2015 Biasy: America’s Most Biased Education Writing
Choice Media has named a story by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post as winner of the 2015 Biasy — the first-ever award for media bias in education content. The winning story, “Charter school law funded by Bill Gates in Washington state ruled unconstitutional,” dated September 6, 2015, was voted the year’s most biased piece of education writing by a group of twelve experts in education policy from around the country.
The judges, all of whom support school choice for families, were asked to rate the five nominated links for media bias on a scale of 0-10, and the results were averaged to determine the winner. Each of the five nominated stories received a “Most Biased” rating from at least one of the twelve judges. The judges’ raw score for bias have been released to the public by Choice Media.
One of the judges who rated the Washington Post entry as most biased was Ben DeGrow of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, based in Midland, Michigan. DeGrow said, “Masquerading as a news story, half of this piece breathlessly quotes a union-funded anti-choice outfit as an objective source that concludes charter school ‘operations are basically private.’ In the less overtly-biased half, Strauss painstakingly details the handful of wealthy funders behind Washington State’s pro-charter initiative (and even headlines the charter school law as ‘funded by Bill Gates’ in the headline), while implying a broad coalition of public opposition to charters.”
These stylistic choices seem pretty clearly designed to masquerade one-sided advocacy as objective journalism to any casual reader who might be unfamiliar with the series.
Choice Media’s Executive Director Bob Bowdon commented on the winning post, saying, “While technically in the blog section of the Washington Post website, the winning piece is ambiguously labeled ‘Answer Sheet,’ rather than ‘Commentary’ or ‘Opinion.’ It also doesn’t include any first person language that would clue the reader in that it’s opinion. These stylistic choices seem pretty clearly designed to masquerade one-sided advocacy as objective journalism to any casual reader who might be unfamiliar with the series. If, by contrast, the website had transparently identified this piece of writing as ‘Opinion,’ it wouldn’t have been eligible for a bias award.”
“That said,” Bowdon continued, “this particular piece was something of a bias doozy, offering the kind of reference to funders in its title that we would never see from the Washington Post when it’s the teachers unions who are funding mirror-image efforts to stop school choice. I also think some of the judges viewed this as kind of an advocacy-posing-as-journalism lifetime achievement award for this particular writer.”
For the first runner-up for the 2015 Biasy, the judges chose a story by Neal Morton and Adelaide Chen from the Las Vegas Review-Journal of October 29, 2015, “Most applicants for school-choice program are from wealthy neighborhoods.” The premise of the story was that neighborhoods at the 60th percentile in household income and above in the state of Nevada should be considered “wealthy.” Jeanne Allen, Founder of the Center for Education Reform in Washington DC, rated this story as most-biased. She said “The absence of context and data, and assumptions baked into this one shows this is clearly a shopping insert reporter who was given a new beat!”
The second runner-up was “Data: Segregation in Twin Cities’ charter schools,” by MaryJo Webster and Jeff Hargarten of the Minneapolis StarTribune. The story presents “predominantly minority” charter schools as if they were “segregated” by an outside entity, rather than a result of proactive choices made by individual parents in the Twin Cities.
Gerard Robinson of the American Enterprise Institute rated the StarTribune story as most biased among the nominees. Robinson said, “This story feeds into a false narrative that the Jim Crow education of 1954 is the same education twin city students receive in 2016–or worse–and charter schools are to blame. For two of America’s most educated, progressive, and social-engineer minded cities to be the focus of another anti-charter, pro-integration-over-education diatribe indicates how much political currency certain people will exert to prove that other people’s children only deserve a one-size-fits-all-education.”
Bowdon added, “It was hard to pick just five nominees from among all the unworthy submissions, but we very much appreciate the terrible suggestions.”