“Dirty little secrets. Dirty little lies. We got to put our little fingers in everybody’s eyes.” –Don Henley
We have a focus meeting during the week of teacher orientation every year. A focus meeting is a district wide department meeting where we focus on curriculum and new instructional approaches. They have breakout sessions and this year they had a beeakup section on media bias. Of course, the session was led by an instructional specialist that watches Fox News regularly. So, going in I wasn’t expecting much and I probably would have skipped it if I had been warned beforehand.
Yet, it was through this 45 minute session that I was able to cement something I have thought for a long time. We are teaching bias wrong. The materials included an infographic with all of the major media outlets being split into left, right, and center. It registered from far left to far right. Naturally, they put CNN and MSNBC on the far left with NewsMax, Fox, and OAN on the far right.
The implication was already clear based on looking at the infographic, but the instructor hammered home the point anyway. Fox News and CNN (or OAN and MSNBC) are basically the same thing. They are mirror images of each other. Simply seeing that straight off pissed me off. I;m not sure if that the effect the instructor was going for. Even though I’m sure she was well meaning, the concept of media bias is a complex one. It exists on a number of fronts, and the lesson seemed to focus on one dimension.
Bias seeps into media in a number of different ways. The traditional way regards story choices and charged language. That’s what she showed us. The problem is more pervasive than that. Some networks/media outlets use facts and form opinions around those facts. It is rare to watch CNN or MSNBC and see them report something that wasn’t true. Sure, they focus on storylines that fit a particular narrative. They may pump up an issue as being more important than what someone else would report. However, they print and/or broadcast facts.
The outlets on the far right of the spectrum don’t. In particular, when you leave the news divisions of those particular networks the ratio of fact to fiction levels out significantly. Equating CNN and Fox News is itself a show of extreme bias. Certainly putting NewsMax and OAN in the same category is Fox News is problematic. Heck, they didn’t even mention Breitbart or InfoWars. Accounting for the bias in story selection or perspective is one thing. The lesson never accounted for the bias in whether reporting is actual factual.
Unfortunately, any kind of balanced approach to bias fails to capture what is really going on. This is one of the reasons why the media itself fails so often. They are dedicated to a both sides game where both sides are playing the game in the same way.That might be a balanced approach, but it certainly isn’t a truthful one. Sadly, the answer is not to fight fire with fire. The solution involves damning the torpedoes and telling it like it really is. For lies. OAN lies. Newsmax lies. Alex Jones lies. Breitbart lies. It’s one thing to simply disagree on how to interpret a fact. It’s another to make up our own facts. Sadly, as long as this is allowed to continue I’m not sure if we can ever really solve our country’s problems.