Where’s the bias? How to detect subtle bias in news media

Magnifying glass, media bias, bias

Is it Photoshopped?

Written articles aren’t the only media that can be manipulated to suit creators’ biases. Images and videos can also be altered to distort reality. In this first part of today’s post, I’ll analyze a photo shared on Twitter depicting Serena Williams’ dispute with US Open umpire Carlos Ramos.

My Suspicions

This tweet appeared over the weekend just after the controversy in the Women’s US Open Final. I suspected the image of being altered for multiple reasons.

First, the umpire’s opaque silhouette and position above Serena seemed very staged. This played almost too well into the mainstream narrative for the event. Second, the original photo has a very low quality with a lot of pixelation around the two subjects. The pixelation could be evidence that Williams or Ramos are not in their original position.

My Investigation

Performing a simple reverse Google image search brought up several other articles that used the same photo. These other images—shared by reputable sources such as South China Morning Post, BBC, Express—were of higher quality than the tweeted photo. The pixelation was gone.

After this initial phase, I cross-referenced the original image with other images taken during the exchange. These images also had the dark silhouette of the umpire and even had Williams in the same pose but from a different angle.

This tweet from CBS News showed similar stances and colors as the original image.

A tweet from CNN showed the umpire’s dark outline and William’s pose from another angle.

Another important detail in the photo is the microphone’s position. It is in the same angle in each photo. Additionally, the “Spectrum” logo is legible in each, even the initial photo.

Final Analysis

Ultimately the photo did not seem to be doctored. However, the techniques I learned to analyze the image were not difficult. In fact, just through cross-referencing pictures on Twitter from the match, it would be possible to determine if the photo was changed substantially.

The Subtle Bias of Omission

In reading and watching the news, overt partisanship rarely gets past readers. However, when articles or programs omit important information, even the most critical and aware reader might miss this subtle bias if they are not versed on the topic.

The Article

In the second part of today’s post, we’re going to turn a critical eye towards an informative article that appeared in the South China Morning Post last week by Catherine Wong and Laura Zhou. The authors, who are have incredible informed regarding China’s current events, write about Beijing’s latest financial pledge to Africa. Their motivation seems simple: to inform the audience of the highly credible South China Morning Post.

The Omissions

While the article is full of facts about the deal, and even addresses concerns about Beijing’s motivations, it does not fully address the evidence behind the West’s concerns about the deal. Rather, it dismisses them by restating President Xi Jinping’s assurance that China is not pursuing “political self-interest.”

Reading Other Reports

Evidence from other sources refute the Xi’s argument. Salem Solomon, at Voice of America, reported on the topic as well, saying, “In Sri Lanka, China took over Hambantota Port and thousands of acres of surrounding land as part of a debt forgiveness package.” The incident by itself seems to justify a fear that China may have ulterior motives with this most recent move.

Solomon continued with more information absent in the SCMP’s article. While China invests about $50 billion on the project, about 100 million of its citizens are living in poverty and the government remains $28 trillion in debt. This critique, which is relevant to the SCMP’s audience, is not mentioned in the article.

Final Analysis

Ultimately, Wong and Zhou wrote a very informative, factual article. However, readers should always consult at least two other sources before completely digesting the story. A critical reader should always wonder what the author left out, and why they might have done so.

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