Finding A Neighborly Middle Ground in Unbiased News

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A couple who lives next door told me they watched OAN (One America News Network) because it was not biased. They knew I disliked Fox News because I’m a liberal. I took their recommendation of OAN as a gesture of compromise. Our country is crippled by political polarization so I’m willing to try to meet people half-way in some kind of political middle ground. The idea of a news service that promotes a unified America is a good idea. But sadly, One America News is definitely not it.

What is bias? One dictionary definition defines bias as, “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.” That would mean any news service that favors a liberal or conservative view, but it could also mean any news service that favors Christian over Muslim, or Hindu over Buddhism, or Atheist over Theist. Or it could mean a news service that favors capital over labor, or environmentalism over capitalism, pseudoscience over science, etc.

How can the news not be biased if it doesn’t give equal time to all issues? How can bias be measured? There are agencies that work to measure bias. Media Bias/Fact Check rates One America News Network as highly biased to the right. AllSides also rates it leaning to the right. RationalWiki describes OAN as far-right, ultra-conservative, and Pro-Trump.

And there are opinions from other news sources. Adweek says OAN is the ultimate pro-Trump network. The Washington Post says OAN takes pro-Trump to new heights. Salon even suggests that OAN is an alternative for those who think Fox News is too liberal.

I like the idea of finding a middle ground news source with my neighbor, but I’m afraid OAN is not it. I doubt they will support The New York Times, the only news I pay to read. I don’t subscribe to cable, and I’m watching less and less broadcast news. My main news sources are from Flipboard, which pulls stories from hundreds of different sites, including Fox News. I believe Flipboard provides a method for balancing bias, but it’s easily side-stepped if you are biased in the stories you select to read.

I disagree with my conservative friends who say that The New York Times is extremely biased to the left. Media Bias/Fact Check claims it’s left-center. They rate CNN and MSNBC as left. Their scale looks like this for CNN:

Media Bias Fact Check scales

Here is their list of least biased news sources. It’s an extremely long list, with mostly smaller sources, local papers, foreign news, but includes a few notable titles like The Christian Science Monitor and USA Today. I have to admit that most of my favorite news sources come from the Left-Center list. Although there are a few sources from Right-Center that I like, like Forbes Magazine. Fox News and One American News Network are in the Right-biased list. And I have to admit I do read several sources from the Left-biased list.

Media Bias/Fact Check is a great site to read to contemplate news bias. It also tracks Pro-Science and Pseudoscience lists.

I wonder if we can become less politically polarized and more neighborly if we change where we get our news? I doubt if all Americans will choose to read only from the Least Biased list, but maybe we could aim to stay within the Left-Center through Right-Center range.

JWH

 

15 thoughts on “Finding A Neighborly Middle Ground in Unbiased News”

  1. I’m inclined to think that this sort of experience is true across the world in various ways – where I am in New Zealand there is clear political bias in some of the media, though the real problem here is that most of the media is such low quality it’s embarrassing – mainstream TV news reduced essentially to infotainment mixed with news services whose journalists don’t even proof their copy. I’ve always felt that a simple left-right spectrum isn’t complex enough to capture the range of human behaviours – other polarities in the mix include liberal-authoritarian, innovative-conservative and so forth. And that’s without considering variations from cultural frameworks. There’s a site that partially captures the idea as a measure: https://www.politicalcompass.org/

    As I recall history, the ‘left’ versus ‘right’ mix came out of where people sat in the house of representatives after the French revolution – those sitting on the left (going in) tended to be what we now call politically ‘left wing’, those on the right ‘right wing’. One of those intriguing moments where a random event such as finding a seat still echoes today.

  2. Oh my brother James; we are hoist by the petard of our fathers that has been sent into the 21st Century without any true filters that can help us. But then again, the most dangerous force that can upend an autocracy is a knowledgeable and learned proletariat.

    In today’s avalanche of opinion without any verification from trusted sources, all news is just BS – until proven otherwise. Yes, there are sources even in the local TV News that can deliver an up-to-date honest report on any particular local issue. But when they switch to National News, they will be beholden to whomever owns that link – aka that Corporation, Red or Blue; and how they want to spin the stories to achieve their political or profitable ends.

