Fight or Flight: Dealing with Bias in the Media

The media got bashed by the Republican presidential candidates in their second TV debate. By the roar of applause from the audience it was obvious that they were in solid agreement with the candidates. It got me thinking.

All forms of communication are, in essence, media. Novels are media. Movies are media. Media arrives through words and speech. Anything written or spoken for public consumption is media. This blog is media. Any expressed point of view, meaning opinion, is media content.

Having been involved in the so-called media, print and electronics, for most of my adult life, I heartily agree that the media is biased. It wouldn’t fit the definition if it was not biased. In this blog, I am dealing with merely one sliver of media, the so-called “news” category. It was once called “the press,” a definition that no longer accurately applies.

At times, the bias is mandated by the ideology of a particular outlet’s management. Or a single owner with an ideological obsession. Sometimes the cause of the bias is based on the conviction of those who the source attracts. It then becomes an economic factor. Media that depends on public contributions will often heed the opinions of its contributors.

In some cases, it is a business decision, not connected with ideology. In other cases, it is exactly the opposite, the business decision is motivated by ideology, depending on which species of ideology sells best to its consumers of the moment.  Of course most of such decisions are internally poll driven and every decision is based upon what the moment demands of the content.

There are those within these organizations who believe that there is a wall between the informational channel and the commercial. That wall is often riddled with cracks. Maintenance of such a policy is difficult and business reality and job security has a weathering effect on even the strongest structures.

In today’s environment, in both old and new media, the informational pipeline is fractionalized, cut into thin slices for consumption. The competition for eyeballs, for attention, is frenetic, cutthroat, sensationalized, often inaccurate and pointed toward the bizarre, the exploitive, the grotesque. The irony is that all the horrors being pumped into the informational atmosphere have been going on since human beings emerged on the planet. It’s just more available. Technology has torn the cover off mankind’s more loathsome attributes.

A new addition to the media mix is social media, a source of endless information without any checks or balances. On one side is joyful interaction, reaching out, sharing, showing, touching via text and photos. On the other side are opinions offered out of blind anger, emotional eruptions, which are factless, gossip-ridden, often inaccurate, naive, ignorant, absurdities. Sadly, many of the distortions and rants are often convincing to the hapless, uninformed, uneducated, and gullible.  Nevertheless, it cannot be discounted. It is media, news, informational, often believable, persuasive and toxic.

What is manufactured as information by the media, as I have defined it, is often contrived, not for elucidation, but for grabbing the spotlight; disruptive and explosive attention. It is indeed freedom of speech in its most uninhibited manifestation. It is the nature of the beast and we must find a way to live with it, however it manifests. Better that than the alternative: a chained tongue.

Conflict, violence, and victimization are the mother’s milk of today’s so-called journalism. Embellish it with accusations of injustice, corruption, cover-up, spice it up with hatred and anger, race or religion based, salt it with blood and horror and bake it with exaggeration and excess and you have the perfect modern cocktail of what passes for news in this new hypercharged media environment.

A thinking person of good intent, a sincere searcher for the narrative truth, has two choices to deal with it. Fight or flight.

In this context, “flee” means ignore, abandon, pay no attention, surrender to the will of others. Many millennials seem to have chosen this path. It’s not surprising. Their media of choice is social networking.

Many, like me, choose to fight, tear away the baloney, get at the skinny. Perhaps that is equally generational. We grew up in another world, another dimension. What we fought for seemed worth it.

Here are some tips to gird yourself for the fight:

Learn to disbelieve. Filter out the hype. Disarm all bias by making your mind work like those guys who clean up after a parade of circus animals. Train yourself in skepticism and doubt. Beware of the dogmatic and the coercive. Analyze the words. You’ll soon learn to spot the ideology and manipulation being employed by the source. Once you see the illusion behind the screen you can filter out the bad bacteria and render it powerless. Be aware that everyone is trying to enlist you, sell you something. Resist the pitch.

To do this efficiently requires education, relentless focus, commitment to absolute truth. You owe it to yourself and your progeny. Never give up the option of forming your own opinion. Of course, people who follow this road will have clashing conclusions and opinions, but at the very least they will be able to make decisions based on knowledge and what fits their particular perspective and not be swayed by ignorance or hatred.

Frankly, I don’t buy the Republican complaint. Of course, they are as biased as the questioners. Remember, everyone in that event was vying for attention, as I have stated above.

If a candidate is not ready to confront “media” bias, he shouldn’t be a candidate. The questioners were following the bias of their employers and advancing their ambitions. So what else is new?

I’m with the great President Harry Truman who said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

Warren Adler's forthcoming novel, Torture Man, is slated to be released in late November. His Film/TV projects currently in development include the Hollywood sequel to The War of the Roses - The War of the Roses: The Children, along with other projects including Capitol Crimes, a television series based on Warren Adler’s Fiona Fitzgerald mystery novels, as well as a feature film based on Warren Adler and James Humes’ WWII thriller, Target Churchill, in association with Myles Nestel and Lisa Wilson of The Solution Entertainment Group. Warren Adler has just launched Writers of the World, an online community for writers to share their stories about why they began writing. Explore more at www.warrenadler.com