Thursday, March 15, 2007

The different types of bias

This latest brouhaha between me and Mr. Hermesmart made me think about a subject I don’t think I wrote about before: the difference between personal bias and news bias.

First of all, I don't think personal bias is something one should be ashamed of. I believe everyone without exception has some kind of bias about any possible subject. Even (maybe especially) about the ones they know absolutely nothing about.

Taking personal beliefs and experiences into account when analyzing an issue is not bad. It’s part of our freedom of choice and speech. It is also a way to bring discussions to a more realistic way. Using stone cold logic in every aspect of your life is just impractical.

It probably comes down to a matter of degree. If your biases don’t prevent you from at least considering the chance that you are wrong, you are probably ok.

The situation is completely different with press bias. More specifically, with news reporting bias.

News reporting is not (or should not be) subject to personal interference. In many ways, I think of the news as an exact science: it is based on hard facts. Reporters describe what they saw or heard. There is no middle ground here. Either something is there or is not. Your contribution to the job is to be precise and eloquent so others can understand exactly what has happened. That is it.

What people do with the news is completely out of scope. Some ignore it, some write editorials about it, it really shouldn’t matter to an honest reporter.

Nowadays, the news media in the US and around the world is a disgrace (with very few exceptions). And I don't say that recklessly. I really believe that it is one of the worst aspects of our current society. It somehow got morphed into this “social animal" that tries to mold reality to fit into their vision of what the world should be.

I am not the only one to think that. This recent Zogby poll shows that 83% of American voters believe that the media is biased in one direction or another, while just 11% believe the media doesn’t take political sides. Nearly two-thirds of those who detected bias in the media (64%) said the media leans left, while slightly more than a quarter of respondents (28%) said they see a conservative bias on their TV sets and in their column inches.

This creates all kinds of problems. First, it skews public choice based on the preferences of a few. Second, it makes people biased without them really knowing about it: they based their opinions in distorted facts.

Third, and worst of all, it makes people behave in more extreme ways. For instance, I spend a lot of time “defending” President Bush just because there is so much crap going around about him that I just can’t stand it. That in turn gives the wrong impression that I am a huge fan of his, because I have no time (or motivation) to write about the things I believe he is doing wrong.

It is a vicious cycle all around. And that is why I honestly hate the news press so much, and that is why I think it is the most dishonest and damaging institution in the US currently.

4 comments:

Alex said...

paulo, na teoria e na pratica, eh tao impossivel uma midia sem bias como uma pessoa sem bias, pq a midia eh feita por pessoas. na falta do ideal, que seria uma midia neutra, a melhor opcao seria uma midia abertamente parcial, como aqui nos EUA, em que ninguem se engana achando que a fox news, por exemplo, eh um veiculo isento e imparcial. pior eh no brasil, onde os veiculos sao tao parciais quanto aqui, mas ninguem se assume. esse sim eh o pior dos dois mundos.

Paulo said...

Alex,
Concordo. Mas nao acho que seja impossivel se ter uma news midia mais imparcial. A media especializada consegue ser. Outras profissoes lidam com o mesmo dilema e o resultado eh melhor.

O problemao mesmo sao as universidades, que foram dominadas pela esquerda, e ensinam os reporteres que eles tem que mudar o mundo.

Ai fica dificil.

solitarioh2005 said...

the news media in the US and around the world is a disgrace (with very few exceptions). And I don't say that recklessly. I really believe that it is one of the worst aspects of our current society.


It looks you talk portuguese and english.
I will therefore reply in english ( For english speaking readers ) and in portuguese ( my mother tongue ).

I could not agree more with you.
100% Agreed.

Today media is a disgrace.

I used to watch CNN.

Just a few days before the US elections.., the fellows did broadcast a 2 hour program called :

" Broken Government : How the right went wrong ".

In a week they repeated the program at least twice.
4 hours of propaganda against the US President , GW Bush.

Their campaign did pay off.

Bush was defeated.

Is this bias legitimate ? Of course not.
People is not given a fair picture of the world around themselves.
People is brainwashed- literally.

2

International Bias.
Skynews, Britain.

I watched the Israel lebanese war throught Skynews.
Skynews biased.
During the wholle war I did not watch a single Hezzbollah soldier a single hezzbollah rocked missile.
The lebaneses were depicted as poor defenseless civilians despite the fact that from lebanon more than 100 rockets were launched against israel every day.

Ultimately the bias did pay off because israel was forced to stop the war and Syria and Hezzbollah emerged stronger than ever.

You can see in the link bellow many examples of media bias.
I am the guy who posted all those posts

Click here to see examples of media bias

Solon said...

"News reporting is not (or should not be) subject to personal interference. In many ways, I think of the news as an exact science: it is based on hard facts."

Paulo, you know I have nothing but respect for what you write in here, but this is the subject where, as a journalist, the only thing I can tell you, over and over again, is that you're absolutely mistaken about how our job works.

as Alex said, and as I've said here a few times before, there's no such thing as unbiased media. just take a look at what started this discussion in the first place.

what you did was exactly what a journalist does, you took a bunch of hard facts and presented them to your audience in the way you saw fit to make what you thought was an important point. why did you choose the numbers you chose, and not the ones Smart got from the same report? personal bias, which then translated into reporting bias the moment you put them to the metaphorical paper.

unless you think of journalism as something akin to The Smoking Gun (in which case you should stop writing posts and just giving us link - and even then we could argue about your bias in chosing these links), you can't really expect news reporting to be unbiased.