Stop complaining about media bias. Seriously. Just stop.
I’ve been hearing it since I was a little girl. Granted, that’s what happens when you grow up in a family that likes to talk politics, particularly when your family is conservative. Believe it or not, I spent the bulk of my childhood hearing that Fox was the only fair and balanced reporting out there. Imagine my surprise…
But I digress.
Every other minute, we’re assaulted with complaints about how the mainstream media is in Obama’s pocket, or how conservative media outlets are the MOST guilty of bias. The end result? You’re looking at a generation of voters who don’t want to hear about the news. They don’t trust anyone. And that’s a scary thought.
Let’s put this in context, shall we?
Bias isn’t always bad. Bias is bad when it masquerades as objectivity. When we pretend that commentators are journalists, we discredit the profession altogether.
Does that mean that commentators are bad? Not in the least. While not the “whole” truth of anything, biased reporting does grant us perspective on issues that a bare bones reading of facts might not, and may raise questions you hadn’t thought of before.
Bias isn’t going anywhere. Commentators are here to stay. We can either yell about it, or figure out a better way to digest it.
Consuming biased media isn’t bad. Consuming media from a singular perspective probably is. So watch Fox. Watch MSNBC. Watch CNN. And then watch BBC and Al-Jazeera. Variety is GOOD.
And while we’re at it, don’t just watch. News on television is pretty. It’s sometimes easier to process than a 3000 word article. But it’s never complete; advertising concerns and ratings competition can drive not only story selection but story construction. So quit being lazy, and read.
In fact, read from a variety of sources. The New York Times and Economist and Guardian and all the names you hear repeated over and over again are good. But there are a lot of people writing in really compelling ways about really important issues out there who are not mainstream. Don’t be afraid to start following along with a new blog or news site. That being said…
Never accept a claim you hear or read on face. Research the ideas that seem fishy, but more than that, research the ideas that make sense. There’s always more to the story.
Never accept statistics on face. If someone cites a stat, find the study it came from. Look at the size of the study. Look at the margin of error. Look at the methodology. Look at what the study concluded, and measure that against the argument it was used to support. Look at criticisms of the study in question. Look at the age of the study. Look at the studies that have come since. A statistic does not a fact make.
There’s a caveat to all this. Bias isn’t bad. Abusing a platform to spread lies or hate is a horse of a different color. IF as you watch, and read, and research, you find that a given commentator or reporter is providing FACTUALLY INCORRECT information without apology or correction, or if you find that they are REPEATEDLY MISREPRESENTING information, don’t support it. Call it out. Call out people who cite it as though it were Biblical truth.
As a caveat to a caveat, this is not an excuse to broadly dismiss a publication or station. I’m not biggest fan of Fox, but that doesn’t mean they are incapable of decent coverage from time to time on certain issues. I’m a big fan of MSNBC, but I can’t stomach Al Sharpton and I’m glad Ed Schultz is gone.
Just because you really like a host or commentator or writer is not a justification for blind trust, either. Maddow, for instance, is one of my favorites, but I almost always follow up her stories with research of my own. It’s not because I don’t trust or like her; it’s because being a well-informed and responsible consumer of media is important.
You want to know the best defense against bias in the media? A well-balanced diet of said bias.