On Biases

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Over the past few years in the USA, hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear cries and screams of “fake news” in a variety of ways. Although that phrase is primary associated to a shameful bloviator, it’s merely a substitute for another term that has been around not only my entire life of 66+ years, but long before. After all, it’s entomological roots are in the 16th century – and that word is bias.

During today’s tribalism, hyper-partisanship, and strong outward expressions of opinions, the biased person watching a biased news broadcast, reading a biased article/book, or listening to a biased radio pundit does not negate bias – but rather enhances it.

Often grounded in assumptions based on one’s culture, parents, peers, education, religion, geography, and personal experiences, biases are that filter leading one to predetermined outcomes. Biases are the neme, slant, lean, and tendency leading one to change what one observes into what they want. That is, the biased person makes the information fit for themselves. Biases unquestionably lead to misinformation and misconceptions; plus stronger biases enhance prejudice and bigotry.

Misconceptions are incorrect ideas grounded in a personal belief system serving as the foundation of incorrect knowledge. Misconceptions get in the way of learning by blocking new information. In order to justify their position, the learner will do whatever is necessary to fight against accepting the new information.

Here’s a simple example. All human blood is red, but the shade varies depending on the amount of oxygen present. Blood rich in oxygen is bright red, but blood low in oxygen is very dark red. In short, there is no blue blood.

A person believing the existence of blue blood will do whatever necessary to keep their belief. They point to the blue veins below the skin – drawings in textbooks showing showing red and blue blood vessels. They explain the skin turns blue after one dies because blood is not moving and getting oxygen. They believe in the immediacy (faster than eyes can detect) of blood changing from blue to red when bleeding from a cut vein. Years ago, an eighth grade classmate of mine even brought paper tissues (with blue food coloring) to class showing she had a nosebleed the night before. She went out of her way to argue her bias with the teacher.

Now expand this simple idea into more complex topics as evolution, vaccines, climate change – let alone complicated issues as health care, foreign policy, and the economy. The more complex the topic, a basic understanding requires more information than obtained from the first click on a single Google search. Now cloud the issue/topic with politically-driven partisan ideas that people blindly accept through a party-driven mantra.

Fighting bias challenges what one believes, so overcoming biases requires a conscious effort and can be personally humbling – even for those thinking they are unbiased. No matter how simple or complex the topic or issue, and no matter the age of the person involved, not only does everyone have misconceptions, only that person (the one holding the misconception) can remove that misconception and replace it with new information. In order to replace the misinformation, that person must either accept the new information from a person they recognize as knowledgeable or they must experience a learning event that alters their view.

Besides preventing learning and becoming knowledgeable and informed, misconceptions can humiliate a person. After all, nobody likes being wrong. Some bring it upon themselves by boasting incorrectly about a topic as if they know. After all, it’s the speed and conviction of the statement that validates the statement. Speak with confidence so others think you know.

On the other hand, misconceptions about a person can humiliate them – but in a different way because they are fightly personal misconceptions about their character, knowledge, and/or abilities. I keep thinking about a manager who told me that what others think of me is more important than who I actually am.

I’ve stated this before and here it comes again – The news media is biased by its very nature.

1) Media people are human, therefore have a filter (whether personal, corporate, or both).

2) Secondly, reports reduce the news event to an abstract. For instance, the media may reduce a one-hour speech into a 90-second report. This condensation is a natural bias; plus, generalizations are naturally less accurate and are not the complete story. Generalizations lead one away from the truth and generalizing generalizations can lead to falsehoods – therefore, misconceptions.

3) Thirdly, the selection of the soundbyte is an natural bias, as are the follow-up questions – but the media must do these actions. That’s part of reporting.

The listener’s bias also plays into the situation. Whether informed or not, the one holding deep convictions about a topic is not only biased against those with an opposing view, they are also vulnerable to getting sucked into generalizations based on misinformation and overgeneralizations that lacks details.

However, if the listener does not agree with the selected edits, abstract report, or the question asked does not mean the reporter or news organization was blatantly biased to favor a point of view – but it could.

On the listener’s side is the fact that if they work traditional morning-afternoon hours, they have limited opportunity to view national evening news by a major network. After that point in time, the 24/7 news channels offer shows featuring and promoting a particular point of view – for instance, Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity, and others. However, television isn’t the only news source.

Technology has made more information is available to everyone than ever before. Unfortunately, that also means more misinformation is available today more than any other time in history.

