A Washington Post story on the Japanese nuclear disaster perfectly illustrates how bias can be inserted into a story, simply by not disclosing pertinent information.
Reporter Jia Lynn Yang quoted someone she presents as an expert on nuclear power, who opined that the industry is “on the rocks” in the United States. The expert, Peter Bradford, is only identified as “a former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission”.
“The nuclear renaissance in the U.S. was on the rocks in any case,” said Peter Bradford, former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “There’s no way this is a positive for a technology that’s dependent entirely on political support.”
What the WaPo reporter didn’t tell you is that Bradford is vice chair of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a leftist environmental group that is skeptical of nuclear power. And Bradford was simply spouting the UCS view that nuclear power depends on subsidies. The reporter also didn’t mention that Bradford was appointed to the commission in 1977 by President Carter for a five-year term. So his knowledge from the commission is three decades old. Couldn’t the reporter find anyone with more contemporary credentials to cite?
Moreover, the reporter contrasted the views of this (as far as the reader knows) objective expert with an interested party explicitly identified as such:
Representatives of the nuclear industry said Saturday that it’s too soon to know what impact the disaster in Japan could have on U.S. policy.
“Until we know exactly what happened in the plants in Japan it’s very hard to know what conclusions to draw,” said Alex Flint, senior vice president of governmental affairs for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a group that lobbies for the industry.
A fairly written story would have identified Bradford’s current role with the UCS, because it too is a player in this issue. Then the readers would have had more pertinent information to make up their minds. By omitting this identification, the Washington Post article drew a false comparison between a supposedly objective expert and the nuclear power industry.
The moral of this story is that media bias lies not in just what the reporter says, but what the reporter doesn’t say.
(DISCLAIMER: This is my opinion, and not necessarily that of my employer, the North County Times).