    For those who care, and who want to know – the field is becoming both dark and dangerous. There seem to be two kinds of available news sources – Lefty and Righty. True, there are specific issues and forums that can deliver arguments that may sway someone asking/wondering what’s going on.

    There really exists only a few sources that do not protect their ownership of data and opinion through copyright laws. One might consider checking our opponent’s sources/sites for an opposing view…unless that gets them on somebody’s list.

    I can only say that if you live based on the TV Nightly News you are only seeing and hearing a fraction of what is actually going on. If you care, and want to search you can find things on the internet (with vetting) that will tell you much more about the issues that are meaningful to you.

    And if not, then…”Laugh and be Happy and the World will smile with You!” – thank you Sheriff John.

    One last add – Does anybody know how to determine if a news outlet is owned by Sinclair Corp? They’ve been buying up hundreds of TV, Radio and Newspapers at a rate that has never been seen before. I don’t know these people, but as of last week they seem to be mandating that all their TV News outlets perform (yes, that is what I mean) the same exact verbiage regarding specific issues of interest to the Corporate beliefs.

    That does not comfort me in any way.

  3. We, wife and myself, have gravitated to PBS Newshour as our news source, but read the NY Times and Washigton Post for general news coverage. Admittedly, I am about where you put the dot on your chart, so I suppose those choices are no surprise.

  4. James,
    A one dimensional mapping like the one you present from Media Bias/Fact Check is not only useless but harmful, in that it leads to faulty conclusions based on false classifications. “Left Center” and “Right Center” as portrayed on the above scale are no more inherently truthful or moderate than any other position (let alone “Least Biased”). This portion of the scale isn’t some more rational middle ground between Left and Right. It actually represents a third political pole – Neoliberalism, which for the last several decades has been the dominant ideology of the US establishment and currently embodies the status quo. As such, the faults and internal contradictions of this position are rarely mentioned in any mainstream media outlet and it is promoted as more sane than so-called extremes.

    Before some people get excited, I am NOT advocating for the popular 2D mapping known as the “Political Compass”, which was invented by people who wanted to make big-L libertarians (propertarians) look good.

    1. PJ, you are right; and you may be wrong. As may all of us who care and tend to think things through. Advertising and sales have a distinctly different plan/end game than most current commercial advertising. Their intent is to make us think that our already ingrown ideas and beliefs are in line with their product. And then they try to amplify that so as to activate our wallets/checkbooks. As much as I despise that process, I can accept that as a part of the Consumption Market.

      They intend to provide us with all the best possible outcomes of buying their product, a grand and ridiculous sales pitch that really shouldn’t make us bow to a technique that has worked for many years. But it frequently does.

      The New Marketing is about making us afraid, making us think that we, and our lives are at risk of being done away with. Or worse, subdued under a giant wash of the Other who is about to take over our sovereign land and mindset. I truly doubt that, and I truly hope that it is not true.

      But. The political market is another story. There is no real and actual product being sold. There is only an ideology, a series of concepts and ideas that are founded in a singular belief that anyone other than US is a bad thing to not be trusted.

      Cutting it to the quick; we are all who we are, and that is a mass of individuals who when they think, think what they know or what they are told. I could rail against the bullshite of online “participation” but that only matters as much as the participants pay attention to the real world outside of the digital world.

      Us old folks know that if you don’t have any wood for the fire, and don’t have any matches to light that fire, we’re going to be very cold during winter. Those basics are the foundation of our world. If you or anybody else does not understand that, what exactly is the basis of discussion?

      Life, or death-online?

      And if we cannot determine the difference, I think that the question is not useful and the answer is…

      Well, I think the answer is that we have to wait and see what the next batch of younkers who grow up to be in charge (if they get the chance) can determine what the world they want to live in – is. Or might be.

      1. Jim, I sometimes worry that our politicians are too old. But they are old like me, so I shouldn’t be prejudice, but I am. There’s a new picture of the negotiation teams about trade with Chine circulating. On one side of the table are youngish looking people from China, and on our side of the table is a bunch of oldsters.

    2. I agree and disagree. A simple spectrum is not enough to explain everything, but it is good enough to roughly categorize some things. I went and tried that Political Compass thing. I image an X-Y axis plot of political outlook would be more sophisticated than a simple line spectrum. Here are my results:

      https://www.politicalcompass.org/yourpoliticalcompass?ec=-7.0&soc=-5.59

      But I hate libertarian philosophy, so I don’t know if it’s truly accurate.

