Politics Thursday: Deleterious Biases

Caught an interesting quote the other day:

"To me, the two main biases that affect television news are a bias toward simplicity -- stripping a story of its necessary nuance -- and toward sensationalism, making a story that really isn't that important seem as if it is. Those are the two primary and most deleterious biases operating in television news today."


The one that makes me nuts is the idea that every story not only has two sides (which is true) but

1) has two EQUALLY VALID sides
2) the press has no roll in saying what the truth is.

For example, in articles about global warming journalists write (and broadcasters broadcast) that there is "debate" about global warming or that "the jury is still out on whether it's real or not." Like they (the media) are required to go find a contrary opinion no matter how ungrounded in fact or obviously paid for it is.

The only debate on global warming is whether the people who say it doesn't exist are bribed, amoral, naive or ignorant. But reporting the two positions as being equal in terms of merit makes it seem like they are.

Occassionally people who disagree will both be somewhat right. But some times one will just be wrong.

more relevant to actual librarianship this time.

The issue of bias in information is a crucial one for us, especially for those of us who teach research / info lit classes. It's also an issue for people who buy books as well.

Bias, or "what reason does this person have to lie", was a good interpretive tool for me when I taught research workshops to college undergraduates. Why would statistics on a PETA web site be suspect? How about information on sports supplements and health from an organization affiliated with a manufacturer of same? How could you find out if they were related?

I think that quote is so true. Sensationalism in media seems to operate two ways; by clouding the airwaves with junk (i.e. John Mark Karr) and by magnifying or distorting positions in politics.

For instance, setting the debate on how to deal with terror suspects as "Will the President's critics in both parties allow terrorists to be tried?" is much more dramatic than the more realistic "The President and his critics disagree on how to conduct trials of suspected terrorists."

There is a lot of "either or" in media that could be more accurately and productively framed as "How do we...?"

Thanks for the thoughtprovoking quote and for the cute baby pictures on Flickr.