Social Question

Demosthenes's avatar

Is something being biased necessarily a bad thing?

Asked by Demosthenes (14478points) September 29th, 2022
15 responses
“Great Question” (1points)

I always find it amusing when I see complaints of “bias” for something that makes no pretensions of neutrality, like a right-wing podcast or a left-wing magazine. Media like this is not meant to be unbiased, but that seems to be a significant problem when people who are not their target audience come into contact with them. It is also quite obvious that we tend not to see bias when it is in our favor, yet it is glaring when it is not.

Is being “unbiased” always an important goal for reportage/analysis/non-fiction? Can there be true objectivity or neutrality in say, political analysis? Can such things ever be free of agendas? Do you care if something is “biased”?

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hat's avatar

There is no such thing as unbiased or objective when it comes to analysis or reporting. The myth that it is possible is what makes propaganda so effective.

Beyond being impossible, it’s not even something we’d desire if it were. Seriously, it takes about 5 minutes of contemplating what that would mean before anyone would dismiss it has evil.

I think this myth is closely related to the myth of ideology. People believe that ideology is bad. And more importantly, they only see ideology in others. Accepting the status quo means you’re free from ideology and bias. It’s only those that reject the status quo that ideological and biased and dangerous. They can’t see how strongly they adhere to their own ideology because they are surrounded by people who share it.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I think that we get confused about what is inherently biased and what might be attempting to be unbiased.

Many pieces from the media are biased and don’t hide it. The problem comes in whether they are representing the truth of a situation or skewing it for their own benefit. Right now, Republicans are telling seniors that Biden is cutting Medicare. What they are not saying is that it’s a savings because Medicare can now negotiate prescription drug costs for the first time. It’s not a cut; it’s a savings. That’s misinformation.

News articles often try to merely state facts. The reporters may be unable to keep their own bias out of the stories, but they are supposed to try. Many times, they do a good job of it. The AP is excellent at reporting without bias.

I think the basic issue is that we don’t teach critical thinking skills in our schools. Our students aren’t taught how to read something and then think about whether it’s factual, opinionated, etc. Our schools don’t teach thinking. I know I didn’t learn it until college.

Perhaps if people were taught to judge veracity of things that are presented to them, we could expect people to make informed decisions. As it stands, we have a mass of people who are incapable of recognizing that conspiracy theories are fallacious and often laughable. There are people out there right now who honestly believe the Earth is flat. Every time I read that, I want to laugh.

I care if a news story is biased. I want the facts of a situation. I expect analysis to contain bias, and I’m sufficiently educated well enough that I can then judge my own reaction to that bias.

hat's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake: “The AP is excellent at reporting without bias.”

Choosing what to report on, what “facts” to report, the perspective that is presented, and deciding how much resources are used for a particular “story” is bias and involves values and ideology. The AP is not objective and could not be.

Have to run, but I’ll be back later.

RayaHope's avatar

I believe the news stations should be unbiased and I think it is possible if they just report the facts in the story they’re reporting on. That is easier said than done, though. If their “facts” come from people that may already have a bias about the story then it gets a bit trickier trying to figure out what are the facts and what is someone’s personal thoughts on what happened. I think most stories have to be taken with a grain of salt.

Blackberry's avatar

I believe there was a regulation aimed towards mainstream news that was focused on making it non partisan, until Reagan got rid of it, ushering in the fox news and msnbc opinion news cycle.

I really don’t know, it’s just what I’ve heard….but America has been deregulating things for awhile so it seems whether it was democrat or Republican, one of them probably took money to ruin the news.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Blackberry That is correct. There used the be what was called the Fair Reporting Law. They had to report as unbiased as possible.

hat's avatar

We’ve been touching on this for ~11 years here. For those who believe that it is possible to report without values or bias, please provide an example. I honestly don’t think people have actually thought about the implications of what they are claiming.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

@Blackberry The fairness doctrine. You can basically trace the deep partisan divide we have now back to when it was removed. I agree that completely unbiased reporting is impossible but what we have now is just so ridiculous that it’s almost comical. Bringing back some of that regulation would go a long way to ending a lot of utter bullshit that the networks put out.

