most obvious example of this can be found in the prolonged immigration debate in America. Since President Donald Trump’s reign, beginning in 2016, immigration coverage has strictly painted immigrants in a harshly negative light. Strictly targeting Mexican immigrants and the southern border, Mexicans are dubbed “aliens” and “threats to our nation.” More importantly, there is a concerning absence of coverage on the Mexican immigrant’s side of the story. Instead of asking why so many people feel the need to flee their country to one that advertises and markets off the idea of living an “American Dream,” our country refutes our attempts to welcome others in fear of national security.
Political journalism should not be set up as a strategic game in which headlines and articles play to yield right or left angles. Implementing an implicit bias or consciously covering politics without defining them first should be avoided at all costs. While teachers may use games to teach kids the alphabet or the numbers, it is completely inappropriate to cite game-esque coverage on policies and politicians that ultimately influence “we the people” who decide the fate of the nation.