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News Media Flunk This Bias Test On Political Violence

Media Bias: There have been two major acts of political violence over the past year and half. One by an ardent supporter of President Trump. The other by an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders. How the press covered these two stories tells you all you need to know about media bias.




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In June 2017, James Hodgkinson fired more than 60 rifle shots at a group of Republican lawmakers and staffers who were practicing for an annual charity baseball game. Hodgkinson hit four people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

While the other injuries weren’t life threatening, Scalise nearly died. He spent more than a month in the hospital, underwent several surgeries, and required intensive rehabilitation.

Political Violence On The Left

Hodgkinson, it turns out, had been a volunteer for Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, and had a deep hatred for Republicans. In one social media post, he said “Terminate the Republican Party.”

Had Hodgkinson been a better shot, he would have assassinated several of them.

Yet the coverage of the shooting barely mentioned Hodgkinson’s political leanings or his connection to the firebrand Sanders.

An analysis of news stories by Real Clear Politics’ Kalev Leetaru showed that a mere 30% of the stories even mentioned Sanders’ name in their coverage. And that share immediately started to drop as the days went on. (You can read his excellent analysishere.)

None tried to pin blame for the shooting on Sanders’ rhetoric, although a case could be made for one. Weeks before the shooting, Sanders declared that a Republican health reform plan would kill thousands of people. Hodgkinson reportedly shouted “This is for health care!” when firing his rifle.

Nor did the mainstream press do any hand wringing about the violent rhetoric pouring forth from liberals against Trump and other Republicans — before and immediately after the shooting.

Even while Scalise was in critical care, Sanders again accused Republicans of attempting mass murder, tweeting that the Senate health bill “could kill up to 27,000 in 2026 so they can give tax cuts to the wealthy.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren called the bill “blood money.”

Indeed, the press’ awareness of Scalise’s shooting, and the motives behind it, are so dim that a prominent CNN host actually said with a straight face this week that “I don’t see Democrats killing people” over politics.

Political Violence On The Right

Now contrast the Scalise shooting with the pipe bomber. Not one person was injured by the devices, several of which at least weren’t capable of exploding. It’s still not clear what Cesar Sayoc’s motive was — whether he intended injury or simply wanted to scare people. (After being arrested, Sayoc said he didn’t intend to hurt anyone.)

Yet, even before anyone knew who was sending the devices — and before most of the mailings had turned up — the press immediately started to connect the bomber with Trump.

As Leetaru at Real Clear Politics notes, “before any information was known about the bomber’s identity, nearly 70% of the coverage of the bombs mentioned Trump. By Sunday, nearly 80% of the coverage associated the bomber with Trump.”

Even now, the press continues to claim that Trump’s rhetoric is at fault not only for the mail bomber, but for the murder of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue by a shooter who hated Trump.

And when Trump complained about the disparity in how the mainstream press covered the two, they dismissed it out of hand …. without checking the record.

Biased Coverage Of Political Violence

So, to sum up:

When a Sanders’ supporter acts with clear intent to murder Republicans and nearly succeeds, the press ignores any connection to liberal politicians, or the left’s violent rhetoric.

When a Trump supporter, whose intentions are still not clear, targets Democrats with faulty pipe bombs that injure no one, the press spends weeks blaming Trump and Republicans for the tone of their rhetoric.

It’s not often that you have an opportunity to test media bias. But these two terrible acts of political violence provide one. And the mainstream press flunked the test. Badly.

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