In reporting on Joe Biden’s recent announcement of his White House communications staff, different sides of the media sometimes focused on completely different facts.
Biden, who’s widely projected to be confirmed as the next U.S. president by the Electoral College next month, recently picked seven women to lead his senior communications staff in various roles — Jen Psaki, Symone Sanders, Kate Bedingfield, Karin Jean-Pierre, Ashley Etienne, Pili Tobar and Elizabeth Alexander.
The choices made headlines throughout the news industry, but sometimes in a one-sided fashion.
Coverage from many left-rated outlets focused on the fact that Biden’s selections make up the White House’s first all-female communications team, often highlighting their individual careers and accomplishments in politics. Conversely, reports from right-rated sources sometimes focused specifically on several of the women’s connections to left-rated media companies; others concentrated solely on criticisms of the picks, and others pointed to examples of women holding similar roles in the current administration.
Most notably, many reports on both sides of the media omitted or glazed over what the other seemed to highlight most. Since facts on either side of the argument seem relevant here, mentioning one and not the other represents media bias.
Let’s take a closer look.
Left Media Focus on All-Female Nature of Selections, Diversity Angle
Sources with AllSides Media Bias Ratings of Left or Lean Left typically focused on profiling the individuals Biden chose. These outlets often concentrated mainly on the fact that all his senior communications staff will be female, framing the news as indicative of a diversity overhaul in U.S. politics.
- In its report, CBS News (Lean Left bias rating) used at least one paragraph to name each of the seven senior comms staffers and describe their prior political experience. The network’s story led off by reporting that “For the first time in U.S. history, the staff will be comprised entirely of women.”
- Al Jazeera (Lean Left) published a story similar to the one from CBS, saying “has announced an all-female senior White House communications team in what his office called a first in the country’s history.”
- An article from the Washington Post (Lean Left) highlighted the overall diversity of both Biden’s economics and communications teams. The newspaper reported that “is the first time all of the top aides tasked with speaking on behalf of an administration and shaping its message will be female.”
Other left-rated outlets, such as the Daily Beast (Left), focused on conservative commentator Ben Shapiro’s opinion that Biden's picks aren't actually as diverse as some in the media stated because there aren't any men.
Right Media Focus on Biden Team’s Ties to CNN, Alleged Hypocrisy
Right-rated outlets sometimes focused on the fact that Psaki, Sanders and Jean-Pierre all previously worked as contributors to left-rated TV networks such as CNN (Lean Left bias) and MSNBC (Left bias). Some coverage also moved to contradict the notion that the all-female nature of Biden’s communications team was different from times past.
- Fox News (Lean Right bias) led off its report by pointing to “questions about the incoming administration’s close ties with the liberal news networks,” and later quoted a media critic who voiced concern about ““blending in recent years of influential people working within the news media and in government.”
- A story from the Washington Examiner (Lean Right) focused on other women who have previously held top communications roles in the White House, and reported that “there's ample precedent for women superseding men in the top communications shop roles.”
- Townhall (Right bias) published an article focusing on Republican officials who questioned why the media did not celebrate women who comprise senior communications roles in the current administration.
When “Fact-Checks” are Misleading
While reports on both sides were incomplete, AllSides found at least one “fact-check” regarding Biden’s choices to be highly misleading. Breitbart (Right bias) published an article under the headline “Fact Check: WaPo Falsely Claims Joe Biden Will Have First All-Female Senior Communications Team.”
The Breitbart article never gives evidence that the Washington Post’s description is actually false. It cites the fact that Trump has had several senior female communications staffers, but offers no information that would directly counter the Washington Post’s wording of Biden having the “first all-female senior communications team.”
It mentions that Trump’s deputy communications director and deputy press secretary are both men, and also that the Post’s characterization was challenged by “many” on social media. However, only one example of a challenge is cited — a tweet from Trump press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
Other media on both the left and right seconded the Post’s description, and so did Breitbart itself. It re-published a wire story from United Press International that said “it’s the first time the entire senior White House communications team will be entirely female.”
Even so-called fact checks are often biased, and even downright misleading at times. If you get the urge to share a headline (verbally or digitally), make sure you read the full story and apply critical thinking first.
What to Do When Neither Side Gives the Full Story
Biden’s selections represent an ongoing shift away from traditional male overrepresentation in prominent political roles. At the same time, the connections Biden’s senior staffers have to prominent left-rated media outlets could create ethical concerns when it comes to how journalists cover his administration.
Any balanced news reporting about Biden’s selections and their individual backgrounds should make mention of these facts. By highlighting one and downplaying or omitting the other, media outlets on both sides fell short of their responsibilities.
Not every article needs to include every angle and every side-argument. That sets unrealistic expectations for journalists. But when trends in coverage are so common on one side and virtually absent on the other, media bias is a likely culprit. That’s when getting a balanced view stops being a nice idea and starts being essential.
Because news organizations often display such overt bias, it’s up to you to find the full picture. Use our balanced newsfeed and balanced search technology to see stories from all sides of the political spectrum.
Henry A. Brechter is AllSides.com’s Managing Editor. He has a Center bias.
This piece was reviewed by Daily News Specialist Joseph Ratliff (Lean Left bias) and Director of Marketing Julie Mastrine (Lean Right bias).
Image: Jen Psaki (left), Biden’s pick for White House Press Secretary, pictured during a 2015 visit to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine when she worked as White House Communications Director.