Before I begin, let me state, for the record… that BIAS is inherent in our species. It is necessary to be prejudiced sometimes to avoid pitfalls and dangerous jungle animals. We can’t help that we don’t have predators anymore and have begun hunting one another.
In the media (press), it is good to avoid bias because, well – screaming fire in a crowded theater and all that… it is the media, the press’ responsibility to REPORT, not incite. No matter what the talking head on TV just told you…
Okay. Now, I think, we can move on… stop me if you disagree.
There’s a lot of chatter now regarding the media and how it has become ‘biased’.
The statement that the media, or more commonly the ‘liberal media’, is biased leads a thinking individual to 2 presuppositions.
- At some point in recent societal memory, the media was unbiased.
- It is the media’s responsibility to decide (i.e. REPORT) the Truth (with a capital T).
In addition, the following inferences about ‘Truth’ can be made regarding this one, simple statement about media bias.
- Non-biased is equivalent to Truth. Oh wait, now biased is truth? Oh, biased just means the information we don’t like, and so we are biased to bias? WTF. Does anyone else see this circular argument going on?
- The preemptive adjective moves the mean (the mean, is the midpoint/average in bell curve theory) in regards to the perceived Truth of the noun. (This, by the way, in logic circles is called ‘weasel word’ or ‘loaded language’.)
I won’t go into detail about the faults in our educational systems that have led to the lack of personal accountability exhibited by citizens of my country. I’ve said before, and I will say again, moving away from liberal studies (completely) was a bad decision. Beyond that, I say we focus on what we can fix. And I challenge those with liberal arts backgrounds to share your skills.
NOTE: Congrats if you noticed I didn’t elaborate on the preemptive adjective in the noun phrase ‘liberal’ media. That is a blog in and of itself… and we need to move on.
First, per Merriam-Webster, let us define “Bias”:
|Etymology:||Middle French biais|
3 a : BENT, TENDENCY b : an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially : a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment : PREJUDICE c : an instance of such prejudice d (1) : deviation of the expected value of a statistical estimate from the quantity it estimates (2) : systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others
I think we can all agree that, for the most part (unless you are talking about voltage, or the angle of a cut in bread slices), that ‘bias’, in context of the media, means “prejudice”. I would, however, add part d(2) of the definition to that… “…selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others”.
Going back to presupposition 1:
At some point in recent societal memory, the media was unbiased.
I would argue that the media language was different, but unbiased? I could also argue that the media took their jobs more seriously, or at least we took them more seriously. But, making the statement that they were quantitatively less biased would encompass a doctoral thesis.
Again, I won’t go into detail about what I think led to the current status of media unpopularity. That is a semantical argument that goes nowhere. Let’s just agree, or disagree that the media was at some point, for the most part, unbiased, and move on.
Presupposition 2 is more fun anyway:
It is the media’s responsibility to decide what is true.
I’m going to channel my old lady voice and say, “Nope honey, that there is yer responsibility.” And, “Truth ain’t got nothin’ to do with it…”
But, even the old lady (who is obviously right), misses something. Aside from being there, in the thick of it, how can you really know what is the Truth? How do you decide what you are hearing or reading is unbiased? How can you be reasonably certain that someone isn’t just telling you what you want to hear?
By analyzing the language they use, my dear crickets.
Language usage is a learned skill. Language is a social tool per various language textbooks. And learning to limit bias in language is an advanced skill that we, as a democratic society, afforded to journalists to learn and model.
And then FoxNews came along… and the conversation, that should never have started, began. But I digress… moving on, again.
Here’s a sample of what I am talking about (not from real news articles, I want to discuss, not argue):
WHICH OF THESE STATEMENTS SHOW BIAS?
- HILLARY SUPPORTERS SHUT DOWN MAIN STREET FOR 2 HOURS TODAY TO PROTEST THE ELECTION OF PRESIDENT TRUMP. FIGHTS BROKE OUT AND WINDOWS OF CARS WERE SMASHED. POLICE ARRESTED MANY OF THE PROTESTERS.
- MAIN STREET WAS CLOSED FOR 2 HOURS TODAY, FROM 2 TO 4 P.M. FOR A DEMONSTRATION TO PROTEST THE ELECTION OF TRUMP TO THE PRESIDENCY. LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT WERE ON-SITE TO PROVIDE SECURITY AND MAINTAIN ORDER. LAW ENFORCEMENT REPORTED TWO INCIDENTS OF BROKEN WINDOWS. HOWEVER, THE POLICE ARRESTED THE PERPETRATORS AND REMOVED THEM FROM THE AREA WITHOUT FURTHER INCIDENT.
WHICH OF THESE STATEMENTS MAKE BROAD ASSUMPTIONS WITHOUT PROVIDING SUPPORT?
WHY DO YOU THINK ONE STATEMENT IS MORE BIASED THAN THE OTHER?
For assistance, LOOK FOR THE LANGUAGE CLUES:
- preemptive adjectives: these are precursors to the noun that attempt to skew your perception of what is occurring. the media is REQUIRED to limit bias by using NEUTRAL nouns and avoiding adjectives all-together. i.e. “HillarySupporters” versus “protesters”. Even if it is mostly people who voted for Hillary (what choice did we have, really?), is it fair or truthful to class ALL demonstrators that way?
- descriptive verbs: these follow the noun and precede the object. they should be as plain Jane and NEUTRAL as possible. Think about these 2 sentences:
- “The young boy staggered into the room, carrying a bottle.”
- “The boy, aged 12, walked, unsteadily, into the room carrying a bottle of water.”
If the boy was a runner, just returning from a morning 5 mile run, then the first one might lead you to think something else.
Return next week for… SOURCES: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE ‘WHAT THE HELL’.
For now… THINK when you read or watch TV, and take a breath and calm down. Ask yourself, “what are they trying to tell me?” And more importantly, “why do they think I need to know this now.”
The only thing that I will add is be on the lookout for FAKE NEWS sites. Here’s a snippet from NPR when they tracked down a real fake news guy.**
Feel free to share this with your readers. My reasoning isn’t perfect, but I hope it helps you and your readers begin to sort out this mess o’ media we call the press and TALK about and analyze what you are seeing and reading.
A free press is a cornerstone of an informed democratic electorate and I support them wholeheartedly. We the people need to begin to ‘separate the wheat from the chaff’ in the media, stop getting our stories from social media, and stop listening to those voices that simply want to get ad-clicks and incite discontent by default or for their own personal gain.
If we stop trusting the press, and allow the powers-that-be to mute their voice… then… we may as well just give up***, move off into our villas in the country and let Rome burn.
**Admittedly, NPR is not completely unbiased, but is one of the ones that tend to be less so. For example, there is a part in the article when the writer states that the fake news guy said that ‘they tried writing stories with a liberal audience in mind, but the readers couldn’t be fooled’. *ahem – pandering?* It wasn’t a direct quote, so aside from the writer and the fake news guy, who knows what was actually said? Maybe it was too crude?
***The old lady says, “Hell no!” to that option, by the way.