Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Media consumer bias.

There was a guy from CNN at Davos, and he said something like, "the U. S. Military has deliberately targeted 12 journalists and killed them."

It sounds outrageous. Some are outraged, and they note that upon further questioning, he "backed off" or "walked himself back." Others who witnessed the same thing say he "clarified." Whether he regretted what he said or merely had to repeat it with a better choice of words (or both), I don't know.

There are a lot of other implications that fall out of the regretful interpretation. First is that this is a story about the media because here we have a media man saying something outrageous for effect, or, one might say, lying. He gets called on it and declines to stand by what he said. Then, the rest of the media hide the story because they agree with him or because they feel some loyalty to each other. Why aren't they talking about it? becomes a burning question in this interpretation. It's implied that news organizations all over the United States are doing a poor job of reporting, and it's such a sensational story, they must be doing it deliberately.

If you subscribe to the clarity interpretation, there's no story. He pointed out that, for reasons unknown, some soldiers pointed their weapons at some journalists and killed them. He didn't say they have it in for journalists. It's probably just a mistake. All he's saying is, not all of the journalist deaths have been "wrong place at the wrong time" accidents. It's not always the case that a reporter was in a blast radius by mistake. Once in a while, guys in tanks mistake a big camera for an RPG launcher.

The fact that the media isn't talking about this means one of two things, depending on your interpretation. Either it's a case of obscuring the truth, or they've figured out already that there's no story. Either way, the fact that the media isn't talking about it reinforces the view we already have of the media itself.

I haven't looked deeply into the question of what the guy said or what he meant. What's interesting to me here is the disconnect between the two interpretations and how a casual listener will get one or the other exclusively. It's also interesting how our prejudices about the media color our view of this story.

This may be a bad example of what I'm trying to talk about. It's possible what's happened here is completely clear-cut, and there'd be no controversy if I spent the hours necessary to look into it fully. Still, I have a point, and it's about how our prejudices color our interpretations. Ask yourself these questions. Do you think the media is biased? Does that opinion itself qualify as bias?
Post a Comment