By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.
Today, I reposted a chart of media bias from “Ad Fontes Media, Inc.” (I believe; the font and contrast are not as clear as I would like), showing THEIR opinion of Quality vs. Political Bias. This sparked a protracted and heated discussion on the topic of media, and bias within.
One of my friends argued, quite simply, that the chart needed to be larger, so the news organization names didn’t overlap. This resulted in a heated argument as to whether or not organizations known to be purely propaganda should even be on the chart or should have a second chart. Another friend argued that she never reads news because she knows it is all biased but keeps herself informed of current events so she can make up her own mind. How she does this without reading news has never explained.
Let’s take a moment to discuss news media bias. News is biased. Period. There is no argument to this, it’s a fact. The reason is quite simple. News organization, every news organization, every format, every level is run by human beings. Yes, there are facts, but these facts are reported by humans, and even the way that they are presented displays a form of bias.
Consider, for example, something from recent headlines. What is the difference between “Immigrants rioting for rights gassed by security” versus “Security gasses immigrants rioting for rights”? Both say exactly the same thing, but by merely rearranging the order of the facts, fault is implied, in one the fault being with the immigrants, and the other on security.
Further bias is built into our own personal being. If you read either of those phrases, but already with the built-in belief that the immigrants (or security) are in the wrong, both will read to support your own personal belief.
News is biased.
Now for the next obvious question. If all news (as I hypothesize here) is biased, then what chance do we have?
There are a couple of things to keep in mind. First of all, just simply recognize that news is biased, so give up on the idea of unbiased reporting. If you accept the idea that all news is biased, then you can seek those news sources that are at least less biased. It also helps you to recognize with an author (let’s face it…like me) strays away from fact and into opinion.
Secondly, recognize that YOU are biased. Sometimes this is a hard pill to swallow, especially for those of us who want so desperately to believe that we are unbiased. But recognizing that we are biased at least gives us a chance to see when even the way we read things is heading towards opinion. What’s more, it has been shown that as humans, we tend to choose news sources that naturally reinforce our own opinions, so we are more likely to realize that other sources might disagree with us but is not necessarily wrong.
There’s a huge point. The other opinion is not necessarily wrong. As I write this, I’m watching comedies (although they’re not terribly funny) revolving around human sexuality. One person might think casual sex is fine, while the next person reading this might feel that sex without love is wrong. Who is right? Well, let’s just say that nobody is wrong. One person’s sexual proclivity does not impact the other, and beyond that, we do not know the journey each has been on. One might have been denied sexual desires frequently, while perhaps the other is dealing with some form of abuse. One person’s “truth”, then, can become another’s “how can you believe…?”
So can we overcome these biases? Okay, first, recognize their presence. It’s easier to avoid stepping barefoot on a four-sided dice if you know you’re in a gamer’s home. Then, read a variety of sources. I personally read one news source that has historically leaned right, one that has historically leaned left, and one from overseas. It’s a lot of the same news, but I know that I’m getting the news from both sides of the American spectrum, and from an external source (the idea being, of course, that if it’s from out of the country, it has no “buy-in” and should be less biased.
A number of years ago, I bought a well-known fashion watch in the streets of New York for $4. I wasn’t cheated. The only people cheated in these kinds of transactions are the ones who truly believe that they are getting this kind of quality name watch for four bucks. But I bought it for my niece, who was learning to tell time. I had to explain this to my sister, specifically, not to believe that the watch is truly this name, because it only cost a few bucks. She was livid. I laughed. The news is kind of that way. You’re only being cheated if you honestly believe that it is possible to find an unbiased source.
I’m happy to report that I looked at all of my regular news sources on this chart, and all of them are near the “high quality” end, and towards the center (that is, slightly leaning but more or less neutral).