The bias WE insert into the news we consume
Sep 8, 2010

The bias WE insert into the news we consume

One of the problems with using principally mainstream, headline based news is how easily this let's us perpetuate our own biases. Certainly the mainstream news media have systemic, homogenized, top down biases themselves - which ought to be the content of a rather long post but for now I shall simply defer one to Chomsky's classic Manufactured Consent - and certainly various media sources have disparate biases tailored to their respective audiences but I wish here to consider instead the bias we as readers introduce not the bias in the media itself.

The issue at stake here is that when an article is seemingly neutral and unbiased it let's us read the article and interpret it with whatever bias we ourselves have. Especially since so many stories are presented as a headline with a few limited details, perhaps a bit of barebones back story and a quote or two from both obvious "sides" and as such are for the most part devoid of advocacy and argumentation for a point we can read it and just internalize the details to fit our bias. We aren't challenged in our viewpoint at all. Contrast this with, say, a source taking an advocacy position where you can get detailed explanations and arguments in support of various points.

Take for instance recent announcements of some of Obama's further economic stimulus plans ahead of the midterm elections. Most AP syndicated versions of this story contain the most basic of facts, some comments about previous stimulus measures and a sentence or two of quotes from Obama or Gates and likewise from one of the bigger republicans.  Now this is great in terms of quickly getting the basic facts - something we should generally acquire - but the problem is if one has a decided pro or anti Obama opinion one will just read this and through confirmation bias this opinion will get reinforced. There is nothing here to substantially change ones mind. However if you read op-eds especially in the independent media you can read about it in the context of some particular argument that may well sway you or at the very least inform you more than the trivial details usually offered.

There is a caveat of course. If one focuses on independent media with a clear advocacy bias and editorials that do likewise then the presentation of news will be biased. This is why one should be careful to read a varied range of sources to help develop, change and cultivate ones opinions opposed to merely observing the day to day flow of headline details with little contextual development.  Books, talks, essays, blogs, independent radio from multiple sides and perspectives are really needed to help engage in actual rationalization of the issues opposed to confirmation biasing whatever you previously believed. Some of the best things to listen to can come from the best thinkers of a view you quite disagree. For instance my exploration into Austrian economics and the community has been enormously useful in cultivating many of my economic opinions despite disagreeing with a good number of points.

 I should be clear that reading mainstream, headlined, AP syndicated stories isn't necessarily a bad thing - I do it daily - it just needs to be part of a broader experience from many sources of differing perspectives and scopes otherwise we fall too easily into the trap of simply reaffirming our previous opinions and not developing as thinkers.

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