Media bias may be in the eye of the beholder, but the ability of journalists to slant the news can be demonstrated in ways that are both obvious and subtle.
Blatant bias was seen in the competing presidential town halls last week. In one, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie decided the job of the moderator was to debate, attack and interrupt President Trump. In the other, ABC’s moderator George Stephanopoulos tossed softballs to Joe Biden. That’s the kind of unfairness we’re used to with respect to coverage of Trump and Republicans.
But a more insidious form of media bias comes in the use of language and the way journalists use terms designed to favor the left. All you need to do to see examples of this is read the bible of American journalism: the AP Stylebook.
Published by The Associated Press, the Stylebook has, since its first edition came out in 1953, become the leading authority on grammar and style by reporters and editors as well a corporate-communication reference guide. Its updates about how to use words have even more influence on the way Americans speak and write than dictionaries.
While it may have started out as an objective source, as with so much of the media it serves, the Stylebook has long since discarded fairness for a liberal bias that betrays the goal of its authors and tilts the playing field against conservatives.
This was on display last month when the Stylebook weighed in to re-educate Americans about the “mostly peaceful” Black Lives Matter protests that resulted in violent riots and looting in hundreds of American cities since the death of George Floyd.
Since speaking the unvarnished truth necessarily paints these events in an unflattering light, the AP advised journalists to stop calling them “riots” and to use the more neutral “protests” instead — even if they were violent. Describing the pillaging of businesses by rioters as “looting” was denounced as racist.
When writing about people burning neighborhoods, looting stores and attacking police, we should not talk about what they were actually doing. Instead press outlets should focus their coverage on the “underlying grievance” of those engaging in “rioting and property destruction.”
Doing their jobs and reporting what was happening was, the Stylebook claimed, to echo the practices of America’s racist past. In other words, reporters should believe those who are trying to portray a nation that has long since moved on from its troubled past as irredeemably racist rather than their lying eyes and ears.
The AP also wants the press to avoid using terms like “abolish” or “defunding” the police since it considers them inflammatory and instead describe these proposals in more detail. The goal there is to avoid the truth about a movement steeped in dangerous radical anti-police ideas.
Just as obvious was a recent AP article about the Democrats’ threats to pack the Supreme Court with liberals if they gain control of Congress next year. The article described one Democrat’s support for this idea as an effort to “depoliticize” the court.
That’s a partisan redefinition of a term that has been universally employed for decades, and it’s meant to avoid discussion of how the Democrats wish to blow up the judicial system.
The AP’s Orwellian “newspeak” isn’t new. For example, over the last decade, it forbade the use of “illegal immigrant” in favor of “undocumented,” a word that blurs the fact that some immigrants have entered the country illegally. It banished “Islamist” from the vocabulary of those covering the threat from radical Islam and said “terrorists” should be (misleadingly) referred to as “militants.”
Honest public discourse depends on calling things by their right names. But much like the current trend at many mainstream publications and broadcast outlets, where journalists think their job is now to fight Trump and conservatives rather than just report the facts and let the people decide, the AP Stylebook has become an eager recruit for left-wing Democratic activism and the anti-Trump “resistance.”
Those in the press who want to preserve an honorable profession necessary to a working democracy need to start ignoring the AP Stylebook and stick to truthful definitions.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org.
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