As a journalist, one of the biggest complaints I hear about the media is that it’s too biased. There’s too many 20-year-old reporters sharing their opinions or seasoned reporters allowing their ideas to influence their work.
The Trump administration has commandeered this message and driven it the masses labeling longstanding news organizations like the New York Times and CNN as “fake news.” And to some extent, Trump has tapped into a prevailing public perception that journalists are not doing their jobs right.
The idea is that either intentionally, or unintentionally, reporters are allowing their opinions to influence their stories, and are, thus, corrupting public perceptions.
Some reporters at major news organizations have even admitted to doing this, and it’s causing people who are already skeptical to point fingers at the media, and say, “I told you so. I told you they were up to no good. I told you they were trying to sway us with their liberal media agendas.”
But the problem with this—as with much of what Trump says—is that it’s a small truth leads you to believe a larger lie.
Yes, the news is biased. Reporters have opinions, and quite often, a reporter’s opinion might creep into her story even if she doesn’t intend it to. But that doesn’t mean the news is wrong or invaluable simply because it is influenced by bias. (Of course, there are plenty of calculated articles you can point to as evidence of bias gone wild.) But even if a reporter does her due diligence, and tries to report a story honestly and fairly to the best of her ability, she’s still biased because human beings are biased by nature. She’s still blind to her own blind spots, and the simple fact that she interviewed Person A over Person B is a form of bias.
The bottom line is, the Trump administration is not on the side of people who want fair, unbiased information because that side doesn’t even exist. That information doesn’t exist, and pretending that it does is—to some extent—choosing to ignore the biases that are inherent in ourselves.
The real question is not a matter of whether our news is biased or not. It’s more about the degree to which reporters make an effort to present an educated, well-researched account of what’s going on. And as we know from our history books, while the facts are indisputable, they can look differently to different people.
I’ve found that when people say they don’t want biased news, what they usually mean is they don’t want news that confronts them with opinions or ideas that they disagree with. But the power of opinions and experiences in the news that they can help us see things from other people’s perspectives.
Actually, neuroscience shows that by reading about someone else’s experience—someone’s biased perspective—your brain goes through the same motions as if you lived their experience yourself. You can literally walk in someone else’s shoes by reading about their ideas, so maybe we should all challenge our beliefs more often by immersing ourselves in things we disagree with.
Then again, maybe you don’t want that. Maybe you think opinions simply aren’t valuable in critical conversations. But if you ask me, that’s a sad way to live.
If you don’t want to be influenced by people’s opinions, you better not read the newspaper, but you better not turn on your favorite TV shows either. And while you’re at it, you better not read any books, or magazines, or study any history or enjoy any art. You better not talk to your parents, or your spouse, or your friends or your neighbors. You better not tune into any radio shows, listen to any music or attend a church.
Opinions are everywhere, and if you don’t want individuals expressing their ideas with the intention of moving or changing you, then you better watch out. Actually, you better not read anything ever. I don’t think a writer would even take the time to write something down if they thought it wouldn’t affect you. If the local news station didn’t think you’d care about the morning traffic report, they wouldn’t bother to put it out.
Reporting the news is about changing people. It’s about influencing them, conversing with them, and giving them ideas that they can agree with or disagree with on their own terms.
That’s civil discourse. That’s art. That’s freedom of expression. And instead of ignoring opinions or discrediting their worth, we should use them to learn from each other’s messed up ideas and ways of thinking.
If we took the time to learn instead of make snap judgments and assumptions about each other, we might realize we have more in common than we originally thought. We might realize that the facts are less disputable than we’d like to believe, and we might realize that, ultimately, we’re all telling different parts of the same story.
Then again, I’m just one of those biased news reporters sharing my opinion. What do I know?