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The Oregonian: Media Bias And Factual Reporting Analysis

The Oregonian, the largest newspaper in Oregon, is based in Portland. The Advance Publications-owned daily is a reliable source of information. It has a clean fact check record, however, it can’t be ignored that the newspaper uses sensational headlines to grab attention. The Oregonian even publishes half-baked information. It has a right-center bias. The daily clearly exhibits its inclination through its stories and editorials. From being accused of bias against Muslims and Palestine to a poor work culture, The Oregonian has been called out by several media monitoring websites and individuals.

Mediabuzz referred to several sources, websites, research materials and blogs in order to evaluate the credibility and biases of The Oregonian. The parameters taken into consideration before arriving at a conclusion are types of headlines, controversies, allegations, newsroom culture and political endorsements among others.

The Oregonian Media Bias Summary

Media Bias Result: Right-Center

The Oregonian remains mostly neutral as far as its news coverage is concerned. However, at times, its right-center bias does seep into its editorials and even news. Its opinion pieces are mostly balanced but one can easily notice its slight right inclination. Also, not to forget The Oregonian has endorsed Republican candidates for a long time in its history. Mediabuzz also found few instances of sensational headlines and reports giving a glimpse of its Muslim and Palestine biases.

right center

The Oregonian Factual Reporting Summary

Factual Reporting Result: Highly Reliable

Though there have been instances where The Oregonian carried news with one-sided information, it has a clean fact-check record. For international and national news, this local daily refers to Associated Press and sometimes even Washington Post. Hence, with proper sourcing and no fake news, The Oregonian can be considered a reliable source of information.

highly reliable

*Image for reference only

A. The Oregonian Media Bias Analysis

The Oregonian reports on a vast range of subjects such as news, weather, sports, business, life & culture, opinion, politics and real estate among others. The daily presents news with minimal bias, however, one can notice a slight right-inclination in both its stories and editorials. However, The Oregonian does not go all out promoting any ideology.

1. Analysis Of The Oregonian’s Headlines

The Oregonian generally has headlines with a balanced tone. However, one can also find headlines that attempt to create sensation. The editorial and opinion section, which mostly goes with a balanced approach tends to show its right-inclination once in a while. Some of the examples have been cited below:

I. Affair Or Rape?

In 2004, The Oregonian was accused of spinning public perception by playing in favour of then-mayor Neil Goldschmidt, who allegedly molested a 14-year-old girl. Rather than writing sexual abuse or child rape, The Oregonian wrote, “Goldschmidt confesses 70’s affair with girl, 14.”  The initial details of the scandal were already posted by Willamette Week on May 6 after there was no statement from Goldschmidt. Soon, he “hastily arranged a meeting with editors at The Oregonian,” after which the daily published the story on its website about his admission of having “an affair” with a “high school student”.

This was not the first time when The Oregonian defended a political figure. In 1992, “Oregonian Editor William Hilliard did not publish multiple accusations of sexual harassment leveled at Senator Robert Packwood before the election.  The Washington Post broke the story in late November,” writes Christopher Vetter for Inside Portland.

II. ‘Catlin’s Dirty Secret’

The Catlin Gabel School was “rocked by revelations” after The Oregonian published a report stating that some of its teachers physically and sexually abused students. At least nine staffers were accused of sexual harassment in a report commissioned by Catlin, said The Oregonian. However, the headlines were particularly disturbing as they aimed at creating sensation.

A story titled ‘Catlin Gabel’s dirty secret: Former students go public for the first time about private school’s dark side,’ was published on January 11, 2020. Another story published on January 26, 2020, went with the headline, ‘Will Catlin Gabel School survive its massive sexual abuse scandal?’  Both were written by Jeff Manning.

Terms such as ‘dirty secrets’ and ‘massive’ clearly indicate the daily’s intention of going over the top.

