Police Versus Media Bias


Police Versus Media Bias

There’s nothing wrong with the article in Vox offering suggestions for police reform beyond the fact that you could easily substitute the word, “media ” for “police” as a system that needs attention.

Look, we within the justice system understand that criticism of American law enforcement is at a fever pitch, some of it justified, some of it not.

We hate cops that make life miserable for the rest of us. We understand that there is an undeniable past where law enforcement was used as a tool of oppression.

We know that there is mistrust between cops and many members of the community. We get it, and we are trying everything in our power improve.

Nothing I say in this article changes the above.

But Media Bias is Legendary

But the criticism would be a tad easier to take if the media was not massively guilty of the same sins of the past, and inequities that continue today.

The media attacks on cops are offered concurrently with stories of police officers working sixteen-hour days (while leaving their families behind) during hurricanes in Texas and Florida. Governors are calling cops hero’s for risking their lives.

Yep, there are officers who arrest nurses and shoot people without justification. There are also the great bulk of officers who will stand in harm’s way to make sure you and your family are safe.

I Like Most Reporters

I served as a director of public affairs for thirty-five years for national and state criminal justice organizations, and I wrote a book (Success With the Media) about the experience.

I’m proud to say I have many friends in the media and I greatly respect them and the jobs they do. I spend much more time defending them than offering criticism. A vigorous and free press is essential to our democracy.

Media Bias Towards Cops

But Vox and some members of the media are guilty of piling on when it comes to cops, see “Vox: Just as Every Cop Is a Criminal.”  Vox and others are too quick to lump all 900,000 of us into one biased category that mimics other forms of group oppression.

As to public trust and confidence, only two other institutions (the military and small business) of the 15 measured scored higher than the police.

People rank the police as one of the most trusted institutions in the county where the media (that’s you Vox) are rated as one of the lowest.

There are endless newspaper articles on cops leaving the job because of the criticism, and cities are finding it almost impossible to recruit more. Families are encouraging their loved ones to get out of policing, and to get out now.

So while acknowledging that we within the justice system have a long way to go to create a colorblind, just society where everyone gets fair and impartial treatment, I offer an overview of Vox’s critiques (in bold) and substitute the media instead of law enforcement.

Vox-Police need to apologize for centuries of abuse

For centuries, the media were tools of oppression promoting stories where race, gender or sexual orientation bias ran rampant. I do not remember apologies offered by the organizations that represent media interests.

Robert Entman suggests that today’s media environment suggests that old-fashioned racial images are socially undesirable and stereotyping is now subtler and stereotyped thinking is reinforced at levels likely to remain below conscious awareness. Rather than grossly demeaning distortions of yesterday’s stereotyping now there is a grey area allowing for denial of the racial component. The phrase “threatening black male” allows for a negative attribute rather than an attack on racial identity.

When the public consistently consumes the persistent overrepresentation of African American males in crime-related news stories it strengthens their cognitive association between Blacks and criminality in their mind such as the connection “Blacks and crime” and thus becomes chronically accessible for use in race-related evaluations. Notably, as the research on media priming illustrates, even a single exposure to these unfavorable characterizations can produce stereotype-based responses, Wikipedia.

Vox-Cops should be trained to address their racial biases

While the media industry has changed drastically over the past decade or so, the demographic composition of newsrooms hasn’t. In 2014, all minority groups accounted for 22.4 percent of television journalists, 13 percent of radio journalists, and 13.34 percent of journalists at daily newspapers. Pretty pathetic, considering the fact that minorities make up 37.4 percent of the U.S. population. But walk into most major newsrooms in the U.S. and you’ll be overwhelmed by the whiteness and maleness of the editorial staff. Journalism certainly isn’t the only field that is notoriously and historically homogenous. But this is a big problem for an industry whose ambition is to serve and inform an increasingly diverse public, The Atlantic.

Vox-We need higher standards for police

Let’s take a look at standards through mistakes made by the media.

Maier’s research on corrections indicates that fewer than 2 percent of the factual errors identified by news sources are corrected

Of the people he surveyed, only one in 10 informed newspapers about errors. Many said they thought the inaccuracies were inconsequential. But some wondered why they should bother reporting errors and assumed newspapers wouldn’t respond. When asked to review stories for accuracy, news sources found factual errors in about every other news and feature story.

“In nearly the same proportion, news sources identified ‘subjective errors’ — information considered technically correct but misleading,” Maier said. “But these errors of meaning were what news sources found most egregious — and measurably damaging to media credibility.”

More than 70 years of studies, he said, have documented that accuracy persistently eludes the press.

“As a news reporter for nearly 20 years, I know from personal experience how easy it is to make mistakes — and how tough it is to admit error,” Maier said. “But this doesn’t let journalists off the hook,” Poynter.

Bottom Line

The rest of the Vox article is filled with observations that police should avoid situations that lead them to use force (how do you arrest a drunken husband after beating his wife without force?) or better pay and incentives or improved data and ends with the observation that, “If police get this right, they can boost faith in cops and their legitimacy in crime fighting.”

Considering the massive problem of trust in the media, declining revenues, bias in staffing and reporting, uncorrected errors and endless additional problems, maybe Vox needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror before it critiques others.

Yep, cops need to do better, but at least we admit as much.

Is there similar candor within the media?

So the old, white, liberal, miserable, underpaid dudes in the media continue to rule without question, The Atlantic.

My question, should they?



Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Thirty-five years of supervising award-winning media relations, radio and television; over fifty national and regional awards. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Post-Master’s Certificate of Advanced Study, Johns Hopkins University.

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