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can the news media be unbiased?

fred rosenberger
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Without discussing specifics, we've all heard the liberals calling Fox news biased, and the conservatives calling basically every other news outlet biased.

My question is, do you think the new CAN be unbiased?

I would submit that the answer is 'No'. The simple fact that someone has to decide what even makes it into print or on TV brings in bias. I can't tell you how often on the national morning TV 'news' shows I hear about the weather in New York or the east coast. Being from the mid-west, I don't care - but that is my bias against that. Clearly someone from New York would find it VERY interesting.

I think there will be SOME spin on any issue. It's human nature.

What are your thoughts on an 'unbiased' media?


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Martijn Verburg
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I agree it's not truly possible, it's nice in this day and age to be able to read both sides of the story (RSS feeds!), I find the 'truth' generally lies somewhere in the middle. Of course my view of what hat is is biased as well


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Joe Ess
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fred rosenberger wrote:Without discussing specifics, we've all heard the liberals calling Fox news biased, and the conservatives calling basically every other news outlet biased.


Is "unbiased media" an American phenomena? It's my understanding that European media is open about its bias. In England, The Guardian is leftist (center-left in European politics), The Telegraph is right-wing. Everyone knows the bias and accepts it. When you hear a story, you consider the source, you don't go "well that's from XXX paper so it can't be true".
I listen to NPR when I'm commuting and I don't notice an overt bias. Recently, on one particular subject, however, they have had several stories that had me wondering what planet they were coming from.


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Paul Sturrock
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Joe Ess wrote:
fred rosenberger wrote:Without discussing specifics, we've all heard the liberals calling Fox news biased, and the conservatives calling basically every other news outlet biased.


Is "unbiased media" an American phenomena? It's my understanding that European media is open about its bias. In England, The Guardian is leftist (center-left in European politics), The Telegraph is right-wing. Everyone knows the bias and accepts it. When you hear a story, you consider the source, you don't go "well that's from XXX paper so it can't be true".
I listen to NPR when I'm commuting and I don't notice an overt bias. Recently, on one particular subject, however, they have had several stories that had me wondering what planet they were coming from.



+1.

Even in cold, hard scientific reporting there is some subjectivity. Its unavoidable; humans cannot be 100% objective. Even if the intent were there differernces in the writer's knowledge and understanding will introduce some unintended bias anyway. And there are too many other factors in the media to hope such a Platonic journalist would even exist.

Assuming you know the bias you can watch for it.


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frank davis
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I'll answer the question by asking and answering a different question:
"Can the news media be less biased?"

I'd say yes, the media certainly could be less blatantly a propaganda machine that omits or distorts the most obviously pertinent facts to any side of an issue. At one time there was at least a semi-plausible pretense in American journalism of some type of ethics and some modicum of objectivity in presenting pertinent facts. That pretense is obviously gone, and everyone now believes they have to consult several news sources to have any small hope of avoiding a complete brainwashing.

The trouble is few have time or inclination to consult several sources of news. So the end result is a greater polarity of views on all issues leading to greater divisiveness within society. I think we all agree this is not good. Maybe the next question is how do we make media less biased. Maybe by giving more patronage to those sources that are more fair and balanced.
fred rosenberger
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herb slocomb wrote:Maybe by giving more patronage to those sources that are more fair and balanced.

I don't know if you are intentionally referring to Fox's news coverage or not, but regardless it brings up an interesting point.

Most conservatives I know think Fox is awesome, and is indeed 'fair and balanced'. They believe that most/all other media sources (NPR in particular) are extremely liberally biased.

At the same time, most liberals I know feel THE EXACT OPPOSITE - that NPR is unbiased, and that Fox has a blatant conservative agenda. Both sides are passionate that they are right - but I don't think that's actually possible.

Maybe unbiased is in the ears of the listener.

Pat Farrell
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I've never heard anyone claim that NPR or MSNBC are unbiased, they are clearly biased left. And Fox is neither fair nor balanced, its an arm of the right.