On March 17, 2020, a website called Catlin Speak published a piece written by Annika Holliday. She slammed The Oregonian’s style of reporting. “It has labeled the school “posh” and “exclusive,” portrayed it as a place where everyone is rich or famous (or both), blurred big distinctions between allegations, and used the filing of the first lawsuit to wildly speculate that there will be hundreds more, possibly even forcing the school to close,” the alumna wrote.

2. The Oregonian’s Endorsement Of Presidential Candidates

I. An Overview

Since its origin in 1850, The Oregonian has been a Republican newspaper with a conservative stance. Throughout its history, it has mostly supported the Republican candidates for the US presidential elections. The first democrat to earn the endorsement of The Oregonian was Bill Clinton in 1992, followed by John Kerry in 2004. In 2020, The Oregonian endorsed Joe Biden, a democrat.

II. 2020 Endorsement

An opinion was published on its website on September 27, 2020, with the headline, ‘Editorial endorsement: Vote for Joe Biden for president’. The article stated, “President Donald Trump who, in his four years in office, has added to the volatility rather than steer America out of it. Oregonians should join the chorus of Americans seeking a path out of our chaos and vote for former vice president Joe Biden for president”.

III. Non-Endorsements

In the article, The Oregonian even addressed its decision of non-endorsements in 2012 and 2016. “Our decision to endorse in this race reverses our policy in 2012 and 2016. We heard the community’s disappointment over our past non-endorsements loud and clear. Particularly at this precipitous moment, we recognize both the privilege and obligation we have to advocate for the candidate who can best lead our country forward,” it wrote.

3. The Oregonian: Controversies/Allegations

Willamette Week published a series of allegations against The Oregonian with the title “Dubious Achievements: The Oregonian 1974-1999”. The report was written by Paul Koberstein, a former Oregonian reporter.

I. In June 1979, The Oregonian did not publish a full-page advertisement for the Union of      Concerned Scientists. The ad that raised concerns regarding the safety issues at nuclear plants after Three Mile Island was published by prominent dailies like Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Boston Globe among others.

II. In February 1988, a cartoon was dropped from the daily as it had reference to condoms. Fred A. Stickel, then-president and publisher of The Oregonian, was against running condom ads as he believed that they promoted promiscuity. In October, the daily dropped “a Cathy cartoon strip for a week because it criticizes Republicans on day care and urges voters to support Dukakis”.

III. In 1989, The Oregonian destroyed “tens of thousands of copies of a Sunday paper” as it contained an article that told readers how to sell homes without the help of a real estate broker.  “Editors feared the story would have worsened relations between the paper and local brokers, ” wrote Willamette Week.

4. The Oregonian’s Biases

I. Anti-Palestine Bias

In 2005, the Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights published two reports alleging that The Oregonian under-represented the deaths of Palestinians in its news reports. The Oregonian was also accused of excluding the narrative of Palestine in its opinion pages. Among the key finding of the study was that Israeli narrative was presented in 83 percent of the editorials while Palestinian narrative reflected in none. AUPHR, an Oregon-based all-volunteer association of American taxpayers, conducted the study from June 1, 2004, to May 31, 2005. “The systematic over-representation of the Israeli-narrative and significant silence about important issues, such as international laws and humanitarian norms, raises serious questions about The Oregonian’s commitment to journalistic standards for balance, fairness and accuracy,” states the AUPHR.

II. Anti-Muslim Bias

On September 28, 2008, The Oregonian distributed a controversial DVD titled Obsession that raised alarms regarding radical Islam as an advertising supplement. Two weeks before, The New York Times, The Charlotte Observer, The Miami Herald and over 70 other newspapers of the country had distributed the same. The Oregonian decided to do it despite a personal request from Portland mayor Tom Potter. The mayor requested publisher Fred Stickel not to distribute the DVD as the “tenor of the video contributes towards a climate of distrust towards Muslims that holds the entire Muslim community accountable for the actions of a dangerously misguided few”. “Freedom of speech”, and an “obligation to keep our advertising columns as open as possible” were cited by Stickel as the reasons behind not rejecting the DVD.

