Bias is a tendency to lean in a certain direction, either in favor of or against a particular thing. To be truly biased means to lack a neutral viewpoint on a particular topic. Somewhere along the line, bias took on a negative connotation. We tend to think it's a bad thing but that's not always true.
If you're biased toward something, then you lean favorably toward it; you tend to think positively of it. Meanwhile, if you're biased against something, then you lean negatively against it; you tend to think poorly of it.
Truthfully, everyone has biases, preferences, and prejudices. Let's take a moment to break down some of the connotations surrounding this issue and then dive into several examples of bias.
Bias vs. Prejudice vs. Discrimination
Bias, prejudice, and discrimination all live under the same roof.
What Is Bias?
Bias is an inclination toward (or away from) one way of thinking, often based on inherent prejudices. For example, in one of the most high-profile trials of the 20th century, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder. Many people remain biased against him years later, treating him like a convicted killer anyway.
What Is Prejudice?
Prejudice refers to a preconceived opinion or feeling toward a person before any facts are known. It can be based on their affiliation with a group or a preconceived idea about the person or thing. Prejudice is often negative and can cast an unfavorable light on someone simply because they're a member of some ethnic group, religion, or organization.
For example, millions of people around the world consider Tom Cruise to be a very talented actor. He's also labeled as one of Hollywood's nicest guys, purportedly treating his cast and crew with the utmost kindness and respect. However, his affiliation with Scientology prompts all kinds of negative press, as many people are prejudiced against Scientology.
What Is Discrimination?
Discrimination comes into play when someone actis different toward one person or group based on perceived differences. Discrimination can also be very negative when it's based on negative biases and prejudices and certain racial or ethnic groups are treated differently than others.
For example, during the time of the Civil Rights Movement, white men and women held unfavorable views (prejudice) against African Americans and, in turn, discriminated against them through segregation and other heinous acts. Prejudice is the opinion or viewpoint; discrimination is the action.
Similar to bias, however, discrimination can also have a positive spin. For example, movie theaters participate in discrimination whenever they charge a lower ticket price for children and seniors. Technically, they're discriminating based on age, even though it's to the advantage of this age group.
Examples of Bias in Behavior
Let's begin with an overview of bias by examining it in people's thoughts and actions:
- If someone has a bias about women, they can take two different approaches.
- If they're biased toward women, they might hire only women because they feel they make better employees for some gender-related reason.
- Conversely, if they're biased against women, they might hire a man over a more-qualified female candidate.
- Biases toward certain religions can also manifest in two different ways.
- If someone is biased toward their own religion, they will think their beliefs and practices are superior to any other form of religion.
- If, however, they're biased against a certain religion, they might show it by making rude or insensitive comments, or go as far as vandalizing religious buildings.
- How about same-sex couples?
- If someone is biased toward same-sex couples, they might choose to rent their home to them over a heterosexual couple.
- If they're biased against same-sex couples, they might discriminate against them by refusing to rent to them.
- If someone is biased toward a political affiliation, they will tend to speak more positively of politicians belonging to the same party. If that same person is biased against a different political affiliation, they might show their bias by quickly dismissing or disagreeing with anyone who aligns with that opposing political view.
Examples of Bias in Politics and Media
Trump believed the media possessed a terrible bias against him, based on unjustifiable prejudice, which lead them to discriminate against him with unfavorable coverage, which he called fake news. He's not the only leader to feel like the media is biased one way or the other.
Here are some historical examples of bias in the media:
- Abraham Lincoln accused newspapers in border states of being biased against the South. He ordered many of them to be shut down.
- In the years before World War II, Hitler accused newspapers of having a Marxist bias.
- In the 1980s, the South African government accused newspapers of liberal bias and ordered censorship over them, shutting one down for a time.
- During the Vietnam War, Spiro Agnew called anti-war protestors the "nattering nabobs of negativism." He accused newspapers of being biased against America.
- During the civil rights movement, production companies were accused of bias against mixed-race storylines. Some southern stations refused to air shows with mixed casts such as Star Trek and I Spy.
Here are the types of bias you can find in the media:
- Advertising bias consists of selecting media stories based on what will please advertisers.
- For example, what if an online news outlet's biggest sponsor was a major airline? The outlet may choose only to highlight positive stories relating to that airline and only negative incidents regarding other airlines.
- Concision bias is when a media outlet reports views that can be summed up in a few words rather than those which require lengthier explanations.
- In a world where the average news reader only has an eight-second attention span, it's common for news outlets to publish stories in 500 words or less. This means carefully selecting catchy headlines and opting for shorter stories that can be consumed faster than lengthier, more detailed pieces.
- Corporate bias means picking stories that are pleasing to the owners of a media organization or network.
- For example, a celebrity news outlet's CEO might also own a luxury jewelry company, It wouldn't be far-fetched to see that same outlet post favorable articles about celebrities wearing that designer's accessories.
- Mainstream bias consists of reporting the same thing everyone else is reporting — and avoiding offensive stories — so readers and viewers don't turn away.
- Sensationalism is a form of bias wherein a media outlet chooses to report extraordinary events in favor of everyday events. This can make these extraordinary events seem more common than they really are.
- Consider the media coverage of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal. This story headlined news outlets for weeks, foregoing other stories that might've typically run on the front page.
Bias in personal and professional settings will continue to muddy the waters until everyone vows to operate with an open mind. We will continue to see bias sprout up until people push aside their preconceived notions and shine some light on explanations from other people.
The worst part is the news is supposed to report stories in a completely unbiased, objective manner. But, in today's culture, that doesn't always happen. To make sure you remain free from bias, prejudice, or discrimination, enjoy these Tips on Writing a News Report. They'll help you focus on the facts and allow readers to make up their own minds.