Monday, April 12, 2010

How News Reporting Really Works: Part 2

(This is the second of a four-part series.)
From time to time, we hear that the news media is “biased.” What does that mean, and is it true?
Let’s look at the first question first. Depending on your area of study, a bias may also be called a conceptual framework (academic literature), an attitude (or value)(psychology), or a frame of reference (social science). In all of these areas, some frame of reference is needed as a yardstick for measuring (or a dowsing rod for finding) the truth.
Let’s say you were upset because someone stole your candy and wouldn’t give it back. In any discussion of what to do about it, you would assume that everyone within earshot held the attitude that property can be owned. No one would even consider discussing the issue unless one of your listeners came from a culture in which people had never heard of private property.
In a moment, I’ll give you a link to a video showing a real-life impasse between two people who had different frames of reference on a controversial political issue. First, though, let’s take a look at what psychologists call Rokeach’s Onion.
Each of us has countless opinions. When asked to back up our opinions, we often give facts, but the facts always come with certain beliefs on which our opinions are based. If, for example, you asked a constitutionalist why he calls a certain government action an “intrusion,” he’ll give you facts, but he’ll also cite a well-known theory (such as Social Contract Theory) or law (such as the Tenth Amendment). He may not know what the theory is called, but he understands the basic idea of it.
When asked to defend his belief in Social Contract Theory or the Tenth Amendment, though, he’s usually stumped. He has never thought to defend it, and he has never thought it needed defense. Until you brought it up, he may never have realized that it, in some way, applied to the belief he’s asked to defend. This is called an attitude. Three examples of attitudes are the right to own property (or lack of that right), that all men are created equal (or not), and, for that matter, that there is such a thing as a right.
To Thomas Jefferson, an attitude was something that is regarded as a “self-evident truth.” It’s taken on faith and can neither be proven nor disproven. Of course, if a person has a “bad attitude,” his attitude only seems like a self-evident truth.
Now take a look at this video clip of a CNN reporter and a Tea Party protestor “talking past” each other. In the reporter’s frame of reference, government is the source of our rights; in the protestor’s frame of reference, God (or Nature) is the source of our rights. Obviously, neither had given the idea much thought, but they’re acting on those attitudes just the same.
Because of the reporter’s frame of reference, she presented the “stimulus package” as a gift from specific government leaders, as if it had come from their pockets. The protestor, in his babbling way, showed that he realized that the money was borrowed from the people and that it amounted to “double taxation.” That is, the taxpayer must repay the debt, even after losing some of the value of his money to the inflation of the currency. He also seemed to know that the government can’t give more than it takes; the reporter clearly did not recognize that fact.
The CNN reporter also subscribed to the Leviathan theory of government. She suggested that the people we elect to make our laws are free to pass any law they wish. The protestor clearly subscribed to the republican view that we elect leaders to represent us and that we’re not electing them to do as they wish.
The babbling protestor’s biggest mistake was his attempt to frame his views in lofty quotes. He probably would have done a better job of presenting his views if he had used the same words he uses when he talks with his friends and acquaintances.
The CNN reporter’s biggest mistake was that she made no attempt to understand the man’s frame of reference. (That’s mainly what people mean when they accuse reporters of bias.) Instead, she berated the man for being ungrateful for what she saw as the generosity of government leaders. She further suggested that the protests amount to fringe elements claiming that they shouldn’t be required to pay their fair share (whatever that means) in taxes.
We should remind CNN that 56% of the American people—that’s around 170 million people—can not honestly be called fringe something-or-other. You can’t find that many “right wingers” in America.
Over a hundred million liberals, conservatives, libertarians, Southern agrarians, and non-aligned Americans are uniting to take our country back from the banksters, war profiteers, and other perps in the Wall Street/Washington crime syndicate. As Benjamin Franklin said, “We must all hang together or, assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” This November we can, and must, sweep the rats out of Congress, topple the Axis of Evil, and reclaim our country.
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