Mainstream media biased against Romney? Four points to consider.

Many supporters of Mitt Romney argue that his potential path toward the White House has been made a lot steeper by the media, which have piled on about the Republican's alleged gaffes and policy flaws. Is that perception true? Is media bias against Mr. Romney rampant, while the press scrutinizes President Obama through a less skeptical lens? With a high-stakes election drawing near, here are some of the main arguments pro and con.

1. How the news business works

Evan Vucci/AP
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns at American Spring Wire in Bedford Heights, Ohio, on Sept. 26.

A recent rough patch for the Romney candidacy led to this headline on The Atlantic website: "Romney is flailing in Ohio."

Flailing, obviously, is not the most flattering word. And Ohio is one of the few swing states on which the election could hinge. So are headlines like this an example of media bias – conferring an aura on inevitability for Mr. Obama's reelection hopes – or an example of straight reporting of campaign news? Part of the answer, pro or con, lies in the nature of the news business.

No, news organizations aren't biased

News organizations by nature are chasing news, this argument goes. They're not chasing Romney with pitchforks. The recent video footage of Romney talking about why 47 percent of Americans won't vote for him (people who are "dependent" on government and don't pay taxes) was worthy of coverage. And it was something the public itself began buzzing about. In turn, publications often echo one another for better or worse. When a topic becomes hot – such as alleged difficulties for the Romney campaign – pretty much everyone covers it.

If anything, some argue, media outlets with a conservative bent have gained stature in recent years. The highest circulation newspaper is The Wall Street Journal, Fox News "continues to pummel the competition" in cable TV, and radio hosts like Sean Hannity outdraw National Public Radio news, comments David Carr, who follows the media at the New York Times.

Yes, they are

Sure, the news business is about chasing ratings and stories that have water-cooler appeal. But the "Fourth Estate" is so labeled partly because it has a public-service mission, not just a profit motive. Plenty of nonliberals concede that Romney's "47 percent" remark is a legitimate issue. But many of his backers say the media have taken those comments, made to a group of campaign donors in May, out of proportion.

And aren't there other hot topics? The Obama administration’s shifting characterizations of the recent attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, should be a news topic, writes Kirsten Powers at The Daily Beast website – "if the mainstream media could feign interest in the terrorist attack." Other media critics point to other issues, such as Obama "green" initiatives such as the Solyndra investment that have cost taxpayers billions.

A group of prominent conservatives recently wrote an "open letter to the biased news media" on the subject, arguing that the public should tune them out.

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