Friday, August 27, 2010

Biased News and Public Discourse

It is tough to get fair or balanced or unbiased news, but I submit to you that those aren't worthwhile goals.

Every media outlet has bias.  This is unavoidable as news organizations are made up of  reporters and editors who have various biases. Moreover we, the information consumer, have our own biases and tend to judge the degree of bias around us through our own standards. In order to appear fair, news organizations attempt to show both sides of every issue so that they can claim to be balanced and therefore unbiased in how they present the news.

This is why extremism seems so prevalent. It isn't necessarily that a greater percentage of people are being pulled to the extremes on issues. It is that the extremists are being given national voices and bestowed some legitimacy by the nightly news. It doesn't matter that these people often have opinions that are demonstrably false or intended to sow misinformation. That they have opinions at all and are willing to talk about them, means that news outlets present those views in the name of fairness and balance.

I contend that in most cases this practice is folly. News should be biased. It should be biased towards facts, evidence, and reason. Very often the counter opinion, if there is one, is so far to the fringes of a political extreme that there is nothing to it but hysteria and hyperbole. Such a view need not be presented in the name of balance and ought to be excluded as irrelevant in reasoned discourse.  Although, I will concede that there are some news stories about matters of opinion in which showing both sides is the story. Like in local news when two sides of a proposed highway expansion are interviewed ahead of a coming referendum.

The drive to be unbiased by creating debate where there isn't any reasonable debate to be had is nurturing insanity in public discourse. When faced with such lunacy, I still contend that the best response to extremists is to respond with rationality, even if I personally fail in that sometimes. Because if we make a habit of responding to what we consider extremism with extreme counter-points then we are no longer discussing anything, we are just yelling at each other.

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