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Sunday, October 2, 2016

How credible are the news media?

Even if every fact on news sites were true, they are still lying to us.


H aving little to do one weekend, I decided to compare the outlook of several websites that I often visit. I counted the number of stories on selected topics on their main page on a typical day. Here are the results of my unscientific study:

Number of articles on main page
Web­site   Rac­ism   Sex­ism   Cute Ani­mals   Glo­bal Warm­ing   Celeb­rities  
Science Mag. 2 1 2 2 0
Nature 0 0 2*6 0
Guardian 127 3 3 3
Daily Mail 134 6**0262
Fox News 2 1 0 03
Breitbart 2 1 0 00
  * If you count crocodiles as cute
** Bigfoot classified as animal

The sites listed are ones I consider to contain actual news (I omitted sites like CBS and New York Times, which I consider to be mainly party mouthpieces).

Now, I don't suppose many people would be surprised by these results. But they raise the question: why is there such a discrepancy in their decisions about what is newsworthy? In the most recent Guardian, 19 stories were about racism or sexism, while news sites like Fox and Breitbart were tied with Science with only three—6 times lower. The Daily Mail had as many as the Guardian, but they were vastly outnumbered by stories about celebrities.

Hillary names bigfoot as running mate
Hillary Clinton named Bigfoot as her running mate in 2008.

I'm not sure why movie stars have such an appeal to Daily Mail readers, but at least they have the virtue of being physically real. By contrast, the stories on racism include things like some white guy in West Bugtussle having said the N word in a fit of rage back in 1962, which the editors seem to think is prima facie evidence of the existence of structural racism today.

Whether the stories correspond to something that really happened is beside the point. Few outside the news media world would believe that racism is more than a vestigial phenomenon. Editors push their ideology not just by inserting their opinions into news stories, but by deciding what is worth reporting. This means that even if every story on their site were true, they are still falsifying the news.

The question is, why? Do the editors just have bad judgment or do they have some ulterior motive? Either way, readers are justified in refusing to believe anything they write.

If the goal were to suppress racism, it has the opposite effect. The media pay little attention if a black person uses a racist term against whites, or if a woman says something sexist or hateful about men. This reinforces the idea that only things white males say are significant—which is the opposite, I'm sure, of what the media are trying to accomplish.

Ideology is a substitute for thinking, so it makes people predictable. For example, I used to skip any article that was accompanied by a picture of a dog or a panda bear or any other cute animal, mainly because I have a strong gag reflex.

But nowadays, if a news site shows a picture of a black person, I automatically assume the article will be accusing whites of racism. If they show a picture of a white person, I assume it's because he or she did something bad to a black person. If it's a woman, I assume she's been victimized by a man. If it's a man I assume he victimized somebody, or else he did something stupid like using napalm and hand grenades to clear out cobwebs in his house. All too predictable.

All this tribal shit-throwing leaves me a lot more time to work on my blog, but it also means if, due to some unforeseen conjunction of circumstances, the fate of the planet were to depend on a man, a woman, a white person, a black person, a panda bear, or a bigfoot, I wouldn't hear about it until it was too late.

That fits in well with my worldview, which is to be as negative as possible. If something that's not terrible happens I'm always pleasantly surprised. If something that is terrible happens, I am also pleasantly surprised because it means I was right.

But as for whether anything in the news corresponds to anything that actually happened, it's impossible to say. You'd need an accurate source of news for that.

Related Articles

If symptoms persist, see your scientist
The news media do us no favors by failing to convey uncertainty.

How the Legacy Media Can Be Saved
Scientific articles are credible because they contain metainformation and strictly segregate facts from opinions. The news media need to do both in order to regain our trust.


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