Let’s provide an epilogue of sorts to one of our recent postings, which you’ll note respectfully asserted that there’s a difference between news and opinion, with “news” sources often presenting information with a left or right bias as opposed to somewhere in between; the truth is secondary to the bias. The goal is to get us to rage — to keep our tribal fears and hatreds aligned — whether that be (as several noted) about the latest economic legislation or the long term effects of the local school levy.
To be clear, everyone has bias. As one of my fave new websites, AllSides.com, acknowledges, “It is part of human nature to have perspectives, preferences, prejudices, leanings, and partialities.” The challenge, though, as they continue, is that “sometimes, bias — especially media bias — can become invisible to us.”
How does that happen? How can even the most gifted intellectual be so obviously fooled? And… dare we admit… not even know it?
“We are all biased toward things that show us in the right. We are biased toward information that confirms our existing beliefs. We are biased toward the people or information that supports us, makes us look good, and affirms our judgments and virtues. And we are biased toward the more moral choice of action — at least, that which seems moral to us.”
And so while so-called “news” sites/resources cover the same issues, they will insert their bias in a way which often goes undetectable.
AllSides.com identifies 11 types of media bias:
2. Unsubstantiated Claims
3. Opinion Statements Presented as Facts
5. Mudslinging/Ad Hominem
6. Mind Reading
8. Flawed Logic
9. Bias by Omission
10. Omission of Source Attribution
11. Bias by Placement
We won’t wrestle with all 11 this day (feel free to join me in thoroughly checking out the site), but the point is that bias takes multiple — often creative — forms.
Spin, for example, is the use of “vague, dramatic or sensational language.” It is the manifestation of a journalist’s straying from objectivity and thus may prevent an audience from getting an accurate perspective; note that the audience will not even know they don’t have an accurate perspective. Words such as “tirade,” “crucial,” or “latest in a string of” may be inserted… or words that imply bad behavior — “finally,” “conceded,” or “dodged,” for example… also, words that stir something emotional inside of us, such as: “mocked,” “fumed,” or “gloated.” The words are typically not objective.
Look, too, though, at unsubstantiated claims, statements that sound like fact, appear to be fact, but don’t include specific evidence. Note one example from our current campaign season (which I can’t believe extends for another 13 months… aye yai yai), this as reported by the Washington Post:
“First, [Sen. Bernie] Sanders complaint isn’t that billionaires exist per se. After all, if America’s household wealth were distributed evenly across the population, then every family of four would have a net worth of $1.2 million. Sanders’s critique is that the United States’ super-rich are symptomatic of a system that churns out a small class of extremely wealthy people who rule over the vast remainder.”
Looks like fact. Sounds like fact. And it’s in the much read Washington Post. But note there includes zero notation as to where the so-called “facts” came from. Friends, I’m no fan of the “fake news” chants, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discern that here is where the chants find their fuel.
My desire is to wrestle with the facts. My desire, as you know, is to have respectful dialogue in which we can sort through those facts. But one of the most prodigious problems we face as a country and culture today is the existence of this bias. Again, as said by AllSides:
“Bias can manipulate and blind us. It can put important information and perspectives in the shadows and prevent us from getting the whole view.”
Let’s commit to getting the whole view. Let’s acknowledge the bias and our own, individual ability to be both blinded and fooled — without even knowing it. How refreshing to start the conversation there.
Respectfully… as always.