III Right-Wing Bias

A. Blue Oregon published an article written by Kari Chisholm on June 12, 2011. The headline of the piece was ‘Is the Oregonian newsroom tilting to the right?‘ The writer says that the conservative bent is evident in the news coverage of The Oregonian. “There’s always been a Whig, er, conservative bent to the editorial pages, but they’re supposed to have opinions there,” the article states. Citing the example, the article mentioned how The Oregonian failed to cover the 4000+ person “Hands Across Hawthorne” rally against anti-gay violence, however, it provided sufficient coverage to the 15-person Tea Party rally. Over 1400 signed a petition slamming The Oregonian over its coverage.


Responding to the criticism, editor Peter Bhatia called it “an assignment-desk error”. “It was human error, pure and simple. We should have covered the event. Please be clear: There is no ideology involved in our coverage decisions, from the left or the right. Suggestions that The Oregonian has moved rightward in its coverage is nonsense, just as are the more common assertions from the right that we have a left bias. News coverage decisions are made by the newsroom. In this case, we made a bad one,” he said in a statement.

The article further states, “Throughout the 2008 election cycle, for example, there would regularly be balanced news stories about the Jeff Merkley / Gordon Smith race with headlines that were charitable to Smith or critical of Merkley in ways that went beyond the text of the story”.

B. Pacific Standard published a piece on October 31, 2018 titled ‘The Oregonian Faces Heavy Criticism After Publishing A Piece Sympathizing With A Far-Right Group’. Written by Massoud Hayounoct, the article mentions, “The Oregonian newspaper is facing backlash following its decision to publish an op-ed defending far-right group Patriot Prayer and its founder Joey Gibson. The article followed a harrowing week of attacks on communities in the United States—acts of violence that many say were made possible in part through the rampant spread of hate speech and misinformation on media platforms”. Oregonian columnist Elizabeth Hovde wrote in the opinion that the Patriot Prayer rally held at Washington State University, Vancouver, a few days ago witnessed no violent incident. She even lauded Gibson as a promoter of peace. This despite the strong evidence proving the group’s involvement in inciting violence.

B. The Oregonian Factual Reporting Analysis

Medibuzz couldn’t find any instances of fake news published by The Oregonian. Though, we did spot that the daily published stories based on half-baked information. There have been some instances where The Oregonian didn’t verify the information either willingly or because of complacency. Apart from these, the newspaper has mostly published a balanced report. Below we have cited instances where The Oregonian seems to have put its reliability at stake.

1. Fake Hardesty Hit-and-Run

Portland Mercury published an article by Blair Stenvick on March 8, 2021, slamming The Oregonian’s style of news reporting. The piece titled, ‘The Oregonian, the Fake Hardesty Hit-and-Run, and the Price of a Big Scoop,’ said, “The paragraph is from an article suggesting Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty was a suspect in a Wednesday hit-and-run in Southeast Portland. The piece quickly gained widespread attention, amplifying allegations which until that point had only been “reported” by reactionary right-wing blogs. (I should note up front that Hardesty was quickly cleared of any wrongdoing and is no longer a suspect.” Later, it was learned that Hardesty was mainly listed by Portland Police Bureau (PPB) as, according to the victim, the perpetrator looked like Hardesty.

The piece also raised questions regarding how the daily gained access to the information about Hardesty soon after the police report was filed. “A public records request for such information typically takes weeks or months to fulfill. At a Thursday press conference, Hardesty said she believes the report was leaked as part of an effort to tarnish her reputation, because she is an outspoken advocate for reducing PPB’s budget and increasing the bureau’s public accountability,” Portland Mercury report further states.

2. Editor’s Death Controversy

According to a report published on npr.org on March 16, 2012, The Oregonian fired Kathleen         Glanville, editor at breaking news team, for misleading the newspaper about the death of Bob Caldwell, the editorial page editor.

