Accuracy in Media

This weekend marked the first-ever presidential primary victory for former vice president Joe Biden when he trounced his opponents by significant margins.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, Biden won with 48.6 percent with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in second place at 19.8 percent. The media changed its tune from gloomy headlines to ones of optimism, yet another shifting media narrative since last fall.

National Public Radio headlined the new narrative, “4 Takeaways From Joe Biden’s Big Win In South Carolina” and claimed that regarding his primary victory, “some would say a super day.” The analysis suggested that with Biden’s South Carolina victory, the 2020 primary “may now be a two-person race.”

NBC News agreed with NPR, saying, “Joe Biden got the resounding victory his struggling campaign needed in South Carolina.” The news outlet wrote that Biden’s campaign received “a much-needed shot in the arm” ahead of the Super Tuesday primaries after winning South Carolina by a double-digit margin.

The optimistic headlines and analyses demonstrated the media’s narrative shifting its focus back to Biden, after briefly writing about Sanders and his campaign’s early primary victories.

In late 2019, the media wondered if any of the primary opponents could beat Biden in the early primary states and published headlines reflecting that particular sentiment. But after back-to-back defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire, the media’s narrative shifted to headlines questioning whether he would last beyond the South Carolina primary.

For example, after the Iowa caucuses, the New York Times headlined its article and noted the panic within Biden’s campaign, “Wobbly after Iowa, Biden confronts a Perilous Moment.”

BuzzFeed News joined the chorus with a headline that said, “Joe Biden Argued He’s the One Who Can Win. What Happens After He Blew It in Iowa?” McClatchy wrote, “Biden hasn’t broken through in Iowa. Can an electability pitch put him over the top?” The Boston Globe added, “Biden makes electability pitch in New Hampshire.”

Although Biden’s South Carolina primary victory could be viewed as a major win for the former vice president, it is not the media’s job to hype a politician’s primary victories since the media should avoid the appearance of bias. The media should avoid the appearance of rooting for specific candidates, but so far, it has failed to demonstrate impartiality.

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