This past weekend, the NPR program On the Media explored the question, “Does NPR have a liberal bias?” (I’ll let you listen for yourself to find the results.) Of course, the question of bias in the media is ever-present, never more so than during a Presidential election year. As acknowledged by the OTM piece, most charges of bias these days are expressed by conservatives against the mainstream (aka “corporate”) media, which the conservatives say have a “liberal bias”. Some, like Senator Rick Santorum, take it even further, proclaiming that “the media will never be on our side.”
But is it really bias that’s the issue? Or just a different approach to viewing, and discussing, the world.
Journalists question everything. I mean, that’s their job. Not just questions with factual answers in order to gather facts, but the hard questions that have no easy answers to help provide some understanding and context. They are – the good ones are – systems thinkers who see the world as a dynamic environment in which things change, in which the adjacent possible is ever-expanding, and they are trying to make sense of it all.
Conservatives, on the other hand, almost by definition question nothing. The world is the way it is, we don’t need to understand why it’s that way, there is no need to question it. Taken to an extreme, they don’t just deny the expansion of the adjacent possible, they deny its existence altogether. (This isn’t limited only to politics, and applies anywhere there is a vested interest in maintaining a status quo; look at any highly structured organization, maybe the company you work for, to see this in action.)
So what happens when “question everything” meets “question nothing”? Is that bias? Depends on who you ask. I say, “That’s not bias, that’s just good journalism.”
[You may ask, “What about liberals?” They are a little bit tricky to pin down; I would say they question some things. (A cop out, I know.) Individual liberals will have strongly held beliefs that are beyond question, along with a set of more fluid beliefs with which they are willing to openly engage. Not all liberals are systems thinkers, but – as a whole – liberals tend to accept the existence and ongoing expansion of the adjacent possible. In general, questioning their beliefs does not trigger charges of bias but rather begins a conversation.]