Social media complicates and exacerbates personal bias by increasing misinformation, justifying false claims/conclusion, and promoting conspiracy theories. Social media, biased reporting, and talk show echo chambers disengage citizens from the truth while promoting a political agenda.

There is no question that bias plays an important role in the news – and there is plenty of blame to go around. People also carry their share of the blame – actually, in my opinion, people may be the greater problem. People must take responsibility for themselves to challenge and verify the information they receive. However, instead of being proactive citizens, too many people favor reinforcing their bias over being accurately informed.

Valuing factual information is an important aspect of being human – as is the ability to learn – as is the ability to communicate. Too bad there isn’t an anti-bias vaccine. Then again, self-imposed biases would prevent someone from taking that vaccine.

 

PS: This classic scene fits.

56 thoughts on “On Biases

      • Not true my friend. CNN (the Clinton News Network) is so biased they did everything they could to back Clinton over Sanders. Sir Trump wouldn’t be oin the White House if CNN would have been fair (also fault the DNC who did everything they could to help her).

        Since the election, they hold 24 hour Trump bash-a-thons everyday.
        So CNN is just as bad and guilty as FoxNews.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Drew. Not true?
          1) You brought up CNN and FOX … not I. They may dominate viewership, but that does not mean they are the leaders in news and accuracy.

          2) The old style TV news still exists from the same sources: CBS, NBC, and ABC.

          3) Print media sources as Reuters and AP also lead the way.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Frank, I tend to follow the print sources you indicated. I like to absorb the news and come to my own conclusions. Even the three major networks have veered from the traditional way of reporting news. But as you said AP and Reuters give you the news and just the news.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. That’s a jolly good read Frank. Here’s the bit that I think really matters: ‘People must take responsibility for themselves ….. ‘ Period. In all matters. And always follow the money trail when you are checking the veracity of arguments for and against.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Pauline,
      Thank you. I will say that this one took some time to write. As much as the media gets blamed (and sometimes rightfully so), people are forgetting about their role and the responsibility. As the wise saying state, while pointing the finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at self.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Ray,
      Excellent point about comparing media. Too often people narrowly focus on CNN and FOX News. Seems this chart is the 4th rendition (the first was in late 2016). Subcharts about actual shows on a network support the biased delivery of the host. Another interesting chart (which I haven’t seen) would be the movement of a network over time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for really getting down into the weeds with your post today. I anxiously await more comments as they come in. So far, four things (in my biased opinion) are implied: (1) Most people believe that the media used not to be biased, (2) It’s a good thing that I closely follow Bloomberg, The Economist, Forbes, and Reuters, (3) Democracy is very messy, (4) Job 1 for authoritarian political leaders is to break down trust in the media, especially the print versions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tim.
      There is no question in my mind that the majority of people chose their preferred media based on what they want to hear. Let alone the influence of evening talk shows and AM Talk Radio. At least now you understand a bit more when I scoff at some of the things you send me.

      Like

  3. Frank,

    It’s an exhaustive search for news, just news, sometimes. Which is why I make a point to read many different publications and then filter as per the context of the story. As an open minded person who likes to hear both sides, I realize I have my own biases and tendencies- we all do.

    As you have written so very well, with all the news available to us, many feel as if they ARE well informed when more often than not they are simply being sated. I think it’s a good thing to have so many venues, so long as we look for differing opinions in order to get at the real story.

    Thought provoking piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marc,
      Preciously. Listening, thinking, and dialogue seem to be losing in favor of “my way or the highway.” Besides, too many people can’t go beyond the talking points/soundbytes because they don’t know enough and are not informed. Plus, they don’t know the difference between right/wrong and agree/disagree. Thanks for chiming in!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sometimes it does feel different to me.

        Back when I was Republican leaning, I had mostly Democrat leaning friends. My future wife was a devout liberal and we had these great debates that never got mean. They were just involved and interesting. Most of her friends shared her opinion and somehow we managed to have a nice night out with no hard feelings.

        Like

  4. Notwithstanding some inaccuracies in the chart (See Drew’s comment with which I agree) you make the obvious point about bias. It infects everything we do. The real lesson is to cull information and make up one’s own mind. Running with a herd just because they agree with one’s own bias is dangerous. Let’s look at Congress as the poster child for the result of running with a herd. (Yes I admit my bias on the travesty that is the legislative branch.) Of course, having said all that, we know bias is Obama’s fault. Good post, Frank

    Liked by 1 person

    • John,
      I used to be a loyal CNN watcher. Cutting the cord helped me break that habit. Even though I have streaming access to them, I seldom watch. On the other hand, they may beat on President Trump, but there is one important factor that many forget – He brings it upon himself – and just because various media outlets call him out does not mean they are biased.