But I believe that the media, when it tries, can be fairly balanced. Some more than others. You don't expect Forbes magazine to be anti-business. And you don't expect High Times to be anti-pot.

With good justification, the NY Times and Washington Post were considered "east coast liberal media" for decades. One could argue that the Post's support for the Iraq war for oil, and the Bush administration, could indicate that they are less liberal. But you can't judge any of this over a short term. It takes years. The Moonie paper, Washington Times, was started specifically to provide a right-bias to counter The Post.

I think European media have long been more open about their bias than the US media has been.

Just IMHO, altho this may stray into being too meaningful for MD.
frank davis
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The whole question of bias in any context is very 'drively'.

No one nor no thing is immune from the bias accusation. Whether its true or not is another matter, but you will get absolutely no where with anyone who believes there is a bias with This or That. I've had debates in this forum concerning the bias of the scientific establishment, and if science isn't immune from the bias accusation few things are. Maybe something abstract like geometry?

Would that be Euclidean geometry or some type of new 10 dimensional geometry ? Are you biased against Greeks? ...

Anyway, don't we agree that generally there is more overt bias now in favor of one political party or the other?
At some point doesn't bias become unethical propaganda? Persuasion with reasonable presentation of the pertinent facts of an issue may be subjectively defined, but it is still different than deliberate misinformation designed to deceive or conceal pertinent facts.

In the legal arena it is common to distinguish the crime of fraud with ordinary salesmanship. At best, today's media is just cheer leading, completely and utterly without substance, or slimy salesmanship. For this reason I stopped buying any print media 3 months ago nor do I bother watching TV.
Pat Farrell
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herb slocomb wrote:Anyway, don't we agree that generally there is more overt bias now in favor of one political party or the other?

I agree that there is more overt bias on display these days than there was from the 1960 until the turn of this century. I don't have personal exposure to news much before that. That said, its clear that prior to the Spanish American war, the Herst papers were insanely biased. And prior to the US Civil War (or war of Yankee Aggression) the papers were clearly biased.

I have a hard time imagining that Ben Franklin's newspaper was fair towards the King, altho he may have covered his words to avoid being charged with Treason.
Sandeep Kumar S Jakkaraju
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According to me .... an individuals opinion is always biased ...... depending on various parameters ,......

Say if the journalist is a feminist ...then he/she will give you feminist opinion .....

To make unbiased news you should have 2/3 or more opinions ...



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Pat Farrell
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Sandeep Kumar Jakkaraju wrote:According to me .... an individuals opinion is always biased ...... depending on various parameters ,......
Say if the journalist is a feminist ...then he/she will give you feminist opinion .....

Good journalists separate news coverage from opinion. Opinion is clearly labeled as opinion, or "analysis".

A liberal journalist must be able to cover a business story without calling the managers bourgeois swine. Its OK for the story to have a sentence about the bosses eating turkey while the workers eat swill, as long as they are both true. Let the reader draw the conclusion about the relative merits of the bosses and workers.
fred rosenberger
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Pat Farrell wrote:
Good journalists separate news coverage from opinion. Opinion is clearly labeled as opinion, or "analysis".

A liberal journalist must be able to cover a business story without calling the managers bourgeois swine. Its OK for the story to have a sentence about the bosses eating turkey while the workers eat swill, as long as they are both true. Let the reader draw the conclusion about the relative merits of the bosses and workers.

But even if a news journalist does all this, isn't there some bias simply caused by the SELECTION of what stories to cover?

And how do you fairly present both side? Say there is a huge issue akin to climate change where 95% of the 'experts' believe one thing, and 5% believe the exact opposite. How do you present this fairly? Do you give both sides equal time - and if so, doesn't that imply that both sides are equal? Does simply stating in your piece that the ratio is 19/1 sufficient?

What if the ratio was 99/1? or 9999/1? How do you present both sides fairly, without giving an unfair, false equivalency?
Pat Farrell
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fred rosenberger wrote: isn't there some bias simply caused by the SELECTION of what stories to cover?

