You’d think that in the age of new media, where “news sources” — amateur and professional — have quintupled, that we’d have less need for critical discernment. After all, more cameras aimed at the playing field gives us more chance to make the correct call. Likewise, more news outlets should make things clearer, not more confusing. Right?
Like many, I wasn’t surprised by the recent exposé on Benghazi by 60 Minutes which indicts the Obama administration of a massive coverup. Of course, many conservatives have been suggesting this for a while. And even in the face of the damning report, some are still claiming the mainstream media is not going far enough in reporting the truth.
Perhaps more surprising to me is not that a governmental cover-up might be a reality, but that a news outlet considered part of the cover-up (CBS), appears to be breaking ranks.
I’ve gone on record siding with paranoid, conspiratorial, right-wingers who believe that the mainstream media is decidedly biased towards liberals and, even worse, has successfully shaped public opinion to reflect its ideology. This opinion, however, could make me as biased as those I damn.
In this 5 minute video, acclaimed UCLA Professor of Political Science and Economics, Tim Groseclose, explains how the mainstream shapes American opinion not by reporting lies, but by not reporting everything. If mainstream news sources would report accurately all sides of a story, Groseclose suggests that the United States would look more like… Texas.
Of course, it could be suggested that the Professor brings his own biases to his reportage. Perhaps he wants the mainstream media to appear more liberal or the average American to appear more moderate. Heck, he might just want to sell more books!
Point being: Everyone and everything should be checked out.
In fact, the degree to which we do not feel the need to double-check a story may indicate our own bias. A good example would be Piers Morgan’s hasty reference to an event that, if it had happened, would make Sarah Palin look like a buffoon. Problem is, the story was a hoax. In Sarah Palin Easter Hoax Too Good to Check for Critics, the author writes:
These are outlandish stories we don’t bother verifying because, for some reason, we want them to be true. In Piers Morgan’s case, he very obviously thinks Palin’s Second Amendment advocacy is barbaric, and so was more likely to buy into a gross caricature of the woman’s faith.
Because Morgan wants Sarah Palin to look like a buffoon, he doesn’t bother “verifying.”
It’s a tendency all of us have. I want to believe the professor that media bias exists. But does this mean I should leave his stats and thesis unquestioned?
Between the proliferation of news outlets and avenues and our own confirmation biases, the truth might become harder and harder to come by.
In Are conspiracy theories destroying democracy? the BBC discusses a major new Cambridge University project to investigate the impact of conspiracy theories on democracy. One of the investigators suggests that the proliferation of news outlets and information, rather than diminish the amount of conspiracy theories, actually fuels them.
“It may be that one of the things conspiracy theories feed on as well as silence, is a surfeit of information. And when there is a mass of information out there, it becomes easier for people to find their way through to come to the conclusion they want to come to.
“Plus, you don’t have to be an especial cynic to believe that, in the age of open government, governments will be even more careful to keep secret the things they want to keep secret.
“The demand for openness always produces, as well as more openness, more secrecy.”
…the push for greater openness and transparency in public life will fuel, rather than kill off, conspiracy theories.
Unlike a sporting event, apparently more cameras aimed at the field does not get us any closer to the truth. Especially when “our team” is involved.
So as for me and my house, there are no trustworthy news sources.
And you can trust me on this.