Debate: Ways to overcome bias in media

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Debate: Ways to overcome bias in media

Postby with_an_h » 25 Apr 2021, 21:29

I was inspired by reading the "why Debates has died" thread to start a debate.

Resolved: The best way to account for the impact of media bias on one's own views is to intake news from a variety of sources, including the primary source where available.

I assume that people have a set of news sources from where they get their information. It is clear to me that having one news source leaves you vulnerable to the bias in the reporting of that source. So why not have a diverse set of sources of news (i.e. left/right/international/industry-specific/etc)?

News sources should first be vetted for adherence to the truth. As one poster mentioned in the other thread, there is currently an epistemological break in the world about the concept of truth. For the purposes of testing my proposal, I'm going to assume that none of these news sources outright lie.

When one reads a variety of news sources, then matching details tend to be the same and mismatching details can indicate the presence of bias in a new (but not breaking) piece of news (i.e. it causes cognitive dissonance). This can indicate where consumers of news should be careful of the presentation of facts and pursue additional verification before acting on those facts or sharing them further.

The beauty of this proposal, in my mind, is that it pragmatically lets people figure out how much more they need to know before taking action based on a piece of news they receive. It is a bit intensive because it assumes people are able to keep up with reading/watching multiple news sources.

This post is (purposefully) simplistic and I can see a number of potential directions for this discussion to go in. I'm interested in refining my viewpoint, potentially by having it logically dismantled. I hope others are interested in joining in!

Best,
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Re: Debate: Ways to overcome bias in media

Postby V » 25 Apr 2021, 22:34

I always like debates so I’ll contribute 2 cents. The “News” media.
In truth I’ve given up on virtually everything I’m told by any journalist. Why?

The bias exercise described in OP is useful in eliminating many, but it’s got worse than that.
There now seems a patriotic duty aspect about news production, reminiscent of what I read about WW1 propaganda.
If the Government line (left or right) is in a specific direction, many media outlets simply will not refute it despite the evidence merely out of some perverse duty to not contradict a Government of which they approve. The first time this hit me clearly was the refusal to deny the existence weapons of mass destruction, used by Bush/Blair to invade Iraq.
It was so obviously untrue I awaited anyone to have the guts to call them out, but no.
I’m sure it happened before that, just I didn’t see it blatantly. Since then there has been a catalogue of examples too long to list here.
Of course the opposite is witnessed when a publication disapproves of a Government then they can do no right, again irrespective of all evidence.
I just don’t believe any of them, any more! Guardian, Washington Post, BBC, Sky, Daily Mail. Every USA cable news network & more. They always have a political agenda that colours all their reporting.

I’ve also decided most of the subjects that they try to make into headline news are of little real importance beyond the news media. Take a current batch. Coronavirus epidemic in India, International meeting on Global Warming (with stroppy teenager opinion thrown in for good measure) the latest UK royal family scandal, government corruption in UK.
Even if what they reported was sincere & true, which I seriously doubt, do I care?
Education, healthcare, housing, maintenance of world peace, pollution control, criminal justice. Now those are things to be cared about & yet all too often avoided by the media, that prefer sensational trivia.

So, I’d say bias is a huge problem, but only one of many. The media industry is truly now a propaganda industry & little else.
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Re: Debate: Ways to overcome bias in media

Postby Justinrs2 » 25 Apr 2021, 23:12

Media and reporting has always been heavily biased. There were no halcyon days where individual media outlets didn't have their own agenda. It's just a fact of life. A lot of media tries to be neutral, but IMO this is unimportant for a few reasons:
1. Some bias is inevitable, no matter how hard it is tried.
2. It leads to any number of fallacies, such as the "golden mean" fallacy.
3. Neutrality should never be valued over the truth.

Since this cannot be avoided, it is ideal to draw from a number of sources, whose bias you understand, and who have a history of always reporting the facts, even though they might put their slant on it. This is difficult to do, though, of course.

