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Dangers of Fake News and Media Bias Accusations

by John on 11/29/2016

world-news-daily-report-fake-newsMedia bias is no excuse to give credibility to fake news.  Granted, the downfall of the media’s reputation is one cause for the preponderance of fake news.  But it is not the only reason and it is certainly not a reason to embrace fake news.

First, here are the realities or unintended consequences of making accusations about media bias.

  • If a politician raises charges of media bias, then he/she is losing.
  • If a citizen complains about media bias, then they are declaring themselves mentally weak and the media powerful.

Now the reality about fake news.

Only ingesting fake news and completely ignoring the so-called mainstream media are setting up you and the rest of the country for disappointment or disaster.

I know some of you will say, “Oh but you are part of the media.”

Yes, I am. But so are you.

You post news items on social media; then congrats, you are part of the media now.

But let me prove I am not in the tank for traditional media.  I am often asked, “Why don’t you go back to being a news anchor?”

It’s simple.  Let me use medical terms:  I don’t want to be reporting on symptoms.  I’d rather report on the causes.  I want to solve problems; not just gratuitously show how bad they are.

Take the medical analogy further.  For me to go back to news anchoring would be like a doctor going into medicine to make money rather than healing people.

Sanctimonious on my part?  Maybe.

But I don’t think news today really gets to the problems and solutions facing us. We talk more about the political fight rather than revealing solutions that make lives better.

That’s why you hear me explain media bias quite differently than just the old left-right argument.  The dominant media biases are: the entertainment bias; and the sponsorship bias.

News media organizations over the years, I have argued, worry more about audience, viewership, and profits more than a responsibility to correctly informing the electorate.

And it has worked for the media.  They don’t want to piss you off.  They want you to stay.  The longer you stay, the more the ad revenue.

The American public just feeds into it.

Probably 4 out of 5 Americans are pre-disposed to being conservative or liberal.  And they are not going to change.  They don’t want to be challenged on their beliefs, as Jonathan Haidt writes in The Righteous Mind.  And in Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman writes that most people will seek and rely on facts that back their beliefs.

So, I agree the media is biased.  And that bias could be a cause for the growth of fake news and fake news backroom operations.  But it is not the entire reason.

  • First, social media has given a larger platform to many people. These people act as so-called journalists, but they have no journalistic training or even a thought of what real journalism is. As a result, they are fertile conduits for fake news because, again, most Americans are either too busy or too lazy to reject something that might be comfortable to read and re-send.
  • Second, fake news makes big money.  These sites bring in ad or editorial revenues to help special interests, some nefarious, to get their ideas across or to hold power.

Blaming the mainstream media entirely for fake news misses the point and fails to see what will happen next.

Most of today’s fake news is from right wing extremists. Apparently it has worked if you believe they were helping Donald Trump.  Again, I am not so certain about that yet. And we saw plenty of fake news from the left against George W. Bush in 2004.  But the left has been missing in the fake news industry lately.  Wait.  I predict you will see a deluge of fake news on the left to combat fake news on the right.

Great!  Now there is no chance for real news.

How do you deal with all this?  It’s easy if you take a few steps.

  • Figure out the source of the news.  If it is a crazy left-wing or right wing site then know that as you read or consume that news.  In fact, I would say if you lean left you should read the right-wing stuff and vice versa.  Ignoring it does two things: 1.) you might get blindsided; and 2.) you might miss a chance to understand what someone else might be feeling or trying to convey.
  • Read everything you can – especially the mainstream media.  Sure, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Fox News, and MSNBC have their own biases.  Use your brain to filter out the bias and gather some useful information.
  • Read non-fiction books by experts.  The depth of knowledge in a book that might take you a few days to read goes far deeper than that 5-minute diatribe on cable news.
  • When you post something either offer a comment that acknowledges an opposing point of view or post an opposing point of view.

However, reading fake news is dangerous.  You are being manipulated by nefarious organizations with no professional standing when it comes to news.  They will take a nugget of fact and then twist it, ignoring other facts.  Or they will just blatantly lie.  How is that better than the mainstream media that at least has some standards that you can at least decipher using your common sense?

You will hear false statements like:

  • If we cut taxes for the rich, the economy will prosper and income inequality will end.
  • If we build a wall and restrict all immigrants we will have more jobs for Americans.
  • I paid in for my Medicare so the government better not touch it or reduce my benefits.

Remember this: the underlying problem with America is not our media.  It is us.

In fact, we have so much information available that you should be able to make informed decision.

The big problem is most Americans are not well-read. They are lazy and they don’t want to get out of their comfort zone.

Let me go back to the medical analogy.

If you just sit on your butt, don’t exercise, and eat whatever pleases you, then you are going to die young.

The same holds true in a democracy. If you don’t ingest a wide diet of good news, and if you don’t exercise your mind, then the democracy could die young as well.

So next time you scream about media bias or you post a fake news story, remember, it is saying more about you.

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