JLeslie's avatar

I have a problem with biased reporting representing themselves as balanced. Most TV “journalists” are basically actors or talk show hosts, not real journalists. Their goal is ratings not fair news. The thing is most people can’t tell that what they are watching is biased when they are naturally inclined themselves to be biased in the same direction. Millions of people think Fox news and MSNBC aren’t biased.

Zaku's avatar

For example, I’d say that an unbiased description of US politics in 2022 would mention that:

* the Overton window has long shifted far to the right, to the point that in comparison to similar countries, say, Europe/Canada/UK/Australia/New Zealand, all our representatives are AT LEAST Centrist or right-leaning compared to most of theirs, or to US politicians 30–50 years ago.
* the US is essentially an oligarchy which mainly serves the interests of megacorporations and the ultra-rich
* the current Republican party has almost entirely decided to fall behind a con-man TV reality star president backed by racists, QAnon followers, Fox News followers, and Trump’s Big Lie that he actually won the previous election, which is clearly false as has been proven many times
* most of the Democratic politicians are pawns of the oligarchy, and have been letting the Republicans get away with the above nonsense because it seems to serve megacorporate/oligarchic interests
* most of the news media is owned by a few giant corporations coopted by their owners also to support the oligarchy and keep public attention on other narratives than that the oligarchy keeps getting more and more wealth, power, and legal standing

That should be the baseline from which to judge bias in one direction or another. Instead, that last point about the media has got most discussion fixated on left/right political drama.

seawulf575's avatar

Humans will always have a bias. It’s in our nature. And as such, a person speaking either in person or on a podcast will always present what they want the listener to hear. They will give their viewpoints. And the listener has the option of saying whether they agree or not, whether they want to listen or not. So bias is not necessarily a good or bad thing in this situation. When it comes to “news outlets”, those that say they are presenting the news, they have the burden of suppressing their bias. Unfortunately basically none of them do. As @hat said, choosing what to report on, what facts you want to use, how you want to slant the reporting are all examples of bias. But news should be the facts…both sides, good and bad. When it is not, then that bias is bad because they are presenting a knowing bias and passing it off as THE facts. They are basically lying.

Forever_Free's avatar

Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. Opinions are free and worth every penny.
Become aware by reading and listening. It’s your choice what to do with it.

Demosthenes's avatar

I mean, we live in a post-truth Post Raisin Bran society. We don’t all agree on what the capital-t Truth and capital-f Facts are. COVID and the 2020 election being obvious examples. Who gets to claim to have the unbiased “Facts and Truth”? It’s already pretty clear that belief is stronger than fact. And what about situations where the facts aren’t all out yet? How long do we wait to report the news?

Okay, so we don’t think it’s a big deal when analysis in a podcast or magazine is biased because it’s not claiming to be unbiased and analysis is by its very nature filtered through someone’s perspective and ideology. But isn’t the news also? You might say whether or not something happened shouldn’t be, but how it is explained, how something happening is connected to other things happening and whether it is even reported in the first place (and even the language of “both sides” is a problem because there are not always two sides, sometimes there are three or four) is affected by perspective and ideology.

I’m not a big fan of “everything is the same” rhetoric; it’s not the same to inject opinion into something and to straight out lie about something. “X happened and is bad” is not equal to “X didn’t happen” if X actually happened. The first one is biased but it is still reporting a fact. The latter is just lying.

seawulf575's avatar

@Demosthenes As I said, humans naturally have a bias. In discussions or debates, we can pvercome some of the debate on what is fact and what is fiction. But that is only in HONEST discussions or debates. If someone brings you a claim that comes from an uber right-wing outlet and you dismiss it because you don’t like the source, that isn’t an honest discussion. You are discounting anything said because of your bias. I remember when Hunter Biden’s laptop was dismissed because people didn’t like the source. They were accepting the word of “50 intelligence experts” without actually looking into it. Later, it came out that the original claim was true and the 50 experts were lying. Honest discussion requires open minds and actual consideration. If something is false, it should be demonstratively false. If there are questions about the fact, those questions need to be answered. If the concerns and questions cannot be answered, then they may have truth in them. And “everyone knows” is not a valid disclaimer.

SABOTEUR's avatar

In the past I wasn’t really concerned about media I perceived as biased. But in the last few years I’ve learned how harmful biased media is when it’s used to influence people to do harmful things. I fear the lingering effects of bias has changed politics in the U.S. forever and I seriously believe we’re observing the last days of democracy as we’ve known it.

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