Bias in our media choices
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Bias in our media choices

>>Natalie Stroud: Our personal beliefs about politics really affect where we turn for news. So, in my own research, I’ve looked at people’s newspaper reading habits, their cable news viewing habits, their radio listening habits and their Internet website preferences. And, what I found is that for the sources on which people regularly rely, their partisanship absolutely affects where they turn. For example, for conservative Republicans about 65 percent will look at one conservative Republican source or source leaning to the right. In contrast, only around 25 percent of liberal Democrats will look at a source that leans to the right. The numbers are absolutely reversed when we look at the other side. So, for example, about 75 percent of liberal Democrats look at a source that leans to the left. In contrast, only about 40 percent of conservative Republicans do so. So, as you see, there’s quite a discrepancy in partisan habits of looking at media. Essentially, what people have done is find out what media sources are their friends and they turn there and what sources are their enemies and they avoid those. It’s a great question to figure out whether or not there are unbiased media outlets. And, the truth is, it’s really hard to point to one and say, “Finally, we have found an unbiased media outlet.” Because for any media outlet out there there are going to be people who perceive that outlet as articulating views that are hostile to their beliefs. So, people will see any media outlet and say, “That’s biased against my political perspective.” Even though we might not be able to point to an outlet as being unbiased we still should care, because what this means is that when people are looking at media outlets that match their beliefs, they might see that outlet as being relatively unbiased even though the other side might see that outlet as being extremely biased. So, we should care because this leads people to look at outlets that match what they believe, on both sides of the political spectrum and believe that those outlets are relatively fair purveyors of truth. I think that partisan media both help and hurt democracy. On the helpful side partisan media engage the public. It’s really invigorating and energizing when you see someone articulating beliefs with which you believe and articulating them with passion. So, this can help people to participate politically. These sources also help to make sense of a really complex world of politics. So, when you’re looking at a source that’s articulating a partisan perspective, you realize, “Oh! This is what side one believes. This is what side two might happen to believe.” So, in that sense partisan media are doing a great service to us, democratically. However, there are also some downsides to partisan media in the sense that they can lead people to hold more polarized political beliefs. So, if you belief on side “X” and you’re watching media outlets that convey a similar perspective, that can really lead you to believe that your side is correct and that the other side really doesn’t have that much to offer. So, if we have people polarizing in their political views and if we have people believing that very different issues are important and in need of solving that can lead to some difficult times for the citizenry in terms of negotiating issues. It’s another tricky question. On the one hand, perhaps diversifying our news outlet exposure could be helpful. So, if we were to look at media outlets that disagree with what we believe, that could have a really helpful affect if we were to look at that and say, “OK, let’s really analyze what the other side might happen to be saying on this particular topic.” However, if we turn to the other side with a purpose of looking for signs of bias or with a purpose of laughing at what they might have to say or counter-arguing the information that we find there, I don’t think that looking at the other side will have any benefit in terms of giving people a greater appreciation of views unlike their own. What we need to do is figure out a way to get people to be charitable in terms of their interpretation of the other side when they look at diverse media outlets. So, when you turn to an outlet that disagrees with your views, can you give a charitable understanding of that argument?

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