      Your “running with the herd” comment about the public and Congress are right on – but nothing explains it more than Obama’s fault. Well stated.

      Liked by 2 people

      • To be clear. I think Trump is a narcissist and should not be President. Besides that bias, I still have problems with anyone who cannot tolerate a cogent argument from the other side. Both the right and left have been guilty of actions that lead me to believe civil discourse is impossible. This is why I continually lay blame on the Congress. No matter how unruly the executive branch, it is Congress’ job to craft whatever is necessary for the good of the people. All of the political professionals have forgotten that idea in lieu of their party loyalty. Pelosi and Schumer should be taken to the woodshed for their arrogance match up with Trump. I used to call CNN Communist News Network for their left-leaning bias Thanks for listening.

        Like

  5. People hear what they want to hear or believe. Most people won’t objectively entertain both sides of a discussion and form a healthy debate where everyone might learn something that helps people work together. Tunnel vision and all that.
    That clip is timeless and one of the best ever put on a screen of any kind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • George, “tunnel vision” along with “echo chamber” are two very valid terms in today’s world – which plays hand-and-hand with supporting the role personal bias plays. Thanks for the thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. With today’s cultural perspective, you know what they say about “assume?” It makes a you-know-what out of you and me. Technology has compounded this fact. Most people would never say many of the things they post to someone’s face. Present president being the exception.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Of course, we are all biased–it’s what makes us human. (It’s why eyewitness accounts are not always reliable.) You are right that news sources should try to be objective, but even in the “old-time” news sources that you mention, there was some bias in what they chose to report on or not to report. And, they would have to be, because obviously they couldn’t report on everything. And newspapers going back to the pre-American Revolution era, have often had a particular slant, so this is not a new phenomenon.

    Many people seem not to care about facts and eagerly share misinformation.

    I seldom watch TV news at all–network or cable. I listen to NPR throughout the day, and I read newspapers, print and online.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 401 – A Frank Angle

  9. Good work here, Frank. I will admit that I listen to more liberal media outlets than conservative, but televised news or information shows are a very small part of my information diet. I am a very big reader, and my values and judgments are fed by the information I take in from a wide variety of sources. I think I’m very balanced, but YES, I am biased. My values are too easily supported by more liberal directions than conservative, certainly in the current climate. And that’s likely not going to change much, except that I’m at least aware I carry those biases. It’s a complex world of information these days. I’m a little smug within my friendship circles, and I’m admitting it here. I am the one in the group who always asks, “So, what are you reading these days?” and when I get blank, “deer in the headlights” looks, I just don’t understand where people are getting their information. If we don’t keep expanding our knowledge base beyond television, i think we’re in trouble. Your main topic of biases…yes, I’ve sure got them!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debra,
      Thanks for sharing your approach. As we know, regardless of the subject, admitting a bias isn’t easy and seldom done. Yet, you try to remain open and don’t rely on a single source or view point. Especially in the current climate, too many people don’t know the difference between agree/disagree and right/wrong. This helps stop a discussion gone array – “We may disagree, but I’m not wrong.”

      Like

  10. Yes, bias seems to be something we all have in common even if we are not always aware of it and recognize when the news is slanted. With President Trump puts out his own news verbally or via twitter so we an judge for ourselves – no fake news there. A very thoughtful post!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think you’re biased against bias, Frank. 🙂
    And I don’t think media was ever really unbiased – even back when the news took an hour or so a day and did not veer off into editorializing, even the accurate reporting of facts had to rely on someone deciding which facts are important enough to report and which are not.
    Although, that is still a significant improvement over current state of the media.

    Like

    • X,
      LOL … No question that I’m biased against bias! Yes – the media is naturally biased by its very nature, therefore always has been and always will be – and that’s even without all the commentary we receive today.

      Like

  12. Excellent post and such great comments, too. I think it’s impossible to not have some bias on something. We are influenced by how we were brought up and who we surround ourselves with. The best thing is to get news from as many sources as possible – which is insane but thar way you are slightly more assured of getting more than one side.
    That clip is definitely a classic.

    Like

  13. Thanks for the thoughtful review. Some bias is human nature–but critical thinkers can work against that. It is the current trend of boosting bias to an art form that has me outraged, making extreme bias the norm–and accepted by too many.

    Like

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