Of course there is judgment in editorial selection. I expect and demand judgment. I want someone to decide that covering Brittney's latest boob fallout is not as important as Israel invading Gaza. My time is valuable, at least to me, and I don't want to see all the news that might be interesting, I want to see an edited summary of what is important.

There is bias in all communication. Is it really "Global Warming" or is that hype to a simpler story that we have a moral imperative to not throw junk and waste in the water and air? Does calling it a scary phrase like Global Warming reflect a political bias that wants to convince us sheep to change our votes? Or more pracically, discussions with your teenager are always biased: they say they went to the movies. And its true that they were physically in the movie theater. But what were they doing in the dark back of the upper balcony? Were they watching an R-rated movie, or making their own?
Fantine Ponter
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Pat, don't scare Fred...
Michael Ernest
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Pat Farrell wrote:
I expect and demand judgment. I want someone to decide that covering Brittney's latest boob fallout is not as important as Israel invading Gaza. My time is valuable, at least to me, and I don't want to see all the news that might be interesting, I want to see an edited summary of what is important.

That's what your brain and your sensibilities are for, Pat. Why would you ever substitute someone else's judgment for yours? No one else can effectively decide what is important to you, nor when it's is important. nor why.

Pat Farrell wrote:
There is bias in all communication.

I use the term "perspective" because it's less provocative. Of course some are stronger than others, some deliberately slanted, some virtually unaware of their influences, and so on. There is truth in facts and certain natural and derived laws. For meaning and relevance, there is, at best, perspective.

It doesn't hurt to remember that the business of producing news you will read means getting your attention. They're not dummies; they know most people will read something they've reacted strongly to (hey there FOX News!) than a useful piece of news, even information one reasons is pertinent to them.


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frank davis
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fred rosenberger wrote:
Pat Farrell wrote:
Say there is a huge issue akin to climate change where 95% of the 'experts' believe one thing, and 5% believe the exact opposite. How do you present this fairly?


An ethical reporter does research and presents the best facts/arguments for each side's opinion. He doesn't present each and every possible angle to every view, but instead groups the viewpoints along common conceptual themes to the best of his ability (journalists who know nothing about anything handicap themselves and us all).

Off the top of my head, just flesh something like this out below at least to the extent of letting the reader be aware that respected authorities on both sides hold these contrasting theories/views with evidence. It would be more misleading and deceptive to omit completely the contrary side rather than at least give an outline of the opposing sides position.

Man made Global Warming:

Supporting Theories: fossil fuel production of C02 producing green house effect

Evidence: Data based on core samples, ocean based sensors, land based sensors, global weather stats.

Contrary Theories: Natural variation in solar heat, ocean currents, and other more potent green house gases.

Evidence: Fossil Fuel production of C02 has less correlation with current warming than other natural cyclic variation, errors in measuring over the past century, contradictory ice core evidence, warming occurring on other planets such as Mars now, evidence in past of warmer temps than we have now, cyclic evidence of warming cycles prior to use of fossil fuels.
Pat Farrell
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Michael Ernest wrote:That's what your brain and your sensibilities are for, Pat. Why would you ever substitute someone else's judgment for yours? No one else can effectively decide what is important to you, nor when it's is important. nor why.

Because there are too many data points and no one has the time to look at all of them, let alone judge which are important. Data is not information, and information is not knowledge. I'm interested in the knowledge: who really started the war between Georgia and Russia, and why did they do it?

When I was in grad school for Computer Science, there were three required courses, compilers, algorithms, and operating systems. For compilers, one team of world-wide recognized experts are Aho, Seth, and Ullman. For algorithms Donald Knuth. For operating systems, Peter Denning. If you can take classes from one or more of these experts, jump at it. This is a bias, letting someone else's judgment guide mine.

While I make up my own mind, I need someone to filter out all the noise. That's why.
Michael Ernest
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Pat Farrell wrote:
While I make up my own mind, I need someone to filter out all the noise. That's why.