With a lot of mainstream news, the real bias problem they have is not a political leaning, but a tendency to A) sensationalize everything to get views/clicks and B) Focus on horse race political narratives that no one except political scientists actually care about. This has been parodied many times, but it's still a problem.

https://youtu.be/c6eSPWaUsgY

Here's an interesting article on problems with modern media. It was written a few decades ago, but is no less true. If anything, the problem has gotten worse. I'd recommend it to those interested on the topic.
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Re: Debate: Ways to overcome bias in media

Postby V » 26 Apr 2021, 01:12

Justinrs2 wrote:Media and reporting has always been heavily biased. There were no halcyon days where individual media outlets didn't have their own agenda. It's just a fact of life. A lot of media tries to be neutral, but IMO this is unimportant for a few reasons:
1. Some bias is inevitable, no matter how hard it is tried.
2. It leads to any number of fallacies, such as the "golden mean" fallacy.
3. Neutrality should never be valued over the truth.

Since this cannot be avoided, it is ideal to draw from a number of sources, whose bias you understand, and who have a history of always reporting the facts, even though they might put their slant on it. This is difficult to do, though, of course.

With a lot of mainstream news, the real bias problem they have is not a political leaning, but a tendency to A) sensationalize everything to get views/clicks and B) Focus on horse race political narratives that no one except political scientists actually care about. This has been parodied many times, but it's still a problem.

https://youtu.be/c6eSPWaUsgY

Here's an interesting article on problems with modern media. It was written a few decades ago, but is no less true. If anything, the problem has gotten worse. I'd recommend it to those interested on the topic.


Agree with above. Media ownership is a driving mechanism & always will be. “paying pipers & calling tunes”.
Loved the video :D & article on journalists was great. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.
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Re: Debate: Ways to overcome bias in media

Postby with_an_h » 27 Apr 2021, 01:44

Just FYI, I'm going to respond to this, but I'm also trying to avoid spending too much time on playdip each day. Writing a bit of my thoughts each day as a draft and will publish when ready.
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Re: Debate: Ways to overcome bias in media

Postby with_an_h » 30 Apr 2021, 06:22

I'm still typing up my reply, but thought I would send this over as an intermediary step to try to build consensus around terminology/examples with which to evaluate. I want to try to make this as concrete as possible so that we can avoid vague platitudes that lead nowhere.

Some of this discussion would benefit from a reframing of what the purpose of media *should* be. Here is my stab at that. Don't know if it will go anywhere, but maybe we can try to find some common ground here to make our arguments more concrete.
Principle 0: Media should (by and large) be free and independent of government control (I don't know that government should be the only thing on this list, but ignoring others for now - some of the sensationalization comes from the incentive to drive views, which drives cashflow).
Principle 1: Media should be used for the purpose of decision making. In the case of the layperson, this means that what they learn from news sources should be concretely useful in making life decisions such as life and civic decisions.
Principle 2: Media should be fact-based (note: this does not mean neutral). Even if the outlet has a slant, it should verify arguments based on the facts of the situation, to the best of their ability as those facts emerge. If those facts haven't yet emerged, then the coverage should be limited to what is factually verifiable.
Principle 3: Commentary and analysis of counterfactuals/predictions should be limited to what is useful for principle 1 and subject to principle 2. There is a natural tension here between principles 2 and 3.

I'm also going to divide media into a few categories. Not all of the critiques apply equally to these forms of media, I think.
1. Mass market national news media (WaPo, CNN, Fox, Guardian, etc)
2. Local media (location-based media)
3. Industry-specific media
4. Identity group-based media (race, gender, religion, etc)
5. Internet-based media (youtube, blogs, etc)

I think these could be useful concrete examples to consider in future discussions.

What do you think of these?

