August 9-15, 2006

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News Briefs

By Patricia Lynn Henley

What's news?

Americans may assume they're getting reasonably fair and balanced coverage of what's happening in the Middle East and elsewhere, but recent research at Sonoma State University indicates that the institutionalized bureaucracy feeding stories to nearly every newspaper, radio station and TV outlet nationwide has a built-in bias favoring official U.S. government positions. "The American people absorb these biases and make political decisions on skewed understandings. Without media systems that provide balanced, fair and accurate reporting, democracy is faced with a dismal future," concludes the study by SSU professor Peter Phillips and students Sarah Randle, Brian Fuch, Zoe Huffman and Fabrice Romero. The Associated Press (AP) wire service employs 3,700 people in 242 bureaus worldwide to provide a stream of prewritten news stories 24 hours a day, seven days a week to 121 countries in five languages. Editors can pick among a steady stream of articles to choose which topics to use in the publications or broadcasts; AP stories reach more than a billion people daily. The SSU report includes data gathered by the organization If Americans Knew, which shows that in 2004, the AP carried 141 reports of Israeli deaths and 543 of Palestinians. The actual death toll was 108 Israelis (some deaths were reported more than once) and 821 Palestinians. This means the AP reported 131 percent of Israeli deaths and 66 percent of Palestinian deaths. In that same year, eight Israeli children died compared to 179 Palestinian children; the AP reported 113 percent of the Israeli children's deaths but only 15 percent of the Palestinians'. The SSU report, titled "A Study of Bias in the Associated Press" (online at, also reviews the slant given AP reports on the ouster of Haitian president Aristide; the incident when Congress member Cynthia McKinney, D-Georgia, allegedly slapped a Capitol Hill police officer; and the ACLU's posting of 44 autopsy reports of civilians who died from torture while in U.S. military prisons. Any reporter writing a story has a certain perspective, Phillips explains, but with the AP articles, he believes that the bias is built into the system. "You can't always pinpoint how it happens, but you can certainly measure it and see what happens." There used to be more wire services, Phillips notes, just as there used to be family-run daily newspapers which printed articles from independent sources worldwide. "Most papers are running AP, and that's it," Phillips says. "For ordinary people around the country, they're dependent on these AP stories." The report of AP bias was published in July. There hasn't been any interest from the mainstream corporate media, Phillips said, but he "got dozens of e-mails, some from reporters inside AP, who say it's true."

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