Late in May, Target became the, erm, target of backlash when viral social media posts showcased and criticized some of its Pride merchandise, including “tuck-friendly" swimsuit bottoms for male-to-female transgender individuals. Target removed some items, and shortly afterward, stores in five states were evacuated after local media outlets received bomb threats, some of which (though not all) appeared to be from someone accusing Target of betraying the LGBTQ community. However, many media outlets showed bias by slant and bias by placement in their coverage of the bomb threat story.

Headlines from media outlets in the center and on the left typically omitted that the threats were made by someone claiming to act in alliance with the LGBTQ community, while outlets on the right did not. The center and left headlines showed slant, a type of media bias in which journalists tell only part of a story, and could give the false impression that the threats were coming from conservatives angry about the Pride merch. 

In addition, some media outlets, such as The Washington Post (Lean Left) and The Hill (Center), did not mention that some of the threats accused Target of betraying the LGBTQ community until deep into the story — paragraphs 8 or 6, respectively. This shows media bias by placement, which is when the placement of a story on a homepage, or information within a story, can reveal a bias. 

Journalists typically follow inverted pyramid style writing, which means they place the information they deem most important at the beginning of the story. By placing this information at the middle or end of the story, journalists reveal a bias — that they feel this information is not as important.

How the Media Covered The Threats

A headline from The Hill (Center) reads, “Target stores in at least five states receive bomb threats over Pride items.” The headline makes it sound like conservatives angry about the Pride merchandise sent the threats; it takes until paragraph 8 for The Hill to clarify, "[The emailed threat] accused the retail chain of betraying the LGBTQ+ community and named the locations of four stores in the three states, including the South Burlington location." (In the case of Oklahoma threats, which are covered in this article, it appears no motive was given, so the headline could also be misleading that all threats were explicitly about Pride controversies.)

Other outlets on the left and in the center took a similarly slanted approach in their headlines:

None of these headlines are untrue. But by omitting some details, they can give the false impression that people who are angry about Pride merch made the threats.

Compare these to headlines on the right, which included more details:

However, not all outlets on the right included details in their headlines — IJR (Right bias) took a clickbait approach, running the headline, Target Reportedly Receives Bomb Threats Over LGBT Merchandise — But There's a Twist.

About the Threats

The Washington Post reported Target stores in five states — Oklahoma, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Louisiana — were evacuated the weekend of June 10-11 after receiving bomb threats. The threats were reportedly similar to ones received in Ohio, Utah and Pennsylvania in recent weeks.

On May 26, Cleveland 19 News (Not Rated by AllSides) reported the news outlet was emailed a bomb threat that stated in part, "Target is full of cowards who turned their back on the LGBT community and decided to cater to the homophobic right wing redneck bigots who protested and vandalized their store.” Cleveland 19 stated, “It was not immediately known if the threats were legitimate, though precautions were quickly taken to ensure no one got hurt.”

The controversy surrounding Target started in May, when social media photos and videos showed Target’s tuck-friendly swimsuits. Some commentators claimed the items were being marketed to children. The Associated Press Fact Check (Lean Left) disputed this, stating the Target website and a spokesperson indicated the suits are only available in adult sizes.

Conclusion: Read Multiple News Sources

It is challenging for journalists, or even law enforcement, to verify an emailed threat. For instance, it’s possible that this threat actually came from someone who is against LGBTQ merchandise and sent this threat as a hoax to make their opposition look extreme or violent. But all of this lies within the realm of speculation.

Journalists should include all objectively verifiable information, such as exactly what an email stated, in their reports, and ensure headlines are not slanted or misleading.

By omitting or burying some details, journalists can show bias. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the types of media bias and read news across the political spectrum so you don’t miss important information.

Julie Mastrine is the Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings at AllSides. She has a Lean Right bias.

This blog was reviewed and edited by Henry A. Brechter, Editor-in-chief (Center bias), and Joseph Ratliff, Daily News Editor (Lean Left bias).