Still typing my reply to critiques,
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Re: Debate: Ways to overcome bias in media

Postby schocker » 03 May 2021, 18:06

My Lord, I agree completely with V. The media no matter what the definition, has absolutely destroyed their credibility. There isn't any source worth trusting. The stories they select to cover have agendas tied to them, the reporters then use adjectives that are biased, and then they just ignore facts they disagree with. ALL OF THEM DO THIS. Fox is no better than CNN. One would think that one mainstream media source would actively start using fact-based reporting.
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Re: Debate: Ways to overcome bias in media

Postby Justinrs2 » 04 May 2021, 02:07

schocker wrote:My Lord, I agree completely with V. The media no matter what the definition, has absolutely destroyed their credibility. There isn't any source worth trusting. The stories they select to cover have agendas tied to them, the reporters then use adjectives that are biased, and then they just ignore facts they disagree with. ALL OF THEM DO THIS. Fox is no better than CNN. One would think that one mainstream media source would actively start using fact-based reporting.

I think a large part of is it that mainstream cable news, which drives the industry, is rapidly dying. They are going even more sensationalist and ridiculous than they have in the past as a result. Look at the US market. Despite their tendency to lambast Trump, he was in reality a godsend that bought them a few extra years as so many tuned in to either revel in or hatewatch whatever he did. "All of the news networks were down significantly for the month [march], with Fox News off 34% in total viewers in primetime, CNN down 37% and MSNBC losing 19%. In total day, the falloff was even more significant, with Fox News off 40%, CNN dropping 32% and MSNBC falling 19%."- source.

This culminated recently with the whole "border crisis" nonsense of the past few months. Despite immigration numbers being the same as any other year and following seasonal patterns, the entire thing has been completely blown out of proportion by a media for something- anything- to draw in viewers. In fact, 2019 was the most extreme year on record for border apprehensions, but that did not stop the media from hyping up the story to attempt to draw in viewers. It's a travesty to the idea of journalism, not that major networks have cared about that for a long time.

Screenshot 2021-05-03 7.02.02 PM.png
Screenshot 2021-05-03 7.02.02 PM.png (38.5 KiB) Viewed 400 times

stats courtesy of factcheck.org

I am honestly not sure how you go about fixing this problem. Might be best to just let major networks die, but as we've seen in the past few years especially the decentralized news sources on the internet have led to increased partisanship, radicalization, and popularization of conspiracy theories. It's tempting to look at something like the BBC as a better model, though I tend to find its bias to be more subtle and insidious, which is its own problem.
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Re: Debate: Ways to overcome bias in media

Postby V » 04 May 2021, 02:35

Thanks for the interesting contribution Justinrs2.
Any solution for the decline of journalism, definitely does not include copying the BBC (as it is stands now).
I’ve lived in many places & until around 2012 always used the BBC as my main source of news, but something has changed very much for the worse & I now totally ignore them. Propaganda, like much of the rest. Cheers V
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Re: Debate: Ways to overcome bias in media

Postby with_an_h » 05 May 2021, 23:39

My response has been a bit delayed, so thanks for the patience. I have relatives who are hospitalized in India and that needed my attention and caused a further delay (so coronavirus in India IS something I am interested in hearing about -- this is part of the reason I tried to make the classification of media, because not every person is interested/needs to know about the same things).

Thanks for the responses and the lively discussion so far!

Media and reporting has always been heavily biased. There were no halcyon days where individual media outlets didn't have their own agenda. It's just a fact of life. A lot of media tries to be neutral, but IMO this is unimportant for a few reasons:
1. Some bias is inevitable, no matter how hard it is tried.
2. It leads to any number of fallacies, such as the "golden mean" fallacy.
3. Neutrality should never be valued over the truth.


With a lot of mainstream news, the real bias problem they have is not a political leaning, but a tendency to A) sensationalize everything to get views/clicks and B) Focus on horse race political narratives that no one except political scientists actually care about. This has been parodied many times, but it's still a problem.


If the Government line (left or right) is in a specific direction, many media outlets simply will not refute it despite the evidence merely out of some perverse duty to not contradict a Government of which they approve.


If the Government line (left or right) is in a specific direction, many media outlets simply will not refute it despite the evidence merely out of some perverse duty to not contradict a Government of which they approve.


I’ve also decided most of the subjects that they try to make into headline news are of little real importance beyond the news media... <gives examples>... Education, healthcare, housing, maintenance of world peace, pollution control, criminal justice. Now those are things to be cared about & yet all too often avoided by the media, that prefer sensational trivia.


