Example of Media Bias:

James Foley

American journalist James Foley

The mother of ISIS beheading victim James Foley told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, on September 11, that she was “embarrassed and appalled” by the Obama administration’s  handling of her son’s kidnapping. On September 8 a spokesman for the family of ISIS victim Steven Sotloff claimed that both families were “bullied and hectored” by the administration.

So how many Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) network stories have been devoted to helping these families tell their shocking stories of an Obama White House that let them down and even intimidated them? Just three stories: (CBS 2, ABC 1, NBC 0).

However, in the summer of 2005 when anti-Iraq war mom Cindy Sheehan camped out in front of George W. Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch the networks flooded their evening and morning shows with 100 stories (ABC 37, NBC 33, CBS 30) in the first month (August 9 through September 9) of coverage alone.

The eagerness of the networks to cover Sheehan stands in stark contrast in how they have covered the Foley and Sotloff families and other parents who have blamed the Obama administration for the loss of their loved ones.

  • The complaints by the parents of Benghazi attack victims Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods also got short shrift on the networks (3 stories).
  • The mother and father of Fast and Furious victim border agent Brian Terry haven’t found much of an network outlet for their criticism of Obama and Eric Holder either. (1 story).

The following is a look at how each of these family tragedies have been covered on the ABC, CBS, NBC evening and morning programs:

While the networks did run stories airing the parents’ pleas before Foley and Sotloff were executed by ISIS, they curiously decreased their coverage of those families when they began speaking out against the Obama administration.

CBS ran just two stories. On the September 12 CBS This Morning Charlie Rose noted “The mother of James Foley, an American journalist is lashing out at the Obama administration. Diane Foley says U.S. officials threatened to prosecute her family if tried to raise ransom money. She told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last night that the government failed her son.” Rose then played a soundbite from the CNN interview.

On the September 17 CBS This Morning Norah O’Donnell reported: “The families are making it clear this morning they wanted to do more to save their loved ones but U.S. officials wouldn’t help…His mother Shirley made a public appeal to his captors last month, begging for her son’s release. But behind closed doors, she and the family of James Foley were at odds with the U.S. government and its longstanding policy against paying ransom to terrorists…Last May, the families say a White House official threatened criminal prosecution if they paid a ransom.”

American journalist Steven Sotloff

American journalist Steven Sotloff

After the O’Donnell piece Rose actually interviewed the Sotloff family spokesman Barak Barfi who told Rose: “We never really believed that the administration was doing anything to help us…We had meetings with the administration. The families sat with this National Security Council official and basically he bullied and hectored them and they were scared.”

ABC [only carried] a single story about the Foley family charges against the administration. On the September 12 World News Tonight David Muir introduced a Brian Ross story: “This evening, anguish and now anger from the parents of one of those Americans executed by ISIS. They have direct words for President Obama. They say their son, journalist James Foley, dying an awful death. And this evening, a startling claim, that the family was actually threatened, they say, by the White House. Tonight, those parents going very public with this, talking to our own Brian Ross and Greta Van Susteren over at Fox.”

So far NBC has yet to air any of the Sotloff or Foley family complaints.

Identifying Media Bias

To accurately identify different types of bias, you should be aware of the issues of the day, and the liberal and conservative perspectives on each issue.

Types of Media Bias:


1.  What type of bias do the big three networks display in their lack of reporting the Foley and Sotloff family stories?

2.  Is this a newsworthy story that should have be reported?  Explain your answer.

3.  Wikipedia reports: “Cindy Sheehan is an American antiwar activist whose son, U.S. Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, was killed by enemy action during the Iraq War. She attracted national and international media attention in August 2005 for her extended antiwar protest at a makeshift camp outside President George W. Bush’s Texas ranch.”
Sheehan was in the news constantly after her son was killed in action.  Do you think the media is displaying a double-standard/bias, by ignoring the assertions made by the families of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, U.S. civilians murdered by Islamic terrorists? Explain your answer.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the answers.


1.  Bias by story selection and omission.

2.  Opinion question. Answers vary.

3. Opinion question. Answers vary.