On Media Bias: Unemployment Rate Edition
The BBC recently posted an article with an exciting title: U.S. unemployment rate falls to four-year low. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? The first few paragraphs make it sound even better:
The US added 146,000 jobs in November, official data shows, as the economy seemingly shrugged off storm Sandy.
The unexpectedly strong performance brought the unemployment rate down to a four-year low of 7.7% of the workforce.
The jobs figure was well above most analysts’ expectations and continued a recent surge that began in July.
Weekly benefits data registered a sharp but short-lived jump in the number claiming unemployment benefits in the states ravaged by the storm last month…
Unfortunately, the details in rest of the article don’t sound so great. For one, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) had to (surprise, surprise)
downwardly revise the jobs [gains] for the preceding two months by a cumulative total of 49,000.
Those preceding two months, of course, include the October right before the election.
But the real gem of information was left until the antepenultimate paragraph:
Statistics suggest that much of the decline in the unemployment rate since 2008 has been due to people dropping out of the workforce, either due to retirement or because they have given up seeking work.
So most of the decline in the unemployment rate isn’t due to an economy with “strong performance” that is adding jobs, but rather due to people retiring and giving up the job search! That information belongs near the first paragraph because it changes the interpretation quite drastically. However, it does not fit the leftist narrative that the Democrats (who control the executive branch and the Senate) are slowly but surely digging us out of the “Great Recession” caused by
the Democrat-controlled 110th Congress President Bush, so it is left at the very end of the article in the hope that most readers will stop reading before they get to the end.
The lesson here isn’t so much that the media is biased, or even that it is biased in favor of leftists. The real lesson is that an otherwise objective, unbiased statement like “the unemployment rate falls to a four-year low” can nonetheless be written or said in a way that suggests a very biased interpretation by including or excluding certain bits of information, or by giving certain bits of information more prominence than other bits of information. Such a bias is ultimately even more of a problem than an openly biased news source — at least it is obvious that an openly biased source may be trying to persuade you, but you may not seek other sources or think critically about information received from a purportedly objective news source with a subtle bias.