Look out for the future, because you never know what it might bring…
Question #91892 posted on 01/07/2019 4:22 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

This is a two-part question about the media:

First, why is the media in the U.S. so biased? Why do they have to skew their information so much? Are there some sort of incentives in place that "reward" them for presenting information in a certain way? Are they funded by institutions that lean heavily left or right?

Second, what resource would you recommend to find as-close-to-unbiased-information as possible?

I find it extremely frustrating to find information about our current President and the current state of affairs in the United States in general (please note that I'm not interested in foreign affairs at this point). I hear what I think are facts but then I hear someone else share what seem to be the same set of facts that say something completely different. I'm so confused. And I don't get why it has to be this way.

I'd like to be educated as to what is happening in this country without embarking on a full-blown research project and investing hours a day... I'd love to be able to invest just a few minutes a day, utilizing a resource that isn't so biased.

-Would-Rather-Do-Anything-than-Read-the-News

A:

Dear Rather,

Everyone is biased because everyone has opinions. When news sources present stories that contain their opinions, their reward is making money off it from their target audience, so they continue to do it. But even without the money, people will still spew their opinions about things they feel strongly about, as evidenced by every Facebook comments section ever. It's just part of being human.

However, and I can't emphasize this enough, just because someone is biased doesn't mean they're not telling the truth. No matter what newspaper you read, no matter what some friend or coworker or family member tells you about the news, no matter what you find on the internet, it has a bias. Some of the information you stumble across really might be fake, but it's so dangerous to automatically assume that if something disagrees with you it must be fake. President Trump's pervasive rhetoric about "fake news" is so damaging because it sends the message that just because a source says something you personally don't like, that means they're lying and can never be trusted, and that's just not true. Yes, the New York Times has a bias against Trump—that doesn't mean they make up lies about him, it means that when they report on him they're going to be less forgiving of his mistakes/point out more of his flaws than a source like Fox News would be. Like Guesthouse says below, most sources report the same basic facts, and it's just the added rhetoric they tack onto them that differs.

But what can YOU do to find the truth in a world where everyone is biased? First of all, realize that everyone is biased. Second of all, do what you can to ascertain the reliability of a source—just because everyone is biased doesn't mean that everyone has the same level of reliability (the New York Times, for example, tends to be far more reliable than Breitbart News, even though both of them have a bias). Is it from a reliable network? Do other sources corroborate it? Do they have data or facts to back up their claims? Has Snopes or Politifact either supported or called out their claim? Are they trying to appeal to the worst parts of human nature by relying on things like fearmongering and hatred? (Stories like that are generally less reliable, so beware whenever you see a headline like, "Muslims are destroying America!"). Was whatever you're reading written recently? Is the author somebody who would know what they're talking about? (Most journalists, for example, have a much better grasp on developing news stories than random bloggers do). If you're on the internet, is it coming from a legit URL? Is what they're saying internally consistent, or do they contradict themselves or use logical fallacies? What other people tend to believe this story? (Did your college professor who has a PhD and presumably a lot of experience in finding the truth recommend this article, or did your uncle Joe who dropped out of high school?) All of these are questions you can ask yourself to determine if a source is reliable or not. That sounds like a lot, but the good news is, once you do this once for a news source, you generally don't have to do it again—once you decide you trust the BBC and NPR, for example, you don't have to run background checks on everything you hear from them, and can just tune in every morning on your commute or something. And if you're looking for something I personally trust, CNN in 10 does a great job of presenting news stories in a credible, reliable, fairly non-biased manner. It's a daily 10 minute long podcast that explains the most important stories of the day in an easily accessible manner, generally without a lot of rhetoric.

