Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Media Bais

Is the media too liberal?  Too conservative? Does it matter?  Honestly, why does it matter?  Don't we have clearly conservative and clearly liberal media outlets?  Don't we all want to agree with those who are reporting the news?  The problem here is not the degree to which opposing views balance each other, it's how our personal biases affect what we get out of the media.

When we hear something on TV we don't agree with, it's not a comfortable experience.  But facts are facts.  It shouldn't matter whether the facts support a conservative or liberal perspective, they are just facts.  Media should be objective, not balanced.[cut]

"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."
- John Adams (1735 - 1826)

An example: Let's say that some citizens of a small town are complaining about strange medical problems that most think have something to do with the chemical plant upstream.  A good journalist will investigate the facts:  take water samples, consult doctors, interview residents and company workers, look at the history, etc.  Reports are made on the facts.  If the water is clean and pure upstream from the plant, then severely contaminated downstream, there's a fact.  If doctors say that the medical problems of residents are consistent with symptoms from specific types of contamination, that's another one.  If the company was fined ten times in fifteen years for improper disposal of waste, there's another fact.  Put these all together and you get the headline "Chemical company dumps waste, harms residence".  This is not a political statement, but one drawn from fact.  Objective reporting.

Now, in the example above, a "balanced report" may include some of the facts and interviews, balanced by a company official saying they are doing all they can and there is no proof that the medical problems are related.  Maybe another interview by a political pundit claiming that people are just out to get money from big companies.  But reality is abandoned in order to attempt a balanced report because the validity of opinions can not be challenged.  As facts and opinions are placed side-by-side, the objective becomes telling a story, not telling the truth. If the facts lean too far one way, it takes a lot of opinion and stories to make a report balanced.

But this isn't even the heart of the matter.  Journalists, for the most part, do a decent job reporting.  But we don't like to listen to journalists unless we happen to already agree with what they are talking about.  This is why Limbaugh and Frankin have popular radio programs (Limbaugh markedly more so).  This is why we have "Hannity sand Colmes", "The O'Rieley Factor", "Paula Zann Now", "Hardball with Chris Mathews", and many other personality-based programs.  On these shows, it's all about this personality's perspective on the world, not the simple facts.

My advice to the average person who wants to keep up with news:

  1. If you get your news primarily from just one source, it's likely you're exercising your truly American right to get biased information.  Shop around for your news, investigate opinionated claims.
  2. If you hear things on the news you don't agree with, it's likely you are getting some good information.  Listen and judge for yourself, but don't discount a news source because you don't like the part of the world it's talking about.
  3. Realize that bias is natural.  It's much more helpful to understand your own biases, be able to identify other's biases, and uncover the facts behind biased statements.
  4. Don't buy into news sources that have obvious biases.  They pollute your mind with false facts and only serve to segregate people by belief.

There is no such thing as "Rush's world" or "CNN's world", it's just the world.  Get your opinions from trusted sources, but set a higher standard for news.  Let's drop opinions from the marketplace of news, otherwise all we have is gossip.[/cut]