The Myth of an Unbiased Media

What is a double-blind, placebo controlled study?

A double-blind, placebo controlled study follows a specific set of procedures to ensure that the results obtained are dependable and free from subjective bias. It is considered the ‘gold standard’ of clinical research studies.

Until the study is complete, neither the study researchers nor the participants know who received the study test substance, and who received an identical dummy substance, called a placebo. This ‘blindness’ ensures that the personal beliefs and expectations of either the researchers or the study subjects do not undermine the objectivity of the results. [emph. add]Baylor College of Medicine

Recently I was on the phone with a colleague I work very closely with, a woman around my age who lives in Los Angeles. She’s witty, very intelligent, spirited, and a die-hard Jewish progressive who seemed surprised to hear that I watched Fox News. I reminded her that I was a libertarian, and Fox News is the most sympathetic news channel to libertarians, but she said Fox News was so biased it was “right wing propaganda.”

Later that day on Facebook a Japanese non-profit organization I follow posted a link to a Fox News article that mentioned the possible extinction of the Japanese people by the year 3011 due to declining birth rates. Japan’s declining birth rate and aging society is nothing new and has been predicted for decades. The causes of this are numerous: working women, high cost of living, high cost of raising children in Japan, easy access to abortion, and even porn. The source of the article was a report by Tohoku University in Japan that extrapolated the current birth rate forward and came up with the year 3011 for the demise of the Japanese people. Instead of discussing the article, however, several posters took issue where the article appeared: Fox News. One commenter wrote, “... it’s Fox news. I can’t expect anything newsworthy from them…” Another wrote, “I would prefer some more solid evidence. And the extinction of Japanese is nothing more than laughable BS. Fox news, you need to do better than scaring peoples like that. Time to do homework.” Finally, another wrote, “LOL FOX news once again succeeding at rotting feeble american [sic] brains.”

Hating Fox News is almost as much a central plank of American progressives as unrestricted access to abortion that progressives don’t even question this belief anymore. They support billionaire George Judenrat Soros’s effort to shut down the 100% privately funded news station while encouraging government support of NPR, a publicly funded organization which, even New York Times reporter David Carr and the Columbia Journalism Review admit, leans to the Left. One could argue that it should be possible for any intelligent person to separate their ideology and personal beliefs from their job and report in an unbiased fashion, and they would be wrong for the very reason that double blind studies are the gold standard in research.

Double blind studies were developed as analysis of study participants found that those administering a particular test were statistically likely to influence the results simply by knowing whether they were administering a placebo or the actual drug even without consciously intending to. Such bias occurred on the unconscious level, and a double blind study where the person administering the drug did not know whether she was giving the compound being tested or the placebo was the only way to rule out this bias.

So why should we expect journalists, liberal or conservative, to report completely objectively about news stories and events?

We shouldn’t and more importantly we should give up on the concept of unbiased news reporting completely, spreading only through the consolidation of newspapers by large corporations and the requirement of a journalism degree from an accredited journalism school to be hired as a reporter by them. For example, in 1886 my hometown of St. Louis had 18 active newspapers. In 1986 it became a one-newspaper town when the St. Louis Globe Democrat ceased publication. Towards the end of its life it shared the market with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and while the latter appealed to Democrats the Globe was read widely by the city’s Republicans. When the Globe went out of business, the owners of the Post Dispatch promised that the Post would moderate its stances and broaden its appeal to former Globe readers, and for the first few years after the merger, the Post attempted to do so by adding columnists and reporters from the Globe. But it wasn’t too long before the Post resumed it’s leftward slant, leaving St. Louis without a local conservative newspaper.

Had this happened a century before it would have been a disaster for the city. However it came at a time when people had begun getting their news from a variety of news sources including TV, national editions of newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post, national broadsheets like USA Today,  magazines, and talk radio. A few years later the Internet came online, and everything changed. The explosion of web sites catering to every ideology no matter how fragmented or extreme could not have been imagined by the Founder Fathers 220 years before. Suddenly Republicans in St. Louis or anywhere for that matter had access to the Washington Times, New York Daily News, National Review Online, and aggregation sites such as Drudge Report, RedState, FreeRepublic, Powerline, and of course, Instapundit.  It didn’t matter if St. Louis Post Dispatch leaned left when it’s bias could be countered by facts easily found in other sources.

That doesn’t mean that these other sources can be trusted 100% just because they agree with your opinion, though. I might watch Fox News but I watch it critically, just as I read the New York Times but do so aware of the liberal bias. At a time when we are bombarded by facts coming from an assortment of sources each with their own bias and agenda it is more important than ever to read, listen and watch critically. While it may take some effort up front, it also exposes one to new ideas and perspectives that could be missed if one stayed in a cocoon of  opinions that perfectly matched one’s own. Such diversity of opinions and perspectives allow a critical thinker to construct a philosophy or  world view that is much more complex, robust, and ultimately accurate than any contrived through a single ideological filter whether liberal or conservative.

Bias isn’t a notion to be fought; it’s one to be recognized. Survivalists know that in the wild a trekker will favor one foot over the other making it impossible to walk a straight line. To account for the bias one realizes it exists then deals with it by carrying a compass or through techniques such as using a marker or a succession of markers to help move in a consistent direction. In the intellectual sphere there aren’t such markers but there is the compass of critical thought that works just as well to help us evaluate the source of information and discover biases, either hidden or explicit.

Bias exists, and anyone who believes that their favorite newspaper or website isn’t biased is just as deluded as those they claim who read or watch a “biased” news source are.


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  19. Nike Chillemi:

    This is an excellent, well thought out article.

    It’s impossible for journalists to be unbiased. Let’s stop pretending they are, or can be.

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