Assign the reporter to cover a person who has a similar cultural background but who does not share the assumptions that define the norm as the reporter sees it, and you get coverage that is slanted. The reporter cannot understand why this other person does not share the view that is accepted as the only legitimate view in the reporter's own social and professional circles. The stories then become focused on those differences, however irrelevant they might be, and not on telling the bigger, more important story.
We saw this bias play out in rather ridiculous fashion last week after the College of Cardinals elected Jorge Borgoglio of Argentina as Pope Francis.
NBC News ran with this "story" on Thursday: "'Status quo' leader: Same-sex marriage, abortion unlikely under Pope Francis."
The story began: "Known as a compassionate Argentine archbishop who eschewed the trappings of his role to live amid his flock and who focused on the poor, Pope Francis will likely keep to Catholic teachings that reject abortion and same-sex marriage, experts said Wednesday."
Fascinating. NBC News, one of America's largest and best-known news organizations, considered it news that the new Pope adhered to Roman Catholic doctrine. Worse, it had to have "experts" tell it that.
"The pope will be Catholic," Professor Christopher J. Ruddy of the Catholic University of America, told NBC. "He speaks and he teaches what the Catholic church teaches on these issues." This is news?
Stories of the Pope's adherence to standard Roman Catholic teachings were legion last week. Time magazine reported that Pope Francis "is conservative on social issues and is a vocal opponent of gay marriage and abortion."
The real story, which some reporters succeeded in telling, was that here was a Pope who refused to adhere to the tradition of elevating himself above the cardinals. Here was a Pope who asked the people to pray for him before he prayed for them, who has lived his life in service to the poor and afflicted.
While reporters were busy calling this first Jesuit Pope "conservative," they barely noticed he began his term by dispensing with traditions and focusing everyone's attention on the church's mission. Even his chosen name, Francis, is a message that the church is now led by a man with reform and service on his mind. That is the story. How many reporters will be clear-sighted enough to see it as it unfolds?