Monday, January 16, 2017

The Difference Between Biased and Lying

Though it hurts to say this, I am afraid conservatives, even those deeply opposed to Trump and all he stands for (whatever that might be at the moment), had a hand in providing Trump with one of his favorite all purpose excuses, and the one most popular among his followers*. It is an excuse which, logically, should only work in a few select circumstances, and yet I have seen it used to deny factual reports from neutral parties, court records, decades old newspaper accounts and even Trump's own words. And that excuse, the all powerful mantra which insulates him against all blame is "biased media". And, sadly, it seems to me that many conservatives helped to create this multipurpose excuse for him.

It is not unusual when visiting conservative sites to see any number of comments critical of "the MSM", calling it "biased"** and dismissing it entirely, even going so far as to refuse to credit factual reports if they appeared on CNN or NBC or one of the other "mainstream media" sources, and this attitude, common as it is, feeds into Trump's narrative and helps him and his more cultish followers to dismiss almost any allegations about him.

There are many problems with this behavior. It may arise from a legitimate complaint, but it takes that complaint, and from a pair of mistaken ideas, distorts it terribly, creating Trump's all purpose excuse.

The truth is, yes there is media bias -- I would even argue some amount of bias is unavoidable*** -- and for many media outlets that bias does tend to the left. There are a handful that have a right leaning bias, but by and large, the interpretation given to events for most events, at least that seen by much of the public at large, tends to be left leaning. However, that simple fact is a far, far different one than the claims made by Trump.

First, we need to realize there is a tremendous difference between biased interpretation,or even bias in which events one chooses to report, and actual lies. The media may sometimes fail to report certain events, or may slant the interpretation they give events, but that is nothing like fabricating a story. The bias displayed by media is of the former form, while Trump -- and sadly many current conservatives -- tend to claim it is of the latter.

The second mistake explains why. While the right loves to speak of "the MSM", there is no single "media", there are a host of competing media outlets, without any single controller or singular goal. Thus, were a media outlet to fabricate a story -- such as happened during the Texas National Guard story and others -- as soon as the fabrication became evident, other outlets would report it as such to gain advantage. There is no single media, no single source of "biased news", and thus, thanks to competition there is no way for "the media" to push lies. It is conspiracy theory type thinking to imagine some single monolithic "media" is making up stories.

And yet, unfortunately, many conservatives have adopted such an attitude. Thanks to the "us vs them"perspective fostered by the idea of a "biased media" out to "get" conservatives, they have managed to jump from individual outlets with predominantly liberal editorial staffs imparting a liberal spin to stories to the idea that some single "MSM" is putting out outright lies in some conspiracy to destroy conservatives. And that distortion of the truth has allowed Trump to claim that everything from his bankruptcies to his actual recorded statements are just "biased reporting" and can be safely ignored.

Thus, much as it pains me to say it, I am afraid we conservatives, by pushing this tale of "biased media" and allowing others to exaggerate it into the idea of "lying media" have set the stage for Trump's victory.

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* Perhaps second favorite, as they still seem inordinately fond of excusing any action by Trump using the excuse "But imagine what Hillary would have done."

** I admit at times I have said the media is biased as well, but I like to think I never completely dismissed media reports and kept in mind the limits I am about to list.

*** Newspapers tend to be a little more open about this than broadcast media, but both tend to keep up the myth of unbiased reporting. This is relatively new, and limited to the US (and perhaps beginning to appear in a few other lands). At one time we were quite comfortable accepting that editorial policy biased reporting, even of straight news, but in recent times the myth of unbiased reporting has taken hold, and so we have the pretense that editorial policy is limited exclusively to the opinion pages and has no effect on what is reported elsewhere or how it is reports. See "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", "The Best Remedy to Media Bias", "Some Thoughts on the Media", "The Press Versus the Nation", "The Death of Impartial Media", "The Impossibility of Unbiased Reporting", "The Failure of Peer Review", "Intellect and Politics", "The Path of Least Resistance" and "The Rebirth of Skepticism".

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