Things look increasingly dire for the prosecution in the Kyle Rittenhouse case, and as the uphill battle to conviction grows steeper by the day, left-leaning outlets such as the Washington Post have suddenly discovered that the judge’s defense-friendly record on the bench is worthy of scrutiny. That’s the title of yesterday’s Post piece: “As Kyle Rittenhouse trial nears end, judge’s decisions from the bench come under scrutiny.”
This is a master class in how media bias works. The source of said scrutiny — ostensibly the entire basis for the story — is primarily the Post itself. This is common practice in the mainstream media: Rather than reporting on organically occurring stories of interest, journalists will decide that they want a story to exist, and work backwards from there. The Post story began with a preexisting conclusion — that Bruce Schroeder, the judge who may well rule leniently in the Rittenhouse case, has a record of leniency that is deserving of scrutiny — rather than reaching it as the result of serious, good-faith investigation.
This is often referred to as the “raises questions” blueprint: A reporter will personally decide he or she wants to raise questions about a particular issue, and then proceed to write a story about how said issue “raises questions.” In the Post’s Rittenhouse story, this looked like the reporter combing through Schroeder’s judicial record, deciding that it was suspiciously sympathetic to defendants, and then proceeding to gesture toward the idea that this suspicion is somehow a widespread sentiment. (“In the home stretch of a nearly four-decade career on the bench, Schroeder’s sometimes unorthodox rules are now receiving nationwide scrutiny.”)
But there wasn’t some grassroots surge in scrutiny of Schroeder’s record; the Post decided it wanted to write a story saying there was, and went out to ask leading questions accordingly. It is remarkably easy to manufacture narratives this way. Conservatives often complain about left-wing bias in terms of the slanted way that particular stories are reported, and rightly so. But the more fundamental manifestation of media bias can be seen in which stories reporters choose to write in the first place — and which ones they don’t.