Those of us schooled in the humanities are given the idea of composing a 'world view.' Put another way, a bias, a filter, a perspective. Whatever you like. The general ethos is this: you can simply bind your world view to someone else's if you like, but you're bound to be dissatisfied when that view diverges from you think it should be. You can devise one that belongs to your own formulation, and it won't truly matter if it's a conventional, exotic, or even bizarre point of view. You can talk to the owner if you want to make changes, and get some action.

That said, just about all the men in my family are engineers of some form, and military men as well. Network news seems to suit them just fine. They know how long it will take, what segments will be covered and when, and which network view works best for them. Easy choice.
frank davis
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"...bias simply caused by the SELECTION of what stories to cover?"

In some cases this can still be counterbalanced and the bias neutralized. You cover Palin's wardrobe and family, but also look at Biden's designer suits and his family. You cover Palin's gaffes and also cover Obama's gaffes ("57 States"). It doesn't have to be 50/50 and reasonable people can disagree on the balance.

However, I think we can agree that if there were such a thing as journalistic ethics a line would be attempted to be drawn somewhere and it wouldn't be based only on the ability to sell newspapers or soap commercials. Just as in civil court cases, there is a point where omissions or deceptions become fraud and criminal in nature.
Ayub ali khan
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I really doubt if the news media can truly be unbiased as most of the media barrons have close ties or politically inclined to a particular group.

Every one is concious about the impact of media on the society and surely people want to influence what gets shown/printed in the media. Often media is being accused of being a propoganda machine.


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Sandeep Kumar S Jakkaraju
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For a layman the noise in the news which is fact itself becomes news ...........!!!
I am not freud to even interpret someone else's dream and even get a Phd in psychology..........

For example : A Freudian might say ....that the book was an experiment
But a layman even would pay freud to interpret his dreams about ......
Jules Bach
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herb slocomb wrote:
fred rosenberger wrote:...
Evidence: Fossil Fuel production of C02 has less correlation with current warming than other natural cyclic variation, errors in measuring over the past century, contradictory ice core evidence, warming occurring on other planets such as Mars now, evidence in past of warmer temps than we have now, cyclic evidence of warming cycles prior to use of fossil fuels.


These points are already considered within the conventional view of AGW. For the media to resurrect these ideas as points against man-made climate change based on our current scientific understanding is about as newsworthy as Phlogiston theory.

When it comes to climate change (and many other topics) just because there are "two possible sides" doesn't mean that each side deserves equal media coverage. It's easy to come of with spin to counter many conventional beliefs, the moon landing hoax, the non-relationship between HIV/AIDS, Vaccines causing autism..not too long ago, some scientists claimed no link between tobacco and cancer...there is a serious amount of BS out and about, and I'm actually quite glad our biased media filters out some of this crap.


Frank Silbermann
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fred rosenberger wrote:

Most conservatives I know think Fox is awesome, and is indeed 'fair and balanced'. They believe that most/all other media sources (NPR in particular) are extremely liberally biased.

At the same time, most liberals I know feel THE EXACT OPPOSITE - that NPR is unbiased, and that Fox has a blatant conservative agenda. Both sides are passionate that they are right - but I don't think that's actually possible.

I'm pretty conservative, but I don't think Fox is "awesome". Though I find it much less biased than other sources, I am irritated in that it is so "low-brow." I consider the New York Times and NPR both to be much more intelligent (but also much more biased). But it is likely that most people are more sensitive to bias that offends them, and more tolerant of bias that agrees with them.

I think what most people consider "unbiased" would be an attempt to take the middle position. However, I suspect that Fox defines "the middle" as the _American_ political middle -- which means virtually equidistant from Republican and Democratic party platforms -- whereas the other newsmedia look at American politics as compared with European politics, and choose a position "in the middle" between typical European and American political sentiments. (Therefore, Europeans consider CBS conservative, and Fox _extremely_ conservative.)

