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Expand chart
Illustration: Gerald Rich, Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Several examples of major non-political news stories recently show that collective bias by the mainstream media goes beyond politics, seeping into issues of race, climate and terrorism.

Why it matters: Collective media bias can be hard to detect and address in real time, but the consequences are significant. At best, it can dramatically skew coverage for the majority of the population; at worst, it can distort the truth by inflating or downplaying significant aspects of some news stories.

Between the lines:

  • Terrorism: A new study, detailed in The Guardian, found that terrorist attacks committed by Muslim extremists receive 357% more U.S. press coverage than those committed by non-Muslims. The findings, as the Guardian notes, are particularly disturbing given that white and right-wing terrorists carried out nearly twice as many terrorist attacks as Muslim extremists between 2008 and 2016.
  • Hurricanes: A report from the Washington Post in 2017 found that overall, during roughly the same time period from September to October 2017, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico received only a third as many mentions in text as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma on the mainland.
  • Missing girls: Last year, a case of 10 missing minority girls in Washington, D.C. sparked outrage due to a lack of media coverage. As Vox wrote in explaining the controversy, "Even though children of color go missing more often than white children, they receive far less media coverage and public attention."
  • Even climate change, which is a hot digital topic, often struggles to get coverage on cable news. MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes tweeted last week that "almost without exception. every single time we've covered it's been a palpable ratings killer. so the incentives are not great."

The big picture: The financial pressures being put on newsrooms often push journalists to cover what they think will get a lot of pickup, argues Jennifer Grygiel, assistant professor of communications at Syracuse University. And tools that help journalists discover what's trending, like CrowdTangle and Tweetdeck, could be a part of that problem.

"Journalists are increasingly using products which highlight most viral posts amongst media. There are a lot of concerns on how this pushes media coverage bias."
— Jennifer Grygiel

Little economic incentive for mainstream media networks to cover certain topics or viewpoints, due to ratings or sales pressure, exacerbates the problem.

"Most news is also shaped by profit and ratings pressures, which favor breaking news over slow-moving social or environmental problems."
— Rodney Benson, chair of NYU's Department of Media

Newsroom diversity is another contributing factor, Benson says:

  • "Journalists’ relatively privileged backgrounds, combined with conceptions of their target audiences (increasingly skewed toward high-income groups most likely to be subscribers), create unconscious biases which shape what or who they think is worth paying attention to. This means that the the interests and concerns of less privileged groups (by class, religion, region, race, gender, or sexuality) are downplayed or ignored."

Go deeper

5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Sources say Beto plans Texas comeback in governor’s race

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke speaks during the Georgetown to Austin March for Democracy rally on July 31, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to run for governor of Texas in 2022, with an announcement expected later this year, Texas political operatives tell Axios.

Why it matters: O'Rourke's entry would give Democrats a high-profile candidate with a national fundraising network to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — and give O’Rourke, a former three-term congressman from El Paso and 2020 presidential candidate and voting rights activist, a path to a political comeback.

Texas doctor says he performed an abortion in violation of state law

Pro-choice protesters march down Congress Avenue and back to the Texas state capitol in Austin, Texas, in July 2021. Photo: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

A Texas doctor disclosed in an op-ed in the Washington Post on Saturday that he has performed an abortion in violation of the state's restrictive new abortion law, which effectively bans the procedure after six weeks.

Why it matters: Alan Braid's op-ed is a direct disclosure that will very likely result in legal action, thereby setting it up as a potential test case for how the abortion ban will be litigated, notes the New York Times.

Mike Allen, author of AM
6 hours ago - Technology

Axios interview: Facebook to try for more transparency

Nick Clegg last year. Photo: Matthew Sobocinski/USA Today via Reuters

Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, tells me the company will try to provide more data to outside researchers to scrutinize the health of activity on Facebook and Instagram, following The Wall Street Journal's brutal look at internal documents.

Driving the news: Clegg didn't say that in his public response to the series. So I called him to push for what Facebook will actually do differently given the new dangers raised by The Journal.