It seems like the responses fall into a few categories.
1. Bias is inevitable and neutrality leads to equivocating and other fallacies (sometimes against what is observable fact).

This true because humans are fallible, even at the best of times. But there's a large difference between a society that has a consensus that factual evidence should be the basis of persuasion (even if that's not necessarily true in practice) and one where that is not true. If I understand what you are saying correctly, the argument that it shouldn't matter whether a media source is "biased" with regards to factual evidence/ignoring that which doesn't agree with it is a recipe for more of the same problems that we've already been discussing.

If the issue is bias/different opinion, but the views are argued based on evidence and with consideration/admitting where one's opinons fall short, then my proposed media consumption works really well.

2. Media over-sensationalizes to get views/clicks.

The data that Justinrs2 shows how illegal immigration at the Southern border has been consistently cyclical and how media coverage of the illegal immigration itself (specifically between 2013 and 2018) seems to have been overblown compared to the size of the problem. I do remember some hints of nuance in the coverage, but by and large that was noise compared to the extreme and sensational reporting.

I think the 2019 and 2020 data is actually different. The number of people apprehended at the border doubled at its peak. That sort of scale tends to cause systems to fail (and those failures propagate if not resolved quickly) especially in a system like in the US in which there's consensus that it hasn't been working for years. I think there's some over-skepticism here if one says the 2019 and 2020 numbers are "the same" as previous cycles. He does also say the 2019 numbers are the most extreme in recent memory, to give credit where credit is due.

The sensationalism from media over-hype causes expectations for what is "normal" to disagree with reality, contributing to the epistemological break and reducing credibility of those networks that do this. Moreover, since those cable networks (since we seem to be ignoring other media outlets) I think we agree on the broad strokes of sensationalism being bad for media.

3. Media focuses on topics only relevant to those directly involved in media or in politics (this is a slight interpretation of what I thought you meant when you said political scientists - I don't think political scientists correctly encompasses the group of people).

I'm going to channel this into another personal belief, which is that opinion commentators are actively harmful to media credibility with how they have become the preferred source of "news" (read: entertainment). I'm thinking of people like the election night panels on the new networks or Tucker Carlson/John Oliver. These types of people use their platform and varying levels of expertise about the topics to make arguments about ongoing news topics (sometimes they create these things) and they often present the other side's arguments disingenuously. And the sensationalism makes entertaining "hot takes" bring in views, which works against a country operating on a stable sets of observable facts.

Journalists, at the very minimum, claim to report
- based on observable fact. I often see that, even at cable news outlets where I disagree with the ideological bent, the journalists often make an effort (however little or much effort it may be) to present nuance in a way that is fair to both sides. Note that fair here shouldn't necessarily mean equivocating, although that is one of the traps.
- "neutrally" - I think neutrality is not the thing that we need here (but it is seen as what is needed). I would rather justice in considering the evidence supporting the opposing view (the standard for this is hard to specify in writing, but I think people have a sense for fair descriptions of their positions by authors arguing the other side). These days, neutrality means you can simply quote someone of the opposite view (if that) and spend double or more of the amount of space pushing one view. That doesn't do the opposing view justice, in my opinion.
These two things are more concrete than opinion, and we can more easily call out examples where journalists fail at them.

4. Media promotes ideological government propaganda, even against factual counter-evidence.

People like to hear things that agree with what they already believe. There's two sides to media, the presenter and the audience. Since humans are fallible, the presenter will inevitably make mistakes even at the best of times. Moreover, these two parties form a feedback loop that reinforce each other.

If the audience has unrealistic expectations/does not take basic steps for media literacy/has external motivations for watching news (entertainment), then that could and has caused the presenter to alter their offerings to suit tastes. It's not just on media organizations; it's on us to consume media responsibly and take basic steps to avoid spreading rumors without verifying them.

---

Didn't find a good place to write this in, but negative examples play to emotions more than positive ones, which is why we don't hear as many good stories on the national news as we might on local news.

Best,
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