I, in contrast, would say that an unbiased news media would give as much prominence and respect to the press releases of the NRA as it does to those of the Brady Center. To me, unbiased means treating the obituary of a prominant American communist the same as that of a prominant American nazi, a Trotskyite like a follower of Mussalini, a democratic socialist like a John Bircher, and Ted Kennedy like Jesse Helms. Like Fox, I place the center at the center of _American_ politics.
Pat Farrell
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Frank Silbermann wrote:I think what most people consider "unbiased" would be an attempt to take the middle position.

Another version of unbiases is that PBS' NewsHour does with contriversial topics: they get two experts, one for and one against. The show does not comment on the experts. Since you heard two sides, you can judge yourself.

However, I find this less than helpful. A lot of times, the two sides just state polar opposite positions, with the abortion "debate" the worse, the pro-life folks just spout their usual stuff, and the pro-choice folks theirs. Neither says anything rational, such as "if you ban legal abortions, you will not eliminate them, you will just push them back into the back alleys using knitting needles or coat hangers and women will die." Even this doesn't address the morality of it, but neither side pays any attention to what the other is saying. If you take a middle position, which is where I am personally, I think killing people is bad, period. So both "solutions" cause people to die, and I don't like it.


Arvind Mahendra
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herb slocomb wrote:The whole question of bias in any context is very 'drively'.

No one nor no thing is immune from the bias accusation. Whether its true or not is another matter, but you will get absolutely no where with anyone who believes there is a bias with This or That. I've had debates in this forum concerning the bias of the scientific establishment, and if science isn't immune from the bias accusation few things are. Maybe something abstract like geometry?



The media can never be unbiased because of economic realities. The media is a business like any other, its compulsions are no different than any other business which cannot afford to upset its customers. But no business is probably more vulnerable than the media to special interest groups inclined to manipulate, for lack of a better word. The customer and groups here are its advertisers and shareholders. Media practically makes most of its money from advertisers.

Lets face it, you're not going to have a paper directing its reporters to conduct investigations into how the local oil drilling company has wreaked havoc with the local ecology or try to do an expose of an industry when that members of that industry are paying your bills. Biases will always creep in because of this. At worst a media company may chose to go after such a story and at best play it down as something not headline worthy. quality journalism will always take a back seat because of this. News stories will be produced with advertiser's good in mind. story writer;s may choose to omit certain things, highlight things or maybe even twist or tamper with facts. Honestly has this never happened before?

I believe, the debate you are referring to was the thread about native Indian thread and yes, this idea extends to that also. I had argued that I do not cast aspersions on the scientists or the work the scientists had carried out but it would help if we knew who were paying for these studies to be conducted and how it was important to also ask valid and important questions. who stood to benefit from discrediting native American as being the first the most? Was is it perhaps a developer of housing tracts in an area where horizontal expansion was severely limited due to it being surrounded by native Indian reservations ? or were the beneficiaries average people who now could lead more productive and longer healthier lives knowing the natives weren't there first? The science itself was not wrong but what makes you suspect it was free of any bias? There was a time in Europe and America when racism was justified based on scientific grounds.

I cannot say these studies are wrong but I do always try to get a larger picture when considering anything. Maybe I am too much of a cynic. But I think we do ourselves a bigger favor when we try to understand the different trajectories biases can take and embed themselves into something.

I see studies practical everyday about how a vitamn pill or Wine is supposed to be good one week, then its bad or negligible another a week, later its a particular kind of wine that's good, a week later there are no real tangible benefits, and then a week later there are benefits but the only catch is you need to drink copious amounts of it.


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Frank Silbermann
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Arvind Mahendra wrote:

The media can never be unbiased because of economic realities. The media is a business like any other, its compulsions are no different than any other business which cannot afford to upset its customers. But no business is probably more vulnerable than the media to special interest groups inclined to manipulate, for lack of a better word. The customer and groups here are its advertisers and shareholders. Media practically makes most of its money from advertisers.

