Media Bias Can Be Very, Very Subtle

AP Photo/Bryan Woolston, File

Sometimes it only takes one little sentence to point out the bias, but you have to know what the truth is to spot it.

In the Lexington Herald-Leader story, “Pro-Trump? Anti-Trump? Attack ads cause whiplash on where Amy McGrath stands,” reporter Daniel Desrochers wrote:

The ads complicate things for McConnell, who has spent the last several months running ads touting McGrath as “further left” and “more progressive” than anyone in Kentucky.

If your only source of information was Mr Desrochers’ story, you might assume that such was Senator Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) description of Democratic candidate Amy McGrath Henderson’s¹ ideology. Given that the story is about the ads being run by two of Mrs Henderson’s opponents in the upcoming Democratic primary, which paint her as being too ‘moderate’ for Democratic voters — one ad by state representative Charles Booker, who was endorsed by the Herald-Leader — says that “Kentucky needs a real Democrat to take on Mitch McConnell” — it’s primarily a story about how Mrs Henderson’s opponents are trying to paint her. You wouldn’t know that Mrs Henderson was caught on tape stating, “I am further left, I am more progressive, than anyone in the state of Kentucky.”

Of course, that isn’t how she has been running her campaign. Here in the Bluegrass State, Mrs Henderson has been running a more ‘moderate’ campaign, because her campaign people are smart enough to know that while moderate Democrats have had some success in Kentucky, “progressive” ones have not, outside of a few smaller areas.

No, where Mrs Henderson made that statement was in a fundraiser,² in Massachusetts! for her unsuccessful campaign for the sixth congressional district seat in Kentucky.

Had Mr Desrochers written, “The ads complicate things for McConnell, who has spent the last several months running ads showing McGrath saying she was “further left” and “more progressive than anyone in the state of Kentucky,” it would have been 32 words, rather than the 27 he used, but it would have been far more honest.

Had I not already known about the tape of Mrs Henderson, first brought to Kentuckians’ attention during the 2018 campaign, then I would not have spotted what Mr Desrochers did.

Was it deliberate? Was it a change made by the editors rather than the writer? I don’t know, and it almost doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we have to be alert for those very subtle things, which may be true but are not the whole truth, that misinform or underinform or mislead consumers of the news. News stories do not have to be false to be biased.
¹ – Mrs Henderson hasn’t enough respect for her husband, Erik Henderson, to have taken his name, but my site, The First Street Journal does not show similar disrespect, and always refers to married women by their proper names.
² – Mrs Henderson has been a fund-raising machine! She raised $8,542,352 for her 2018 congressional race, spending $8,274,396, leaving $267,956 cash on hand according to the 2018 year end report. Representative Andy Barr (R-KY 6th District) raised $5,238,577 spending $5,580,477, leaving $134,679 in cash on hand. Despite outspending Mr Barr by almost $3 million, she lost 51.0% to 47.8% in a closely watched race.
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