“The “family friend” who told The Oregonian that its editorial page editor was in his car on Saturday when he died of a heart attack turns out to have been another editor at the newspaper. She says she was trying to protect Caldwell’s family from the public embarrassment that would come with the truth: that he had been in the apartment of a young woman with whom he was allegedly having sex,” read the npr report.

The newspaper went on to print the wrong information without any sort of verification. Later, The Oregonian editor Peter Bhatia said that the error was due to misinformation and stated that it wasn’t an attempt to cover up.

3. Other Factors Of Credibility

Newsroom culture, work pressure, job security, decent pay and demographics of the newsroom are some of the factors that determine how journalists perform, ultimately affecting the credibility of a news outlet. The Oregonian scores poor when it comes to the above-mentioned parameters.

I. Layoff

In August 2009, the policy that protected full-time employees from layoffs was discontinued. Following the announcement, 37 were laid off in February 2010. According to Poynter, a lay off also took place in June 2013. According to a tweet by University of Oregon professor Suzi Steffen, “From a newsroom source – 98 people laid off on all floors of the Oregonian. Photogs, designers, editors, reporters – even interns”.

On April 15, 2020, Willamette Week published a report with the title, ‘The Oregonian Cuts Employee Pay and Requires Unpaid Leave for Reporters’. The article mentions that due to Covid-19 pandemic, there will be a 2 to 20 percent cut off in the employee pay based on the earnings. “The company will also require newsroom employees to take a week of unpaid leave; employees in other departments must take two weeks without pay,” it further states.

II. Firing Veterans

Columbia Journalism Review published an article on June 21, 2013 with the title, ‘The ax falls at The Oregonian’ by Ryan Chittum. The piece slammed Advance Publications, owner of The Oregonian, for a template that it implemented across its newspapers. “End daily delivery; fire a third to a half of the veteran journalists, particularly the editors, particularly in news; replace some of them with young, inexperienced (and most important: cheap) labor; put them on the hamster wheel; toss around insipid buzzwords; spend a bunch of money on new offices; piss off readers; embolden competition,” Chittum writes further.

III. Pay For Performance Model

In March 2014, Ryan Chittum in his another article titled “The Hamster Wheel is institutionalized at the Oregonian” wrote that the organisation is gradually moving towards a “pay for performance” model. Quoting Willamette Week, the article said, “The Oregonian will require its reporters to increase their bylines by 40 percent this year and to boost their web traffic by 27.7 percent”. “And just to show how clearly Advance doesn’t get the Interwebs, it now dictates that “reporter will post first comment” on posts,” it further states. “The logical end point of the Advance model is sensationalist and thinly reported news,” The Columbia Journalism Review article noted.

C. The Oregonian Bias Reliability Ratings by Fact-Checking Websites

Several fact-checking websites also rated The Oregonian on credibility and bias scale. Below, we have summarised what Ad Fontes Media, All Sides and Media Bias/Fact Check have to say about the newspaper.

1. Ad Fontes Media

The Oregonian has been rated in the middle category of bias and most reliable on the reliability scale by Ad Fontes Media.

2. All Sides

According to All Sides, The Oregonian doesn’t show a clear bias towards one ideology. “Its opinion page typically features perspectives from throughout the political spectrum,” it mentions.

3. Media Bias/ Fact Check

According to this website, The Oregonian reports news with minimal bias, however, the opinion page exhibits that it is “slightly more favoring the right”. With no failed fact check, the daily has also been rated High for factual reporting.

D. Brief Introduction of The Oregonian

History

The Oregonian is a Portland-based daily newspaper. Established on December 4, 1850, it is owned by Advance Publications. It is the oldest newspaper to be continuously published on the U.S. west coast. The Oregonian was founded by Thomas J. Dryer and has been published daily since 1861. The largest newspaper in Oregon adopted the tabloid format from April 2, 2014. From 1861 to 1937, its regular edition was published as The Morning Oregonian. The Sunday edition is titled The Sunday Oregonian. The newspaper is home-delivered on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday across Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Yamhill counties, Clark County and parts of Marion and Columbia counties. OregonLive.com, the website, was launched in 1997. The Oregonian has received Pulitzer Prize twice, in 2001 and 2014 respectively.

