Where in the world is News Bias?

Our perception of day-to-day life can very greatly from one country to the next. As a result, news bias due to one's geography is subject to occur. Two specfic types of geographical news bias are described below: Regionalism and Afghanistanism.

If you were in Germany on February 14, 1944, reading about the latest war news in the local paper, would you expect to see a headline of "Allies Moving Closer, Hitler's Dictatorship Nearing End" or "Dresden Leveled, Civilian Casualties Enormous"? Of course you would expect the latter of the two, being in the attacked country. Here regional influences are played out clearly in the stories we read, but they are not always so clear.

Below are excerpts from two articles, one published in Der Spiegel (a major German weekly newsmagazine, left) and the other in Time (a major American weekly newsmagazine, right). Both deal with the war on Iraq, but take rather opposite vewpoints as to the motivations of America, and the opponents of war.

Example 1

Key Questions to keep in mind while reading the following example of regional bias:

  • How is the "home region" portrayed in each article?
  • How is the "other region" portrayed in each article?
  • To whom does "observers" refer in the beginning of the second article?

"Only in retrospect does it become clear how very true to its plans the Bush administration remained after the schock from 9/11. They had already arrived at a wide reaching influence of power into American spheres of interest - however only the terrorist attack and the following swelling of patriotism made the war acceptable in America, even popular. Already on September 12th, 2001, Rumsfeld was asking the question: 'Should the USA not proceed directly against Iraq?'..."

"...President Bush followed up the European doubts with words, but not with actions. With respect to Iraq, the U.S. claims the right to a preventative war, in order to hinder Saddam Hussein in the acquisition of neuclear weapons. Bush and Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld float a re-organization of the region under US hegemony.1

"That leaves - fanfare, please, - the French. Their role throughout the Iraq crisis has baffled and frequently infuriated observers. In the fall, when French diplomats were crucial to the drafting of Security Council Resolution 1441, President Jacques Chirac cleverly positioned himself close to the Bush administration while maintaining a degree of independence. But in the past few weeks, the French line against a war has hardened, and on Jan. 20, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin went out of his way, without warning Powell, to oppose a rush to war in a public ambush at the U.N."

Powell was furious, but the French claimed they were motivated by high principle. 'For us,' said an official at the presidential Elysée Palace, 'the key question is whether the threat from Iraq is one of such a nature and amplitude as to justify a war. Our government and most of European public opinion don't think so.' On its face, that suggests France would veto a resolution authorizing war - something it has not done since the Suez crisis in 1956. But to do so would invite the U.S. to go to war without U.N. sanction, as Bush has said he would, and would effectively wreck the Security Council, along with France's pretensions of being a great power."2

Geographical Analysis:

The article from Der Spiegel portrays America as trying to advance its hegemony straight into Iraq, making the entire thing about a power struggle using Iraq's posession of weapons of mass destruction as a pretext. The article from Time portrays the French as obstructionists, going so far to say that a French veto would force the U.S. to take unilateral action. Der Spiegel plays down the possibility that weapons of mass destruction might exist in Iraq and be a legitimate cause for actiom, while Time plays down the option of some sort of compromise between France and the U.S. as a solution. (By saying that a veto on a war resolution would force the U.S. to go to war, Time implies that there is no option other than war.) Both articles play favor to the home region, while portraying the other region as headstrong. Where's the truth? Likely somewhere inbetween. This is an example of the first type of regional influence on news bias - a tendency to favor the home region. A second major form of regional influence exists as well.

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In 1974, the term "Afghanistanism" was given its current meaning by Anthony Lukas, a reporter for the New York Times. By this term, Lukas meant that writers felt that news about something happening far away was less important, and that as such the media coverage was likely to be more biased of such articles.

This effect of "Afghanistanism" is clearly demonstrated in the below articles. One is from the LA Times (left), the other from the Washington Times (a Washington, D.C. area paper, right). Notice first the extent of the coverage. The closer the event to home, the more coverage it gets. The LA Times article covers much more information than the Washington Times article, and presents a wholly different view of the story. From the LA Times article, one gets a perspective of fellow officers, theories that the entire thing is politically and/or racially motivated, and the fact that it all started over some steak fajitas. In the Washington Times article, there is more of an assumption of guilt, and no opposing viewpoints from which one can construct a balanced opinion.

Example 2

Geographical Analysis:

These wholly different articles, one portraying a simple cover-up, the other a much more intricate situation plagued by the complexities of politics, present two totally different stories, even though each is about the same event. This is the main concept of "Afghanistanism". The fact that a story is taking place far away, in the above example on the other side of the nation, can lead to the inclusion of far less information, which has the effect of changing the reader's reaction to the story.

Distance need not be a physical property for the concept of "Afghanistanism" to hold. Indeed, we very often see detailed pieces on events far away because they are "close" to us in their effect. Distance can be a matter of the effect of the story, in that if something does not greatly affect us, we deem it a "distant" occurrance, subject to "Afghastanism". Thus, between regional perspectives on an issue and the effect of "Afghanistanism," geography plays a large part in the appearance of bias in the news media.

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  1. Beste, Ralf, et. al. "Gewaltiger Sturm." Der Spiegel 27. Jan 2003: 84-85. (Excerpts translated by Ian Fette)
  2. Elliott, Michael. "Countdown to War." Time 17. February 2003: 28-29.
  3. Glionna, John M. and Tim Reiterman. "SF Chief, 3 Top Aides Indicted." Los Angeles Times 1. March 2003: A1+.
  4. "Police chief indicted in off-duty fight." Washington Times 1. March 2003: A4.