BOWDON: How to Infuse Subliminal Bias into Your Education Reporting, a Primer

5 Tips to Subliminally Defend the Education Establishment

These are notes from a presentation I gave at the International School Choice and Reform Conference, on January 19, 2020.

If you’d like to infuse media bias into education reporting and subliminally defend the education establishment without being noticed, these tips are for you.

Tip #1:

To make an inner city charter school look bad, always compare its student proficiency data to state averages, rather than to nearby inner city district schools.

Most readers won’t think about the fact that statewide data reflect families from higher average income households, as well as parents who themselves are more likely to have enjoyed higher levels of education. Nor will it occur to most readers that this comparison quietly removes actual families from the focus, as urban parents are usually focused on evaluating local options.

Tip #2:

To make a state’s charter sector look bad, consider ways to mix at-risk student population achievement data into statistics about the charter sector generally, and then write headlines that omit the dissimilar cohorts.

For example, try a sensational headline declaring that charter schools statewide have terrible graduation rates. Bury until the end of the story the clarification that the charters with regular student populations actually have a far better graduation rate than district schools. Many readers will only see the headline and will never reach the end of the story.

Tip #3:

Any story about teacher salaries should always ignore the “step raises” given to teachers automatically at various points in their years of service. By not addressing that thousands of teachers’ paychecks in a given state actually became higher this year than they were last year, you can look legitimate when telling your readers that those teachers “Haven’t been getting raises.”

That way, readers can be left with the misunderstanding that teachers paychecks have literally not changed:

Tip #4:

Apply a generous quote imbalances to your coverage and omit facts that don’t portray the establishment sympathetically.

For example, model the technique in this CNN video about the Chicago teachers strike, which uses soundbites from three different pro-union advocates, versus only one speaker opposing the union, the Mayor. (A three-to-one person-quoted imbalance, shown here, is generally a good rule of thumb. Most viewers won’t notice the quote imbalance as bias. Instead, they’ll be left with the subconscious sense that everyone opposes the lone union opponent).

Also consider using a soundbite from a teacher saying “It’s not about pay,” as done here, while omitting the 16% salary increase figure demanded and won by the union. That number won’t drive union sympathy and therefore should not appear in your video — even if you’re summarizing a teachers strike. (If asked, say there wasn’t space for the “16%” figure.)

Additionally, omit from your coverage any strike demands that portray the union as afraid of competition, like the union negotiating an enrollment freeze for Chicago charter schools. Nor should you bother with soundbites from charter parents, or especially charter waiting list parents, on the issue of the charter moratorium demand. This information isn’t needed by your viewers.

Tip #5:

Disparage schools of choice with standards that are not applied to district schools. Racism works well.

In this regard, assert that any negative outcomes pertaining to high minority percentage district schools can be directly applied to schools that a high percentage of minority parents have chosen.

This will subliminally communicate to the reader that what minority parents desire far more than new, high quality educational choices for their children is simply having more white people around.

A Final Note

If you as a reporter are ever accused of media bias by education reform advocates for using these techniques, there’s an easy out. Explain that those advocates, unlike professional “journalists,” are simply blind to own biases. Their unconscious expectation of overly favorable coverage renders them cognitively incapable of seeing the issues clearly. Tell them that when they misidentify your perfectly even-handed media objectivity as bias, it actually betrays their own skewed lens on reality.

Reform enthusiasts, you’ll say, should learn that the standards of objectivity can only be crafted and judged by trained education reporters, and any advocate who says they see bias in mainstream media coverage has simply provided public evidence that his/her own judgement is compromised.

Bob Bowdon

Bob Bowdon has been a television producer, reporter, political commentator, documentary filmmaker and satirist. He is currently the Executive Director of Choice Media, an education news service, website and smartphone app.
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