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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Coverage of dueling marches exposed media bias — but not how you think

Jack Sandlin
Jack Sandlin
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Friday, January 27, 2017 09:01 pm

The folks at another local newspaper have been taking a lot of grief from readers about the newspaper's decision to cover recent  pro-choice "women's marches" here and in Washington, D.C., while ignoring last weekend's annual march for life in downtown Fort Wayne.  Its editors argued they have only so many reporters and had covered the pro-life event in past years, but in this overheated political climate the obvious discrepancy made even a legitimate if questionable judgment call "proof" of media bias. But what recourse do consumers of news have when the bias is more covert, as it was in much of the coverage of the Washington march and the inevitable conservative backlash against it?

According to most accounts, the event was an inspiration to hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters concerned about President Donald Trump's stance on abortion, gay rights, immigration and a host of other hot-button social issues. But while the lengthy account in this very newspaper mentioned actress Ashley Judd had spoken it omitted how she had also read a poem written by a 19-year-old woman from Tennessee speculating about the new president's lust for daughter Ivanka. The story mentioned the handmade signs "with clever slogans and advocating a long list of causes," but forgot to mention how some of those clever signs portrayed the Virgin Mary as a vagina, or contained various other genitalia and slogans proudly proclaiming an assortment of vulgarisms, most of them beginning in "F," "C" or "P." Use  your imagination.

Oh, yes: Madonna talked about how she fantasized about blowing up the White House — in the spirit of love, of course.

In contrast, many media outlets reported how some Republicans and others had responded with equal crudity. The News-Sentinel published an Associated Press account of how a school board member in Hillary Clinton's home town was forced to resign after calling women participating in the march "vagina screechers." Indiana State Sen. Jack Sandlin retreated under fire after posting on Facebook about the "fat women out walking." Nebraska State Sen. Bill Kintner resigned from the legislature after tweeting that some of the marchers didn't have to worry about being sexually assaulted.

"These are a handful of examples from across the U.S. of mostly male public officials who have been reprimanded, called out or disciplined over social media postings about the women's marches," the AP pointed out."

Every movement has its renegades, but the speakers Madonna and Judd were not only leaders but have been defended in the face of criticism. Is the too-often-crude Donald Trump to blame? Perhaps in part. But the illusory anonymity of social media also encourages antisocial behavior, as does the hypocrisy of condemning or ignoring such behavior depending on the politics of the perpetrator.

In other words, if all those male reprobates deserved to be exposed and criticized — and they did — you've got to hold people who dream of killing presidents or accusing them of would-be incest have to be held to the same standards. And, yes, that goes double for the man whose position, if not temperament, makes him leader of the free world. Others might not behave better if Trump did, but it would at least deny them an excuse to behave even worse.

According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans' trust of the news media is at an all-time low, with just 32 percent saying they believe the media will "report the news fully, accurately and fairly." But bias takes many forms. Some is obvious enough, such as when opinion replaces news or reporters actively collude with candidates, as some did during the Hillary Clinton campaign. Other forms are more nuanced, such as the decision to cover an event or not. But when stories are shaped by omitting some facts and stressing others, a story can be completely accurate yet totally misleading. That's perhaps the worst bias of all, because it is so hard to spot.

 The Journal Gazette, to its credit, got it right in an editorial in which it condemned Madonna and Sandlin alike, along with post-inauguration protesters who expressed their morally superior loathing for Trump by breaking things and fighting with police. "That isn't going to rally opponents to your side," the newspaper advised.

So there you have it: What was once simple common courtesy and decency has now devolved into a simple matter of tactics. But what the heck, it's better than nothing.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.



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