Embrace Bias, Not Just Diversity

Left, the famous Newsweek photo chosen by an editor; right, the photo recommended by the photographer.

The Czar has long argued that the media can help themselves by dropping the act: admit their respective biases and continue forward. Yes, that makes all news reporting little more than opinion pieces, perhaps with better sourcing, but opinion pieces nevertheless. There’s really no other solution.

No disclaimer is needed: the writer doesn’t have to advertise himself or herself as a loyal party member, and the talking head on television doesn’t need a bug in the corner showing a particular party’s logo. All they have to do is stop arguing in other media that they are presenting both sides equally, and that their report is equally balanced and researched. Instead of obvious sneaky cop-outs like “Some people say…” or A critic would suggest…”, just admit it that your sources are you: “I believe that…” and turn it into a conversation.

You want truth back in journalism, that’s the only way you’ll get it: stop lying that you’re not mouth-piecing. There are some problems (or better, limitations) with this idea.

First, probably very few journalists understand their biases. Most believe that Al Gore won the 2000 election, and that Russians hacked the 2016 election. Today’s media know very little beyond their own circles of friends and spend almost no time with the opposition.

Second, there is no way to bring that truth to fake news: whether you’re a drone for the Democrats or an alt-conservative wingnut, you’ll be just as prone to fall for a Photoshopped image or a doctored quote on Twitter that appears sourced. The only way to cure that is with skepticism, of course, the same way ordinary people like yourselves can guess the guy who wrote the email really isn’t a Kenyan Minister of Finance, and that the IRS isn’t going to arrest you by phone. But you know that one guy your buddies all laugh at, the guy who does fall for all these scams? You know how he’s eager and well-meaning but just can’t seem to figure out the obvious? That’s our media: willfully ignorant.

Skepticism can be learned; after all, you learned it. It takes intelligence, awareness that people want to con you, and a simple rulebook: immediately question the source, consider the evidence, and look for the too-good-to-be-true tipoff. One thing skepticism does not require, curiously, is experience: you can usually detect a new scam immediately on hearing about it, even if you have no experience with the technique. You just apply your rules to it and figure it out. After all, if experience meant you learned skepticism, nobody would be smarter at dupes than the media, since they fall for a dozen a week.

Finally, you have to remember that a news story, true or false, is a process—not a result. A journalist gets the whiff of a story; she applies her bias to it right there: does she agree with it or not? She then brings it to an editor who either assigns it or rejects it: this is a second point of bias, because an editor can disagree with the idea and kill it. Or, he can rub his hands together with glee and assign it. The reporter selects whom she will interview (a third bias), whom she will not (another bias), and what words need to be included or excised (more bias!). The journalist hands the story to her copy editor, who then slices, dices, and rewrites portions of it (you guessed: lots more bias). Another news story can happen at the same time, which then causes the editor to rearrange the result to emphasize some paragraphs over others. Finally, a headline—which can be completely incorrect—is drummed up that introduces bias. Another editor decides where on the page it goes: buried on page 17, or splattered in big font on page 1. The same editor then decides what stories to place around it on the page: a local neighborhood kids’ baseball team, to defuse it, or a seemingly related story that highlights it. Now, what photo will be chosen? In 2012, Newsweek went with a test photo of Michele Bachmann rather than the polished one the photographer wanted, simply because the former made her look dazed and stupid. You might remember Newsweek; it used to be a thing a long time ago.

Something similar happens in television, but instead of articles positioned on a page, the director decides how long the segment will be, what parts are edited, how scenes will be sequenced, and where it appears in the 30-minute production. There can be a big difference between camera angle A and camera angle B, which (like the Bachmann photo) can change your impression of the speaker.

The point of all this is that you cannot eliminate bias from news. So the media should stop the pretense of fairness. “Look, this is a Democrat-heavy station,” or “Readers of this website understand we lean libertarian,” and “Our editorial board, as you know, strongly supports Republican candidates.” Scatter that in every so often, more as a warning. The reporters, journalists, anchors, editors, producers, and staff will all admit it and stop imagining that they are providing untarnished facts.

Because the public isn’t fooled, and hasn’t been for some time. We just need to cut to the chase on this crap.

About The Czar of Muscovy

Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia by upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.