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Skate Debate: A Study in Media Bias?

March 16, 1994|LYNN SMITH

As soon as the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan Skategate story broke, Jack Locke saw the possibilities.

A sixth-grade English teacher in the Billerica School District north of Boston, Locke had his students collect local and national newspapers and notes from TV news coverage in four categories: stories that made Harding look guilty; the "let's give Tonya a break" stories; the "Nancy Kerrigan is a saint" stories and stories that gave a balanced approach.

"I wasn't necessarily telling them news is biased," said Locke, who attended Harvard's Institute on Media Education. "I was pointing out it could be biased in parts of the country."

One photograph they studied was a front-page picture in the Boston Globe (Kerrigan's hometown paper) of Harding walking across her front lawn with a cigarette dangling from her fingers. "It raised a couple of questions. Why do you think Boston Globe would put the picture on the front page? To make a statement? To make Tonya Harding look bad?" He pointed out that, theoretically, editors at Harding's hometown paper could crop the picture to remove the cigarette.

(Other teachers used the example of a composite picture published by New York Newsday of Harding and Kerrigan skating together to show how reality can be manipulated.)

They discussed the reported $600,000 Harding was paid to appear on a tabloid news show and how that might have made that interview different from one obtained by CBS' Connie Chung.

Locke said his students reached the conclusion he was aiming for: everything isn't as it seems on the surface.

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