This morning, just after I woke up, I watched some segments of the Real Time with Bill Maher episode that aired last night. In particular, the part about Brian Williams from NBC got me thinking. You can find it here.
Maher claimed that Williams’ alleged lying that has been discussed lately isn’t a big deal, because the channel he works for usually reports on all kinds of unimportant crap. I don’t find that particular argument particularly good, but then I believe that the problem with news reporting these days tends to be more complex than just being a question of whether the channels focus on trivial distraction stories or not.
One problem with news reporting is of course the truth, and the public’s faith in whether or not the various outlets report on the news truthfully. Here, obviously, if he is guilty, Williams is not helping, which Maher should have no problems realizing. I would however not simply put it as a matter of whether the news media tells the truth or not either.
The problem with the news media has been formulated slightly differently by Cenk Uygur of TYT. He often resort to the following simple example to illustrate his view on things. Imagine that the Jets and the Dolphins play a game of American football, the Jets scoring 50 and the Dolphins 14. Then Uygur claims that it would be wrong of the media to try to be neutral by saying something like “the Jets say they won, the Dolphins say they won” and leave it at that. Uygur instead wants some sort of deeper analysis.
But the situation we are today dealing with is one where even shallow analysis on the level of “the game ended 50 :14 in favor of the Jets” would be considered biased in one way or the other. People might recognize the numbers as being the actual score, but the fact that that particular story was prioritized above something else will be called selective reporting.
This brings me to the entire point of this rant, which is the simple question of whether we have given up the idea that there is somebody left out there who actually values telling the truth more than waving the flag of their own faction, whatever that happens to be. Or if we even believe that such a person can exist. I for one do believe that there are such individuals to be found, although I am less certain as to whether they have been found yet.
I imagine them in the future running a simple fact-reporting outlet that reports things like dates and numbers, leaving the analysis and opinion pieces to others and just telling me simple things like “these pictures pf tanks were taken on the border between Russia and Ukraine last Tuesday. We didn’t manage to find any tanks before that”. Or things like “the trial is over and the judge sentenced person A for crime B”. This would all be told as simple information transfer and not to fit some bigger picture or agenda.
I then imagine how, after such an outlet has proved itself through continuous accurate reporting, both me and the opponents I debate with would trust it enough to refer to it, agreeing that while we ourselves may have our differences, this outlet is not a part of that conflict but just reports on things as they happen. Unlike, lets say the current situation in the UK, where newspapers are considered liberal, like the Guardian, or conservative like the Daily Mail, me and people I disagree with would all find some outlet we know is not picking sides. Today not even classical encyclopedias fill that role, a lot of people will act like it is impossible for an encyclopedia to mention something without there being some hidden purpose behind it.
I am not here trying to dream up some utopia where there is some sort of magical source of knowledge from which the truth can be learned about everything, I am just saying that I don’t want to give up on the idea of there being some integrity left somewhere in the world.
You’ve often heard it said that everyone has a bias. This statement goes to the heart of the problem, since by muttering that everyone has a bias like the most obvious thing in the world, one also implies that one doesn’t believe that anyone could ever get past that bias and, like I said above, value having the truth told more than either side “winning”. Maybe I’m naive in thinking that is something we can get beyond, that, but I just find it sad if that is not the case.