Monday, January 18, 2010

The BS of Bias

If you are ever inclined towards locating humor on the blogo-sphere to brighten your day I do recommend CNN’s iReport. On this site armature reporters and bloggers make submissions or iReports, on events in their local areas or comments on issues of national significance. In reading these iReports or the comments from other iReporters on them you cannot go but fifteen seconds without coming across one of the most fabled words in all the News Industry: BIAS. Yes bias, an iReporter proclaims it to the sky that a certain CNN article or post or reporter is guilty of bias. They do this as if they have discovered the Holy Grail. It’s meant as the ultimate “got ya” moment, as if after announcing the identification of said bias, the opponent is meant to shrivel up like the wicked witch of the west.

“What a blessing to finally discover this bias,” the iReporter might think. “A great service was performed here.” But was it? Let us examine. Is this the first example of bias to be discovered? Certainly not. CNN and its iReporters have been accused of bias multiple times over multiple years by FOX News. Both parties have accosted MSNBC of bias as well. The term gets thrown around constantly as a straw man to discredit a competitive news agency or reporter, as if having bias makes whatever report immediately invalid. The book Bias by Bernard Goldberg has been around since 2001, so certainly, nine years later there is no reason to expect un-biased reporting. Back in the late 19th century, yellow journalism was rampant. Biased reporting fostered the Spanish-American War, incorrectly identifying the destruction of the USS Maine as result of a Spanish sea-mine, rather than the boiler room accident it turned out to be. Additionally any scholar of great American cinema will recall Citizen Cane, and how the protagonists newspaper was built on bias and skewing his view of the news and issues. I cite these historical examples to establish one precise point. The notion of bias in the media should not be considered a new discovery, or in any way remarkable to the “I” or any other reporter circa 2010. So, getting back to the original issue, what to make of the continued assertion that someone is “bias.”

Nothing. Seems simple, elementary even, but nothing should be made of it. Isn’t bias only effective when the reader is unaware of the bias? Isn’t it meant only to influence the ignorant? Doesn’t the identification of bias immediately compel one to look objectively at the reporting, and discern facts from opinion there by circumventing the bias? Rather than crying wolf at the identification of bias one should embrace it as a potential point of few. Read and issue reported by CNN and then read it by Fox (or vice versa if that is your preference). The facts will remain constant through both reports and the biases then can be clearly identified. Further such an exercise by then referencing NPR, or the BBC, or MSNBC, or even the Daily Show (John Stewart is kind enough to not even attempt to hide his bias). Such an exercise should serve the express purpose of bringing the truth to the surface.

It would seem people cannot be bothered though. Thus we come to the status quo, of biased new organizations catering to their biased viewers while trumpeting at the top of their lungs the bias present in their competitors with no regard for the bias in themselves. And the system churns on, further stratifying and segregating our population into biased subgroups, ignorant of the opinions the other subgroups. There was a time when it was a positive quality to understand and appreciate the opinions of others. To do so today is criticized as being listening to biased reporting; only the other side is “fair and balanced.” And we see the result, political parties unified only in their disdain for the other side, refusing to budge in even the slightest way to reconcile. They are soldiers of their own biased ignorance, completely convinced of their own superiority over the others who are always the “biased” ones. It is a path to ruination and sensible discourse in this country. But what do I know, I am clearly biased.

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