bi·as inclination or prejudice for or against someone or something.
"readers said the paper was biased toward the conservatives"
If you want some light reading for eternity, Google the question “is the media biased.” The question is a staple of both the political right and the socialist left. Either The Media is partisan against Republicans as part of our obvious liberal agenda, or the Corporate Media insidiously perpetuates the status quo by shutting out dissenting voices and uncomfortable narratives in favor of crony capitalism and entrenched privilege.
Choose your favorite. They’re both idiotic.
Let’s start with this: there is no “The Media,” any more than there is a The Furniture or a The Flavor. Media is a plural, a category filled with content, quality, degree of rigor, viewpoint, professionalism, platform, philosophy, funding and level of integrity of every shape and kind. The news media are a similarly near-infinite subcategory thereof.
Accusing The Media of being biased is like accusing -- oh, I dunno -- Mexicans of being rapists. So that’s one thing. As someone who makes a living finding fault with media entities, I can stipulate that there are countless episodes of laziness, ineptitude, cynicism, dishonesty, conflict of interest, cowardice and general malpractice but no overarching agenda apart from figuring out what happened and why.
But wait, says the political right. On such subjects as the origin of the universe, climate change, gun control, abortion and more, the media arrogantly refuses to balance progressive opinions with other views.
OK, that’s true. Because there is no need to “balance” anything with Creationism, climate denial, revisionist history or anything else that flies in the face of, you know, reality. You are, of course, entitled to believe whatever you wish, including black helicopters and the Garden of Eden. You are not entitled to have The New York Times validate your belief system.
Same goes for birthers, bogus anti-vax theories, holocaust deniers, Gold Standard cultists and tax protesters who are convinced the U.S. government is illegitimate. Except to identify such notions as phenomena, there is no reason -- once the evidence or zero evidence is in -- to mention these beliefs at all, no matter how deeply held by their faithful. You feel that the George W. Bush administration blew up the Twin Towers? You’ve seen videos persuading you that such a thing took place? You feel that it makes sense as a pretext for an invented war? You just know it happened? And you equally know that the scandal is being suppressed on a grand scale?
Good for you. Holler back when the meds kick in. Meantime, we’ll just let you enjoy your feelings with your Internet friends. But it won’t be in next week’s 9/11 coverage, because it’s loony toons.
I don’t offer that news because I am biased; I offer it because I get busy investigating, double-checking, contextualizing and making reasoned judgments.
Judgments honestly arrived at are not smoking guns of bias. They are smoking guns of human reason. And it is unreasonable to “balance” observable facts with assertions that do not stand up to scrutiny, or else why not balance epi-pen injections with shrimp and peanut oil?
Objective journalism does not mean neutrality or equal time, which not only aren’t necessarily beneficial, they can be mortal sins of omission. Switzerland was neutral in WWII. How nice. Evenhanded with Hitler; what a display of courage and moral authority.
Mind you, I’m not claiming that the population of American journalists is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats or somehow privately agnostic in their politics. The evidence is that there is a significant liberal majority, to which I say: duh. Journalism and liberalism share many values: suspicion of entrenched power, advocacy for the little guy, the imperative for reform and fealty to the Bill of Rights, of which press freedom is Numero Uno. That does not make us political operatives; it just makes us skeptical pests.
Furthermore, any given piece of journalism may begin with a question or premise based first on liberal suspicion or assumption or even prejudice. But we are (mainly) not opposition researchers. We’re (mainly) truth seekers. What matters is not where a story assignment begins but where it ends… and how it arrives there -- namely, with rigor, fairness and intellectual honesty. Versus partisanship, ideology or even the lawyer’s impulse to assemble the best possible case in spite of contrary evidence.
What objective journalism means isn’t building a case or assigning equal weight to incompatible positions. It means locating and reporting objective facts with neither fear nor favor. The corollary to that is being on the lookout for and reporting objective lies. That is a part of the brief, and you wouldn’t want it otherwise.
Actually, the sad fact is, apparently you do want it otherwise -- because in direct response to solid journalism that conflicts with their worldview, audiences flock to explicitly partisan sources of news and analysis. The rationale is that it counters the bias of the “other side.” But that, too, is idiotic. There are other sides on policy debates. There are other sides on interpretations of events. There are other sides, even, on scientific explanations for observable phenomena for which no consensus has been achieved. But reality has no other side. It simply is, and it can be documented through science, data, historical records, eyewitness accounts and very often videotape.
As Daniel Patrick Moynihan so deftly observed: “You’re entitled to your own opinions. You aren’t entitled to your own facts.”
Let us speak finally of our current nightmare. Hillary Clinton is a liar -- which is to say, she’s been caught in a number of lies over the years, from Bosnian landing strips to phony ad claims, and has been at a minimum slippery trying to explain her email server. This puts her in the company of most politicians who, for reasons of opportunism, diplomacy and often electoral expectation, say what they don’t mean or what they know not to be true. Politics as usual, this is called.
What distinguishes Hillary Clinton is that an entire industry has been created to bring her down, including Republican Congressmen spending tens of millions of dollars trying to find something sinister in her every move. As such, she is the most vetted politician in American history -- including by the supposed lamestream media. There is no reservoir large enough to contain the ink spilled on Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, Bill Clinton’s philandering and Whitewater.
Of course, like Congress, special prosecutors and the FBI, the press couldn’t come up with the goods on Hillary, either. Yet the standard -- I would say default -- accusation against the press for reporting on Donald Trump’s hate speech, his bankruptcies, his ignorance of our system of government, his juvenile insults, his fraud cases, his vulgarity and the rest is the accusation of media bias toward Crooked Hillary. If you’d like about 500 examples, search Twitter for @bobosphere.
But really, that’s all you got? Could there possibly be another explanation? Perhaps that Trump has left a documentary trail of bigotry, sleaze, ignorance and outright lies so vast that a person could be swallowed up, like in a bog of quicksand.
Yes, as stipulated, Clinton is a liar, but such a piker at it. Trump is a liar to a degree and in a quantity probably unprecedented among U.S. politicians in the modern era. His lies are not only constant, but easily debunked with data and documentary evidence, including video that has been massively distributed and viewed. He says whatever crosses his mind in the moment, and then denies it. And because he does so constantly and in public, his lies are constantly in the news media’s sights, duh. And then he blames the terrible biased media.
In short, he’s an idiot.
Note that I’ve used the term now three times. I don’t mean it in its contemporary sense of “dunce” or “fool” (although….). No, I mean it in the ancient-Greek sense: someone so self-centered they can only process the outside world through the prism of their own needs, desires or feelings -- which is a very poor test of substance, much less truth.
If you say the The Media is biased, I say you are an idiot. If you say most American journalists have come to believe Donald Trump is the most toxic and repulsive American political figure since Joseph McCarthy, I say you are probably right.