Biased Press and Our Duty as Citizens

In the months leading up to President-Elect Donald Trump’s triumph in the US General Election, mainstream media was criticized Left and Right – literally – for unethical, biased reporting.

According to Rasmussen Reports, a nonpartisan public polling information company, 88% of polled Trump supporters believe that news media is biased, while 59% of Hillary Clinton supporters trust media fact-checking.

Regardless of who you support, it’s hard to deny that the media has been less concerned with ethical reporting and more fixated on content that encourages clicks.

FOX News, CNN, MSNBC  and other media conglomerates face criticism for unfairly awarding air time to some candidates over others. In May, Trump had approximately $2.8 billion worth of free air time (with Clinton earning close to $1.1 billion), including the controversial incident in which the above mentioned networks completely ignored Clinton’s speech to a Los Angeles worker’s union in favor of misrepresenting Trump’s popularity by broadcasting an empty stage at a rally in North Dakota.

While fans of Trump have good reason to be upset with that specific mistreatment of the future President-Elect, their apparent mistrust of the media appears incongruous with the wild support of the Breitbart News Network, an openly far right news and opinion outlet whose Right-leaning rhetoric has been repeatedly debunked. On the other side of the political aisle, Clinton supporters’ trust in media such as CNN is equally ironic, if for different reasons (such as blatant corruption).

It seems that the majority of voters in today’s world of American politics are content with whatever news source confirms their worldview. Of course, confirmation bias is no stranger to politics, American or otherwise, but it is nonetheless frustrating to see misinformation spread so rapidly.

Confirmation bias refers to a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs.

If all mainstream media is at its basic form biased, what are We the People to do? Do we grip our protest signs and raise them high? Do we shun traditional media altogether, and look for new sources at YouTube, Twitter and elsewhere?

I’ve got a better idea: let’s try thinking critically.

An aspect of journalism that people don’t seem to understand is that it will always be biased. That can’t be prevented; even journalism “bots” rely on information fed to them by their human programmers. And bias is not limited to news media; it is inherent in all of us. What is not inherent – what must be worked toward and constantly monitored – is our ability to keep it in check. It does no good to criticize the media for being biased if we are willing to look the other way as soon as a headline suits our interests. It is that very intrinsic habit that we all share which fuels the media’s raving headlines and frenzied smear campaigns.

There are fair and balanced journalists and organizations out there. Plenty of them. But how are they to compete when we leap at an article that makes us angry, or proves us “right?” We, collectively, are giving media outlets such as CNN, FOX News, The Huffington Post and Breitbart what they want – clicks – because they give us what we want: clickbait. They feed our own biases and in return we line their pockets.

But we cannot simply reel away. We must accept responsibility and take it upon ourselves to perform our own fact-checking. If you primarily get your news from CNN, start cross-referencing it with FOX’s take on the same stories. Look for information on all sides, at the RNC and the DNC – even if you know bias is there.

Especially when you know bias is there.

Expecting bias will help you be weary of it. Keep track of nonaffiliated sources such as Reuters and the Associated Press. The next time your grandfather posts an article titled, “Obama’s Coming for Your Guns,” head to Snopes before you run for your shovel. You’ll find many different takes on political and social news at all of these locations, and ultimately, you will be more informed because of it.

Informed opinions don’t appear out of a vapor; they must be worked for. Regardless of what you think, your feelings don’t change the facts. But, the more perspectives you attempt to understand, the wider your own will become – and we owe it to ourselves, our fellow Americans and our nation to become well-informed, thoughtful citizens.

Disclaimer: The very nature of this article contains its own forms of bias as well, and Rasmussen Reports has been accused of bias in favor of the Republican party in the past. The factualness of polls is never certain, but they can be a reliable source of data for gaining insight nonetheless. If you’d like to suggest other polls to check out, please feel free to do so.

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