Real Media Bias or Fake News?

Political scientist Adam Schiffer unpacks the bias charge against the media.

(This article by Julie Engebretson originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of TCU Magazine.)

The issue of media bias has interested Adam Schiffer since high school, when he penned a letter to the editor of his hometown newspaper.

“I was responding to someone who had accused the press of being liberal,” the associate professor of political science said. “And I’d said, ‘No, in this case, there is actually an alternative explanation,’ which, in a nutshell, is the basis of my book.”

Photo of Professor Adam Schiffer

TCU political science professor Adam Schiffer said people are looking for bias in the wrong places. (Photo by Jeff McWhorter)

Published in summer 2017, Evaluating Media Bias (Rowman & Littlefield) provides a framework for understanding the charged topic.

“I argue that people are looking for bias in the wrong places,” Schiffer said. “The book, like my Media and Politics class I’ve taught for 15 years, is organized around two ideas: that partisan-bias charges tend to be overblown, and also that citizens should be more concerned with other types of media bias, or the ‘real biases’ as I call them, because these are more important than any left or right slant.”

One such “real bias” is the failure of the media to place facts, figures and events within the context of a broader narrative. Others refer to a tendency to report on the game of politics rather than the substance of policy and its material consequences.

“Instead of telling you what the candidates are going to do if elected, they focus on who’s ahead in the polls and their strategies and gaffes,” Schiffer said.

Because the professor began researching the book well before the 2016 presidential election, he could not have known then just how pertinent the topic of media bias would become. Nor could he have foreseen how the decades-old liberal-bias charge against the American news media would metastasize: Today’s “fake news” accusations call into question the integrity of the Fourth Estate, fueling what Vox.com contributor David Roberts referred to in a November 2017 think piece as an “epistemic breach” in America.

Read more in TCU Magazine.