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October 23, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

“The widely held assumption that major media outlets uniformly tilt to the left does not match reality. In fact, if anything, the media appears to tilt to the right, at least on this issue,” the Columbia Journalism Review says in a study released today (Wednesday), referring to media coverage of Edward Snowden’s leaks of the NSA documents. Although it did not survey television news coverage of the matter, the CJR did study reporting by four of the largest U.S. newspapers by circulation: The New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post. It found that in each of them, “key words generally used to justify increased surveillance, such as security or terrorism, were used much more frequently than terms that tend to invoke opposition to mass surveillance, such as privacy or liberty.” The CJR study pointed out that the bias detected in the articles was not overt. “But covert bias is still bias — in fact, it may even be more effective than blatant bias, since readers may not notice its existence,” the study said. “A seemingly neutral article could leave a net pro-surveillance impression on readers if it contains an excess of references to, say, foreign terrorists or national security — terms that tend to frame the issue as a question of patriotic willingness to do what it takes to keep the country safe.” Which, of course, is how the Obama administration has framed the issue, but the CJR study takes note of the fact that his predecessor framed such issues similarly, with the result that journalists continue to be “wary of appearing to be ‘soft on terror.'” In its conclusion, it said, “President George W. Bush’s September 2001 admonition that “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” appears to have an enduring legacy in media bias.” None of the newspapers named in the study has yet responded to its conclusions.