Thursday, October 23, 2008

Would the Last Honest Reporter Please turn on the lights

BTW: The article above appears in a Mormon Newspaper. I, however, am not a Mormon

There was a rather interesting study done at (I believe) Princeton several years ago that shows an inverse relationship between the level of competence an individual thinks they have in a field and the level of competence their peers perceive them having. In other words, bad employees do not know they are bad employees because they don't know enough to know what they are doing is wrong. This study actually made me feel good about my job because I know what I do and worry over the areas that I need to improve. Thus, because I can see my own weakness I can have some assurance that I am not as totally incompetence as I sometimes feel. (Proving a positive by a negative is a favorite trick used by many philosophers and merely shows that we are as weird as most people think we are.)

I think that in large parts of the US and indeed the world we can see a very scary version of this idea.

Conservative politicians and thinkers in the US often use the term "Liberal Media Bias" and it is this that Science Fiction author Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game) is complaining about in this article. However, I do not like that term. What is going on is not "Liberalism" which is the promotion of freedom and human dignity but something else. That something else could be either incredibly idiotic or extremely sinister but is, I think, probably a form of the perceived and actual competence cognitive dissonance people experience in their careers.

I was watching the financial news on Bloomberg the other day when they interviewed left wing economist Paul Krugman. I don't agree with Mr. Krugman but he always comes across as a nice guy and I enjoy hearing him. He was actually asked about media bias in a softball way and gave a rather standard left wing answer about how the media are part of the establishment, are business and can't be either conservative or liberal because bla, bla, bla. I normally get kind of upset at this this line of reasoning which I've heard several times over the years. I'd always assumes that this argument was a ruse, a red herring to throw the hounds off the sent; an argument so bizarre that opponents are left flabbergasted and trying to refocus the argument on actual facts. I could, if I wished write a vigorous refutation of Mr. Krugman's ideas on this point and the PhD in Philosophy that I hold gives me at least the nominal credentials to do so. However, what struck me the other day, that I'd never considered before is that he actually believes it.

I'd always assumed that the obvious bias seen by many people in the way news is reported by the US media was intentional. But, what if it isn't? What if newspaper and television reporters cannot see their bias because they believe so strongly in their lack of bias? What if there is a form of incompetence at work and they do not even know how biased they are?

This whole issue is why despite my general euro-phobia I like the UK papers. When you pick up "The Guardian" you know where they stand, they know where they stand, and they don't try to hide it or fool me into thinking they don't have an agenda. The same is true of the "The Sun" and the "Times of Londonistan." UK papers take an editorial position and make no pretense that the rest of their news isn't slanted in that direction as well. That, in my opinion is a better approach than the New York Times claiming to be unbiased.

This problem gets worse when incompetence is combined with a sense of infallibility and moral certitude. I believe that these two character traits, unknowing incompetence and a sense of moral infallibility are why newspapers are a dying species in the US. It is also why it is impossible to argue with a journalist. They have such a well developed sense of infallibility that they can never admit that they are wrong. Thus, I normally resort to ignoring them as my only other option would involve violence. As strange as it sounds, I'd never considered the possibility that they actually believe in their own lack of bias.

Where the rubber meets the road in this issue is where am I as blind as they? I see their faults; can I see my own?

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who isn't a Newspaperman

No comments: