Maybe it’s the relentless pace of news and continuous news alerts. Or maybe it’s just a reflection of the rampant partisanship in society in general.
Whatever the cause, we’ve been seeing an increasing amount of news commentators and consumers cherry-picking which facts they want to believe or use to inform their understanding of news. It’s what we call BYOF, or Bring Your Own Facts.
Sure. So What?
People tend to BYOF when their view of the news media is that,“they’re biased,” the eternal criticism of nearly every mainstream media outlet (insert the “they” of your choice). If someone doesn’t like what or how a mainstream media organization or journalist reports they tend to dismiss it as “biased” and then shop around for one they find more agreeable.
Yes, all news organizations have an institutional point of view that, depending on your own point of view, is “biased.” To that we say, “Sure. So what?” That definitely does NOT mean that their reporters share that point of view. In fact they often don’t. Journalists have the same types of reactions to events that everybody else has. But journalists are trained and learn by hard experience to subordinate those reactions to the professional and even obsessive practice of accuracy and thoroughness.
Accuracy Is What Matters
Instead of using “bias” to choose or rank where you get your news, use accuracy and thoroughness. It’s equally important to be thorough yourself and use a variety of news sources. No news organization is going to be 100% accurate and some are better than others. But if we use multiple sources then we have a broader base of pretty good facts to use. If you do this over time you get a much better idea of which organizations are more accurate more often. It’s not a case of seeing what’s “true” but determining what seems to be accurate at that point in time. That could change as you learn more.
The trick is to use caution with reports that try to tell you what to think. Look for neutral language and reporting that is as straight and unfiltered as possible. You want to try to get as close to the actual original source material as possible. Good reporters will add background and context with minimal interpretation to help you understand the story.
“This Is A Typical Disgusting Display…!!!”
Here are a couple of analogies:
- Rich has gone to many NHL hockey games and occasionally would watch the next-day replay on TV. Usually the way the TV play-by-play announcer called the game added info and was consistent with what he saw with his own eyes, but other times it was not.
- Jim and his brother would watch 1980s Boston Celtics playoff games on TV with the sound down and listen to the play-by-play from famously gravel-voiced and highly impassioned hometown announcer Johnny Most (If you’ve never heard Most you’ve got to check it out). Jim said it was like watching one game while listening to a different one.
Rich took a similar approach to the Senate hearing with James Comey by watching it on C-SPAN without added commentary or info other than the names of the speakers. Each of the subsequent stories in the New York Times, The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal and other outlets had slightly a different emphasis on certain points but were similar overall. Fox News instead focused on Comey’s leaking of his meeting notes and his past decisions in the Clinton investigation. But Comey’s forceful comments about ongoing Russian meddling in US elections didn’t get more play until days later. It wasn’t that one news organization was more accurate than the other. Rather, he could use those different reports to sort out facts and form further questions. “Bias” didn’t matter much because he could still form his own views on the testimony and the coverage. By the way, that’s part of the “Chase It Down” process we mentioned in Episode 27.
Try that some time when an important hearing or event takes place. Make your own notes on what you saw and heard and check it against what several news organizations reported. Get as much straight factual info as you can and still use the pros to get the news to you.
The most important thing is not relying on any one news source. Check others and be sure to include sources that you may not look at often or at all. If you’re a New York Times reader check out The Wall Street Journal and Fox News. If you’re Fox News regular then check out the New York Times or Washington Post. Use the AP or Reuters for straight news coverage especially on breaking news.
Plenty of Verifiable Facts To Go Around
“Bias?” Sure. And so what? There’s no need to BYOF. Whether it’s sports or politics or anything else, there’s a lot of value in gathering as much factual information and opinion as you can and still think for yourself. You can and should still chase down the facts as well as you can. That includes using multiple sources including the ones you think are “biased.” You’ll learn more and have a better understanding of the news you consume.