I know, it can be exhausting. And you don't have to run yourself ragged finding out every detail about every single news story. But I would also like to respectfully disagree with what Guesthouse says below about not really needing to care about the news—I believe it is vital that we care, even if it seems like the laws have zero effect on our own lives. For me personally, as a college educated, straight, married white woman, my life is probably going to be pretty okay regardless of what laws are passed. But there are so many people who belong to more vulnerable populations whose lives are turned completely upside down by those same laws. So I can look down from my position of relative privilege and say, "It's fine, my life didn't change, so this law doesn't really matter," or I can use my privilege to stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves (but I can only do that if I know what's going on). To illustrate my point, I'm not personally affected if DACA ends and 800,000 people who were taken to the US by immigrant parents as children lose their path to citizenship and get deported. But those 800,000 people sure are. I'm not personally affected when immigrant children die at the border in US custody, in part because of the immigration policies we have in place, but the families of those dead children certainly are. So if you feel tempted to just give up and not care about the news, that's fine and you're allowed to make your own decisions, but at least be aware of the fact that for a lot of people whose lives are directly affected by the news, that's not an option.

Best of luck with the news. 

-Alta

A:

Dear Would You Rather,

There are incentives placed on media for being skewed that are related to funding. However, the issue isn't that these news companies are receiving bribes or payouts from political bribes, but rather that viewers and readers are incentivizing them to lean one way or the other. News sources are businesses, and while the media do have a responsibility to be accurate and fair, more polarizing news stories are more likely to get clicks, views, and ad revenues. Many news sources play to their customer base because that's what keeps them in business. Here's a really cool graphic I got from the University of Michigan website that shows the average political leanings of readers/viewers of several large media companies:

political chart.png (source)

The article I mentioned also links to several other studies and articles so I would recommend giving it a read if you want to learn more. Hope this helps!

Peace,

Tipperary

A:

Dear Hobby Lobby, 

The media in the U.S. is biased because people have a wide variety of opinions, and just like you would market a certain product to a target population, the media markets to a target 'opinion.' Also, there are people that own and fund each media outlet, and they want their opinions to be broadcast. Additionally, like Tipperary mentioned, the people who use the different news sources are the ones incentivizing further publication of opinions they agree with. 

I have noticed in my news reading and research projects, etc. that it's not so much which stories are told that are skewed. Most of the time, CNN and Fox News present exactly the same story, but the specific language they use is different. It's aaaaaalll about the rhetoric. They'll give the same basic facts, but you'll notice if you compare word choices where their biases are. And they'll add unnecessary commentary that you can just ignore. It's pretty easy to spot when you know their bias, and then you can just read the facts. Tipperary's chart is helpful for knowing who's saying what. 

As for resources, when I'm actually interested in learning about something, the Wall Street Journal (even though it's pretty dry) is a pretty good source. Also... Twitter is pretty effective at presenting short blurbs that don't have a lot of room for biased rhetoric. Sometimes I'll look over the main pages of Time to see if there are any interesting studies or info that is being put out. 

Or... you could just not read the news. Most of the time, blurbs are enough to get the gist of what's going on. Also, half the stuff that happens has zero effect on your life. If you read a blurb that piques your interest, totally read into it. But if you think about it, John Mulaney was totally on it with the whole 'horse in a hospital' thing. We've never had a horse in the hospital before. It's not necessarily good or bad, it's just... new. Some days you'll get news about what the horse did. Some days he says nothing. But ultimately, the horse will leave the hospital without doing too much damage, and none if it is irreversible. So how important is it, really? Is it worth feeling sad, upset, or confused about? And how much can you do about anything you read anyway? Probably nothing. Not worth the time... that's just my two cents. 

Cheers, 

Guesthouse

posted on 01/12/2019 9:33 p.m.
As the writers mentioned, the media are biased because they are people, and people have biases. I think it is useful to think about who "the media" is, generally. In general, we would expect the media to be college educated. "54% of college graduates identify as Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared to 39% who identified or leaned Republican." [1] The media is also working age, and younger generations are more liberal than older generations. The split is 64/33 Dem/Rep for Millennials (some, but not a majority of "the media"), 48/37 for GenX (probably the largest part of the media including many members reaching the peak of their careers) and 44/44 for Baby Boomers (still present and influential, but rapidly retiring). The Silent Generation, essentially all retired, skews 41/48, btw. [2]

Finally, "The media" is mostly based in large cities, which skew liberal. This is partly because liberal people in cities lead to more liberal people in cities, but also because Americans increasingly self-sort by preferentially moving to places where they fit in.


[1] https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/mar/22/democrats-more-educated-republicans-pew-research-c/
[2] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/03/20/a-wider-partisan-and-ideological-gap-between-younger-older-generations/