Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Perception Is Reality (and Vice Versa)

By Conrad Spencer

The myth of the liberal bias in mainstream media (that's "MSM", to those who rail against it) has always troubled me greatly. How, if the media is so liberally biased, does Dubya slide from 9/11 to Katrina with an ease that makes Slick Willy seem chafed by comparison?

The media is biased, but rather than a conservative or liberal political bias, the bias is to profitability. Slate's Jack Shafer highlights a new study by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro, both of the University of Chicago, that moves a step beyond that kernel of common sense to explore how the profit bias influences the reporting of the news.

Rather than walking the line between the conservative and the liberal, news organizations must present accurate coverage without upsetting audience expectations too much. That the news should be accurate seems simple enough, but what this study seems to indicate is that the perception of accuracy trumps the real thing. Up-end consumer's schema of the world and you're seen as unreliable. Get contradicted by a different news source and the same fate awaits.

As millions of dittoheads have known for years, it feels good to have your views endorsed and reinforced in print and over the airwaves. Add that maxim to the truth that violence, mayhem, and death are pretty cool to watch from the comfort of your sofa, and you have a recipe for profitable journalism.

For the Fourth Estate to really fulfill its role in our democracy, it should be shaking people loose from their preconceptions, not parroting them back. When the news seeks to bolster our perceptions of the world, and we in turn base our perceptions on what we see in the news, we can quickly find ourselves in a hall of mirrors in which our "reality" bears only the slightest resemblance to our neighbor's. Not only does this destroy "community" in any meaningful sense, it makes political discourse nearly impossible.


At 10:42 PM, Blogger Cassandra D said...

The same problem afflicts the Bush Administration. Too many people in positions of power just tell them what they want to hear. Remember "We will be greeted as liberators"? Either top officials were deaf to other views or the other views were filtered out before they even had a chance to be heard. We need bravery not only from our news media but also from all those unnamed, unknown beaurocrats.

At 11:17 AM, Blogger John F. Opie said...

Hi -

Oh, I see. The fact that most reporters are democrats doesn't mean anything.

I see. The "fake but accurate" dogma of the MSM really helps the public believe in the accuracy of what is being reported. The vociferous language of the press doesn't point to their bias, but rather to their independence. Hah!

Right. The Fourth Estate has abjectly failed in its quest to change the world, shattering on the reality that most people really don't care about what is going on in the world. Making the news up in order to gain points with your peers is a really great way to further your career, but journalists are so incompetent and ignorant that they can't even write the news up, let along understand it.

The media is biased. The newspapers write that which readers buy the newspapers to read, but the reporters and the editors shape what appears on the page. The problem is that their perception of reality is that they are the ones who make reality: if it doesn't get published, maybe no one will noticed that it happened. The perception of reporters is that they are the ones making the news: if they don't report it, it never happened.

So when reality slaps them in the face - Hi, Dan - they don't understand that they are failing completely to understand that they don't make reality. And they are doing a massive disservice that is being rewarded in the marketplace: the reason that the MSM is doing so badly is that people are getting tired of second-rate reporting.


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