Lets face it, you're not going to have a paper directing its reporters to conduct investigations into how the local oil drilling company has wreaked havoc with the local ecology or try to do an expose of an industry when that members of that industry are paying your bills.
The owners and advertisers of a media outlet constitute an insignificant fraction of the universe of potential reporting topics. That sort of idiosyncratic bias, which exists but which is unlikely to affect a whole class of media outlets simultaneously, is different from the systemic politically-motivated bias that was discussed in this thread.
Selvakumar Kumar
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How does one classify a political party as Left or Right (if at all there is one).

In India, the communist party is called as left, Still I don't know why they are called so.
Frank Silbermann
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Selvakumar Kumar wrote:How does one classify a political party as Left or Right (if at all there is one).

In India, the communist party is called as left, Still I don't know why they are called so.
It had to do with where members of the Assembly (Parliament? Some French word) seated themselves shortly before (shortly after?) the French Revolution (two hundred years ago). Those pushing for radical change congregated to the left side of the hall. The conservatives tended to sit together on the right side. The compromisers tended to sit in the middle.

Before WWII the international socialists (e.g. communists) feuded with the national socialists (i.e. fascists), and to insult them called them Extreme Rightwing -- even though the fascists also promoted radical change (of a slightly different sort). Libertarians point out that the Left/Right dichotomy is an inadequate model, preferring to add a second independent dimension measuring the extent to which the person wishes to recruit the government to enforce his societal ideals.
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Joe Ess wrote:... Is "unbiased media" an American phenomena? It's my understanding that European media is open about its bias. In England, The Guardian is leftist (center-left in European politics), The Telegraph is right-wing. Everyone knows the bias and accepts it. When you hear a story, you consider the source...

Another +1.

I think the idea of "unbiased news" is simply a marketing ploy. And ironically, most bias is introduced (intentionally or otherwise) through attempts to make news more marketable.

I was briefly a journalist, and I can tell you this topic is debated in newsrooms a lot more than most consumers realize.

Bias is subjective. If a consumer's perceptions of a story don't align with their own expectations or ideals, they detect bias -- especially if they have strong feelings on the subject. In that sense, it's impossible for reporting to be without bias.

So it's not a question of whether a story is biased. We know it is. The question is what levels of bias might be acceptable given the constraints we're working with. And the good journalists are always questioning their own objectivity -- the ability to recognize where their own bias is, and whether they've taken appropriate steps to check it.

My problem is with "news" organizations that try to "balance" what they perceive as a biased landscape by deliberately slanting their news in the other direction.


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frank davis
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On the news bias scale, where might this rank? http://drudgereport.com/flashaot.htm

frank davis
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Cronkite was seen as relatively unbiased?
http://www.deusexmalcontent.com/2009/07/way-it-was-and-never-will-be-again.html
Harish Verma
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I consider some level of individual journalistic bias as something that is simply unavoidable due to basic human nature. We all hail from different cultures, we think and act differently and that inherently leads to bias either due to ignorance, arrogance or both. Good journalists seek to identify and eliminate their own biases and to retain as much objectivity as possible. But such people are rare; and to some extent individual bias is bearable, and even to be expected.

However politically-motivated, mass-scale bias in journalism is a kind of social engineering, designed to propogate a particular worldview and/or to denigrate another. THere is less purely-political bias than there is ideological bias - most news outlets are run or funded by people who are already on the other side of the fence and believe they are on greener ground. It is just a human trait to use your influence to further your culture, your worldview, if need be, at the cost of the other.

An intelligent consumer of news then has to consider multiple perspectives and then form his/her own opinion about the event. Most however fail to do so, and so we have "converts" to one worldview or culture who act as pockets of influence for their owners, fueling the "conversion" process in a self-sustaining cycle.

Atleast in the Western world, there are mechanisms that prevent the emergence of extreme bias in media outlets. Out here in places like India, the English media is so apparently, ridiculously biased they are laughable. On some issues, they are just not taken seriously anymore.
 
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