      1. James, modern Libertarian ideology is just an elaborate logical construction based on a handful of unsupportable axioms which have no correspondence with reality. And I’m speaking as someone who once plowed through almost all of Ayn Rand’s non-fiction output when it was republished in paperback in the late sixties. Other Libertarian luminaries such as Murray Rothbard wind up down the same rabbit hole as Rand.

        If you are interested in a simple, brilliant, and forceful refutation of Libertarian axioms, I recommend looking up some of Matt Bruenig’s essays from the last few years. You could start here:
        http://critiques.us/index.php?title=Matt_Bruenig
        or perhaps search at mattbruenig.com.

  5. By the way James, I see from your “posts I liked” sidebar that you might be a fan of the “Rocketeer” movie. Are you aware of the Rocketeer Minute podcast?
    http://www.rocketeerminute.com
    A couple of aviation/retrofuture enthusiasts talk about one minute of the movie each day, with lots of interesting digressions into history, aviation, filmmaking, etc. Apparently there are also some similar podcasts being produced for Indiana Jones and Star Wars fans, but I haven’t looked into those.

  6. Like Rick Robinson, my wife and I listen to NPR and watch PBS. I also read the WALL STREET JOURNAL each day along with the NEW YORK TIMES. Plus we read our local newspaper, the BUFFALO NEWS, each day. I won’t even try to list the magazines we read–too numerous to enumerate. Despite being well informed, most of our retired friends are “low information” voters. Many of them voted for Trump based on Fake News and Russian Disinformation. Sadly, I can see this happening again in 2020.

    1. George, you might need to ask youself just who really qualifies as “low information”, despite their extensive reading in the mainstream media. There is STILL no actual evidence – none – that Russian activities had any noticeable effect on the election, nor is there any proof of Trump/Russia collusion concerning it. On the other hand, we DO know that the Clinton campaign worked with Russian sources and that the Clinton strategy involved working with friendly media to promote Trump as the (beatable, they thought) Republican nominee. The entire “Russia Did It” narrative is in fact, fake. Among other things, it served to save face for Hillary and preserve the political influence of the Clintonite wing of the Dems.

      If you want another recent glaring example of Fake News, I suggest you look into exactly what happened during the Democratic primary convention in Nevada. Every Dem-friendly mainstream outlet in the country, including internet outlets, reported incidents of violent, out of control Bernie fans – specifically chair throwing and charging the stage. What was reported quite literally never happened, and there are both eye witness accounts and video to prove it (although the Sanders supporters did have every reason to be angry at what actually occurred during that event). The whole business was made up from whole cloth and reported as fact, ultimately based on a single second-hand account from a biased reporter who was not himself even present at the convention. To their not-quite-credit, NPR eventually issued a not-quite-retraction/apology, though I’m not aware of anyone else who did.

      Could be that your friends know some things that you don’t. (I myself am no fan of Trump, by the way). The truth sometimes really is out there if one cares to look, just as was true during the propaganda campaign preceding our illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq (more lies and fake news) and on many other occasions.

  7. James, I hope that you are right, and that all of us are just old creaky leftovers from a previous decade, or two.

    But one of the things that “age” is supposed to bring is perspective; not necessarily wisdom but a view of the world that might not be available to the strong-thewed and strong-minded leaders of today.

    Heh, yeah I stole that last line from Robert E. Howard and the rest of the fantasists of the 40’s. Unfortunately we are stuck with the product of our current governing legislative process. And whether you live in Arkansas or California, you will only have a choice between local up or down voting. And none of that will affect the next Presidential election since that belongs to the Electoral College.

    And none of the folks vying for and trying to qualify for impressively powerful offices will ever ask anyone of our age to participate in local discussions, town councils, or any other possible grass-roots event. Why? Because we are the only age group that has seen all this BS before, and can call “Foul” when they are obviously lying, and then point out from experience why those lies are a true measure of the applicant’s insufficiency.

    Or worse, complete ownership of someone other than the voters.

    But perhaps I’m just a bit jaded after the last 45 years.

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