Ownership

The Oregonian is currently under the ownership of Advance Publications, an American media company controlled by the descendants of S.I. Newhouse Sr., Donald Newhouse and S.I. Newhouse Jr. It is named after the Staten Island Advance. In 2013, it was announced the newspaper would be restructured and from October 1, Oregonian Publishing Company would cease to exist. Instead, two new companies — Oregonian Media Group and Advance Central Services Oregon were formed. While the former would be responsible for providing online content, the latter would manage production, packaging, and distribution support.

E. The Oregonian Bias And Factual Reporting Summary

After evaluating and analysing several reports, research papers and fact-checking websites, Mediabuzz arrives at the conclusion that The Oregonian exhibits biases in some of its news stories and editorials. It has been accused of showing biases against Muslims and Palestine. Interestingly, the former avid supporter of the Republican Party has lately started backing Democrat presidential candidates. We also noticed a few stories with sensational headlines, misleading titles and unverified information. As far as factual reporting is concerned, the daily is mostly reliable. With an almost clean fact check record, it can be called a credible source of information.

Reference Links

https://web.archive.org/web/20051125195441/http://insideportland.com/affair.html

https://www.wweek.com/portland/article-3198-the-30-year-secret.html

http://www.auphr.org/docs/OregonianEditorialReport.pdf

http://www.auphr.org/docs/Oregonian_Report_04072005.pdf

https://web.archive.org/web/201105010

https://www.bizjournals.com/portland/stories/2010/02/22/daily29.html

https://apnews.com/article/44aa0eebbd7f425d1a7c5fccf3beed00

https://web.archive.org/web/20110501050246/http://www.editorandpublisher.com/Departments/Top%20Stories/oregonian-distributes-muslim-terror-dvd-after-mayor-asks-it-to-refrain-32114-.aspx

https://www.wweek.com/news/business/2020/04/15/the-oregonian-cuts-employee-pay-and-requires-unpaid-leave-for-reporters/

https://psmag.com/social-justice/the-oregonian-faces-heavy-criticism-after-publishing-a-piece-sympathizing-with-a-far-right-group

https://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/2018/10/elizabethhovde_the_misundersto.html

https://www.oregonlive.com/education/2020/01/catlin-gabels-dirty-secret-former-schoolgirls-go-public-for-first-time-about-private-schools-dark-side.html

https://www.oregonlive.com/education/2020/01/will-catlin-gabel-school-survive-its-massive-sexual-abuse-scandal.html

https://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/caseconsortium/casestudies/37/casestudy/www/layout/case_id_37_id_457.html

https://www.blueoregon.com/2011/06/oregonian-newsroom-tilting-right/

https://www.catlinspeak.com/speak/editorial-the-oregonians-biased-reporting-of-the-sexual-misconduct-allegations-at-cgs

https://www.portlandmercury.com/blogtown/2021/03/08/32072004/the-oregonian-the-fake-hardesty-hit-and-run-and-the-price-of-a-big-scoop

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/portland-police-investigating-minor-hit-and-run-accident-that-may-have-involved-city-commissioner-jo-ann-hardesty/ar-BB1ef5Me

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2012/03/16/148758954/editor-who-misled-oregonian-about-colleagues-death-is-fired/

https://archives.cjr.org/the_audit/the_ax_falls_at_the_oregonian.php

https://archives.cjr.org/the_audit/the_oregonian_bureaucratizes_t.php

https://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/2020/09/editorial-endorsement-vote-for-joe-biden-for-president.html

https://psmag.com/social-justice/the-oregonian-faces-heavy-criticism-after-publishing-a-piece-sympathizing-with-a-far-right-group

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