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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 06/29/2011

Bias Watch: NPR’s Wal-Mart story

I don't buy into the idea that the media has a liberal bias, but boy was Nina Totenberg's @NPR story on the Walmart decision biased.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone Favorite Retweet Reply

BIAS WATCH

Date of Bias Allegation: June 20, 2011

Originator of Bias Allegation: @kevin_reiss, a Twitter user who has issued nearly 24,000 updates.

Context of Bias Allegation: Story on the Supreme Court’s Wal-Mart decision by NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg.

Transcript of Bias Allegation: See relevant tweet above. When asked to elaborate on the allegation, Complainant wrote to Bias Watch: “No balance. All ‘Well, there goes our civil rights.’ No sense that the majority might be right on the merits. (I think majority was wrong.)” Complainant also wrote: “Totenberg wasn’t even trying to explore all sides.”

Vetting of Bias Allegation: Neutral coverage of court cases follows a common formula: to represent both sides. In this case, NPR correspondent Totenberg was reporting on a decision of the Supreme Court in the high-profile Wal-Mart case. At issue was whether, in the words of Totenberg, “female employees as a group could be certified as a single class to sue Wal-Mart at a single trial.” The Supreme Court ruled that they could not.

The Totenberg story starts in balanced fashion: She provides an objective summary of the case and includes sound bites from lawyers on both sides.

The analytical portion of the report is also balanced, with quotes from both a civil rights lawyer and from a corporate defense attorney.

The story’s conclusion appears to veer away from the equal representation of viewpoints. Here is an excerpt:

TOTENBERG: Stanford law professor Debra Hensler, an expert on class-action suits, says she sees today’s ruling as a pretty comprehensive defeat for civil rights plaintiffs.
Professor DEBRA HENSLER (Stanford Law School): I read this decision as saying absent that company having a policy that is clearly discriminatory on the face, which is, you know, hard to imagine in this day and age, that suits against discriminatory practices will now be much more difficult to pursue.

After that part, Totenberg’s story addresses prospects for the Wal-Mart plaintiffs in state courts. At that point, the piece ends.

The conclusion of the story, therefore, fails to meet Bias Watch’s balance test. It is legitimate and important for Totenberg to quote a class-action expert regretting that the decision will complicate discrimination suits. The inclusion of such a viewpoint, however, should trigger a response from the other side, perhaps from an advocate for merchants. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for instance, issued a statement featuring this line: “Our economy would be better served if businesses could spend more resources creating jobs and fewer resources fighting frivolous litigation.”

Conclusion: Bias Watch finds evidence of a slant in this story. Complainant’s contention is AFFIRMED.

By  |  09:00 AM ET, 06/29/2011

 
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