If you want to see media bias, look at how the press covered this crazy Biden handout
Imagine major media outlets covering a school voucher bill not by focusing on legal debates and potential concerns but under the headline, “Here’s how you can go get your kid a voucher.” Or covering Republican tax-cut proposals not by exploring exactly who will benefit but by offering lots of quotes from would-be beneficiaries about how much they need the tax cut.
It’s tough to imagine because it’s normally not how the legacy media does things. And that’s OK. It’s not the job of news reporters to be PR flacks. Yet, that kind of credulous enthusiasm is exactly how the major press wound up covering President Joe Biden’s unprecedented attempt to shift $400 billion in federal student loans from borrowers to taxpayers.
As the Supreme Court prepares to take up the legality of this action, it’s worth appreciating just how badly the mainstream media failed the nation in its coverage of Biden’s dubious maneuver.
Last August, Biden announced he intended to use executive action to cancel up to $20,000 per borrower in federal student loan debt. Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden claimed he could unilaterally act via a novel reading of the 2003 HEROES Act (originally enacted to ease burdens for military families and those impacted by the post-9/11 War on Terror).
Well, recently, we took a look at how five major newspapers — the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal — covered the story. We examined a random sample of 100 news stories from those outlets, drawn during the period between May (when the White House said it would be acting on student loans) and the November midterms. We want to emphasize that we looked only at news coverage — not at opinion pieces, editorials or the like.
The results were troubling. The coverage was heavily tilted in the White House’s favor and generally ignored significant concerns raised by critics.
Across the 100 articles examined, there were a total of 459 quotes, with supportive quotes dramatically outnumbering skeptical ones, by 62% to 24% — a pattern far out of line with public sentiment.
More than two-thirds of all quotes were provided by Democratic officials, progressive advocates, or borrowers, while less than one-fifth were offered by policy or legal experts (just 12% were provided by Republican officials or taxpayer advocates).
When public officials were quoted on Biden’s proposal, Democrats accounted for 81% of quotes; Republicans just 19%. In other words, on a high-profile, polarizing debate in a closely divided nation, news accounts quoted Democratic officials more than four times as often as Republican officials. In fact, Biden administration sources accounted for more than half of all quotes from public officials.
Even setting aside this massive pro-White House bias, non-administration. Democrats still accounted for 57% of quotes from public officials. For instance, Virginia Foxx, the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee and perhaps the most outspoken critic of the White House proposal, was quoted just four times — while Massachusetts Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Biden ally who wasn’t even on the Senate’s education committee, was quoted seven.
When it came to substance, news accounts paid remarkably little attention to the legality, fairness, or potential inflationary impact of the White House proposal. After Biden’s announcement, just one-in-five news stories even mentioned the 2003 HEROES Act which the White House used to justify its unprecedented action.
Just 34% of news accounts even alluded to concerns about its regressive nature, 24% its inflationary impact, and only 6% that those who’d borrowed for graduate or professional degrees were also eligible.
There has been much lamentation about declining trust in media, especially on the right. But news accounts of the most expensive executive action in history, a move that entailed President Biden side-stepping Congress to hand out a half-trillion dollars on a whim, drew the kind of fawning coverage seemingly calculated to aggravate polarization and fuel skepticism.
This or that news story is going to have a point of view. That’s no great shakes. What’s so troubling in this case is the widespread bias across five of the nation’s most influential legacy newspapers.
Responsible coverage doesn’t quote the White House and its allies so much more frequently than the critics and takes care to at least acknowledge key objections. If the mainstream media wonders why it’s so distrusted across the American right, the coverage of Biden’s loan forgiveness scheme is an instructive case in point.
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