May 212017 4 Responses

The Myth of Media Bias

It’s hard to even know what to believe anymore. With hundreds of news outlets, thousands of stories on social media, and a continual barrage of conflicting messages, the truth, when it comes to politics, seems impossible to discover.

The major narrative is that this is the fault of the media. “They’re biased,” everyone screams. People long for the day of Cronkite or Brokaw when they could just get the news unfiltered from personal opinion.

But the problem isn’t media bias. Yes, the media is biased. It’s always been biased, and with more voices involved it has become even more slanted. But there has never been a day in which the news wasn’t filtered through the opinions of editors, journalist, and newscasters. What has changed is not the media, but the public. (See: Discernment–a Forgotten Sign of Adulthood)

The problem is that we are biased. We don’t want the truth. Our desire is not to read in-depth news pieces which challenge our assumptions, give multiple sides of a story, and leave us to re-think what we thought we knew to be true. We desire stories which already fit the narrative we have chosen. We seek it out, consume it, and use it to further confirm our preconceived notions.

Because the media is in the business of making money (don’t deride them for doing the same thing you do), they are simply giving us what we want–a multitude of different sources from which we can find someone telling us exactly what we desire to hear.

It’s not them, it’s us. We don’t demand better, or even want better, so we get what we get. If we wanted less opinion, we would turn off talk radio or shows built around personalities. We would pay for good journalism and applaud those who are doing the job well. If we wanted better, we would ignore the pretenders and opiners, not giving them the views or clicks necessary for them to survive.

Instead, we blame them. In so doing, we actually promote them. As we complain, we actually give them the attention they need to draw advertisers so that they can continue to do what they do. (Consider–every time you make a negative comment on a story, it further enables them to write such stories.)

The myth of media bias as the source of our problems has led to multiple issues:

1. It deceives us into believing truth can’t be found. It can be. Yes, there is a multitude of voices present which makes it difficult to know whom to trust. However, we can do the work to figure out what stories are credible and which ones are not. It takes effort, and sometimes we will get it wrong, but with just a little energy we can normally verify stories as true or false.

2. It empowers others to lie and manipulate. When truth is turned into a myth, those best at lying benefit. They will exploit our deception for their own good. When truth is no longer something that is valued, falsehood will flourish. The lies will be profitable for those telling them, but not for those believing them. (See: The Facebook Cycle of Hate)

3. It hinders growth. Truth changes us. It enables us to recognize problems within our lives, make changes, and find new courses of action. Without the truth, we will be enslaved by the lies we believe. Only the truth will set us free. When individuals (or a society) stops valuing truth, they begin to devolve.

4. It discourages good journalists from doing their job. As a pastor, there is nothing I hate more than being carelessly compared to a televangelist who is only trying to swindle people. It’s discouraging. While many in the media have brought criticism on themselves, others are being unfairly treated. If we want the truth, we need to discern between those who are hacks and those who do a good job. (And, we need to be willing to support good journalists by paying for their work.)

How to Find the Truth

The myth of media bias doesn’t mean the media isn’t biased. It is. These are difficult days for the average person to know what to believe. Rather than giving up, we have to work. We should never have blindly accepted whatever was reported and we clearly cannot do so now.

Here are 5 ways to determine truth from falsehood in the news:

1. Identify the source. While no source can be believed without question, many sources can be ignored without a second look. Their only intent is to get clicks or views. They will do so at any cost. Most internet stories can be ignored by simply looking at the URL and knowing it’s not credible.

2. Does the headline match the story? Headlines are meant to grab attention, but in false news stories, the headline doesn’t match the story. It gets our attention, but the story doesn’t back it up. Base opinions on what the story actually says, not how the headline grabbed your attention.

3. Recognize your bias. The more you WANT to believe a story the SLOWER you should be in believing it. If you are quick to click on a link or watch a story because it is about your opponents, recognize your bias, and double your work in verifying the truth.

4. Treat people as people. Few of us are truly evil in every sense. Most of the time, what we do makes sense to us. Whenever you read a story in which someone’s actions make no sense, take the time to understand scenarios in which what they did was logical to them. That doesn’t mean justify bad behavior, but it does mean taking the time to understand it.

5. Look at how other sources are treating the story–especially those who differ from you politically. If only a random website or one news station is covering a story, it’s probably not a story. However, real issues are often covered by multiple people. Read different accounts. Getting different perspectives on the same story allows for better discernment. (Note: on political stories, I pay close attention to former staffers who worked for both parties. Someone like David Gergen who worked for both Presidents Bush and President Clinton gives an interesting perspective.).

We Need the Truth

Society cannot afford to buy into the current narrative that truth cannot be found. It can be and we need it. While the media is biased, not every story is born of personal agenda. Many journalists still believe in the value of their profession. Many others are so driven by fame or money, they will go wherever the facts lead in order to get the story right.

The media is biased, but it’s always been biased. The problem isn’t with them, it’s with us.

 

4 Responses to The Myth of Media Bias
  1. João Coelho Reply

    You said “they are simply giving us what we want–a multitude of different sources from which we can find someone telling us exactly what we desire to hear.” Yes – this even has a name: CONFIRMATION BIAS.

    Check it out at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

  2. Marla Reply

    If a reporter sounds angry and hate filled or spends an inordinate amount of time bashing a persons character rather than talking about the actual story at hand I discount what they have to say. Maybe it’s because I’m old, but I would like to hear both sides and make my own judgments.

  3. LT Reply

    True journalism is lost. Media is all glorified blogs. They no longer seek truth and report both sides of the story equally.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      I’m sure many of them are. However, for the past month, I’ve been working with a DC journalist about a story she is doing on Fort Smith. She’s working hard, talking to sources, and trying to wrap her head around a complex story.

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