On Bias & Credibility

I’ve had many discussions with folks who draw false equivalence between right wing propaganda like FOX or Breitbart and more progressive outlets like MSNBC, CNN and the traditional print media (NYT, WAPO, WSJ). Some people don’t trust ANY source, believing they are all biased. But is bias an absolute evil or is it an inherently human trait? Is bias that is born of ignorance (say, racial or science denying) equivalent to bias informed by facts and critical thinking (such as social justice or science affirming)?
          This lack of faith in the 4th Estate is troubling, but understandable, given how right-wing media has exploded ever since the Fairness Doctrine was abandoned by the Reagan administration. It is quantifiable that FOX/Breitbart tell more lies and promote an agenda of ignorance-based bias than any other networks. And their disinformation is purposeful, designed to mislead and misinform, to feed the baser biases of its viewers. Say what you want about Rachel Maddow and her “agenda,” she gets her facts straight, and when she doesn’t she admits it. Can the same be said for Sean Hannity?
       So, are all biases equal? The answer is a resounding “No!” All biases are not equal, nor are all biases worthy of respect. If you want your bias to be respected, you have to earn it.
       So here are some pointers. If you want to find information you “trust,” you must do the work. Read multiple credible sources. How do you find credible sources? Follow journalists with a proven track record, who have established credibility over time. Dare to follow links in articles to review source data, even if some of it is hard to understand. Bottom line, if you can’t find any sources you trust, that’s on you. You haven’t done the work.
       This next one is a big deal, and perhaps the hardest for passionate people to follow. If you want to develop critical thinking skills, stay away from the fringes, especially the ones who lean your way. They will poison your ability to process information rationally through confirmation bias, which is the first step toward the kind of cognitive dissonance we see among conservatives and Trump supporters.
Most of all, recognize that sometimes even credible sources will make mistakes. Every major newspaper has had to run retractions or corrections. What’s more important is their overall track record, and how they deal with their own errors.
       Do all of that, and you will sift through the bias, allowing you to arrive at a more credible position for yourself. Note that I have not suggested that your conclusions would necessarily be the same as mine. But I’d have an easier time respecting them. Even if they are biased.

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