Media Downplays Heroes, Overplays Atrocities

Jennifer Harper points to a new study showing that a “bad news bias” has led the national media to overemphasize negative stories about the military while providing virtually no coverage of heroes and other positive stories.

Broadcasters continue to target the military, according to an analysis by the Media Research Center (MRC), which has detected a pronounced “bad news bias.”

From May 17 to June 7, NBC, CBS and ABC aired 99 stories — or 3½ hours of negative news coverage — on the ongoing investigation of U.S. Marines in the death of Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November.

However, from September 2001 to June 2006, the same networks broadcast just 52 minutes of positive coverage of the nation’s top military heroes, such as U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, who died while protecting 100 fellow soldiers during the battle for Baghdad’s airport in April 2003, earning the Medal of Honor. Nineteen other men received high honors — the Air Force and Navy crosses and the Distinguished Service Cross — yet 14 were never mentioned on the air, according to the MRC analysis. “None of those positive stories have interested the networks as much as news of possible military misconduct,” noted Rich Noyes, who led the research.

This point, which has been made here and elsewhere many times before, deserves re-emphasis. While I disagree with Harper’s implied premise that stories of institutional wrongdoing should be balanced out with reporting on all the good things that are going on–that’s just not how reporting works, even at the Washington Times–it’s undoubtedly true that the focus on “news” (defined as unusual, preferably exciting, events) gives a faulty impression. (See my recent TCS piece “Panoptic War” for one recent analysis of this idea.)

Still, it’s sad that genuine heroes like Paul Smith and the anonymous DSC/AFC/NC recepients are total unknowns. It was certainly not that way in past wars, even unpopular ones like Vietnam, when men who “won” the Medal of Honor and even Silver Stars often rode those credentials to high political office. Those were simply different times.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Is it simpler times then, or a one issue litmus test on the left that has changed the coverage depth. I don’t think the MSM got together in a secret room and issued marching orders on how to cover the war. But when you get 90% of the reporters having the same political view, its pretty hard not to have what they report be biased. They look to their left and right among their peers and think they are in the center. But they are really in left field as far as the rest of the country.

    As a test, I had a liberal friend of mine exchange news accounts of what we thought was bias (he thinks the MSM, being owned by corporations, must be biased in favor of the right). He could only find one article and after my rebuttal to his claim of bias, he said the article must have changed because he didn’t think what I pointed out in the article was originally there (to be fair, it was AP, so he might of been right). What I pointed out as biased, he claimed was merely accurate or an attempt to sensationalize in order to sell more copy (loaded language ignored).

    Its a good test. Get someone reasonable on the other side of the divide. Select articles published over the next week. Do the research to see how fairly or unfairly the article is. Maybe it will convince you that the bias goes both ways. Maybe it will convince you that there is no bias. But maybe, just maybe, you will start to see the slant.

  2. madmatt says:

    Well you had to go back to 2003 to find a “heroic” example. The “NEWS” is by definition new.

  3. madmatt says:

    One other point, if the situation is so bad that reporters can’t go out and cover it, doesn’t that mean there is more bad news than good?

  4. LJD says:

    The shift by the media, and perhaps society in general, ignores the fact that one’s position on the war should have absolutely no bearing on how we treat our heroes.

    The difference, and what is truly sad (despicable?) is that the media’s value for influencing public opinion has surpassed their value for our heroes’ sacrifices.

    These guys didn’t choose the war. Their politics are not printed on their headstone. The country called, and they answered. They have accomplished truly heroic feats. To ignore them, to attempt to bury them, is tragic.

  5. madmatt,

    Read a bit of Michael Yon before taking the hook, line and sinker about it being too dangerous to go out and cover the war. Is there danger involved, yes. Is it too dangerous, self evidently not.

  6. Herb says:

    The entire of the MSM is nothing more that a bunch of “Out of Control” premadonnas writing anything that will promote their twisted and anti American way of thinking and serve their own self int rests. These people,(used loosely) should be banned from anything and any actions by the military. Their writings serve no one but their personal greed for their “Look who I am” attitudes and egos.

    Each and everyone should be treated shunned by all good Americans and many of them belong in prison for their wrong doing with our nations most sensitive secrets.

  7. madmatt says:

    Way to support the 4th branch of govt Herb!