Posts Tagged ‘Media’

If we must have a hugely invasive national security state, let’s at least listen to it

Posted on October 13, 2014 at 11.21 am

This month’s long article at The Week is about how and why Americans are so much more scared of ISIS than even our intelligence agencies say we need to be—and the damaging consequences that fear has for foreign policy:

I am no fan of America’s national security state, which continues to grow steadily larger, more intrusive, and increasingly dismissive of civil liberties. The NSA has removed all expectations of privacy in digital communications, and the TSA is, at best, inept security theater. The Department of Homeland Security’s “If you see something, say something” campaignimagines a terrorist around every corner, while the CIA is busy spying on Congress and torturing away the rule of law.

But sometimes, America’s intelligence agencies are actually the voice of reason, offering a far less scary view of security threats than public perception or political pontificating provides. But we don’t listen.

Perhaps nowhere is this phenomenon more obvious than in an unjustified level of fear of ISIS, says Karen Callaghan, a political scientist at Texas Southern University who researches framing in political discourse about terrorism. If you listen to our hyperventilating national media and bloviating lawmakers, you’d think ISIS presented America with an existential threat. For instance, pointing to media coverage of graphic acts of terror (like beheadings), Callaghan says that this “hyperpublicizing” makes it “difficult for Americans to separate out the truth, difficult to decipher how worried they should be.”

Americans are scared of ISIS. More than 70 percent believe that there are ISIS terror cells in the United States, while 90 percent believe ISIS poses a real threat to America, and 45 percent label the threat “very serious.”

But that assessment is nowhere close to the reality of the ISIS threat.

Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have repeatedly announced their consensus that ISIS is not an immediate threat to America. General Martin Dempsey, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says there’s no evidence that ISIS is occupied with “active plotting against the homeland.”DHS reports ISIS is not in Mexico, attempting to infiltrate the southern border. The FBI swatted down any notion that ISIS is planning an attack in the New York City subway system.

This mismatch between public perception and intelligence reports is not unique to ISIS. Indeed, it has been frustratingly consistent in Iran policy for years. No less than 16 American intelligence agencies agreed in 2012 that Iran had no nuclear weapons in development — a conclusion that apparently stands today. But Americans are consistently concerned that the United States is not doing enough to stop the “threat” of Iran getting nukes.

It’s understandable, of course, that so many Americans are scared: We are consistently told that we should be, a drumbeat of fear which Callaghan argues “elevates risk perceptions and diminishes the capacity for rational information processing.”

Read the whole thing here.

Screw ‘Fair and Balanced’—give me biased news any day

Posted on May 9, 2014 at 12.46 pm

This week’s column at Rare is about the fact that the media can never be truly objective…and why we should stop pretending it can.

There’s a reason Fox News claims to be “Fair and Balanced”: Americans want our media to be 100% objective. Give us the straight story, we say, and let us form our own conclusions.

Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.

Completely unbiased news sounds like a nice idea, but in real life it’s 100% impossible.

And you know what? That’s actually a really good thing.

Here’s why: Reporters are people, and people naturally have opinions. Journalists whose job it is to discover, read, and share news are especially likely to have opinions—in part because they get paid to do it, and in part because the sheer volume of news to which they’re exposed will eventually trigger some reactions.

So more than the average citizen, members of the media are likely to have strong views about the stories they’re reporting. And it’s pretty inevitable that some of that perspective is going to leak into their reports, no matter how much a journalist is trying to be objective. Whether in subtleties of word choice, or sources interviewed, or photo selection, it isn’t possible for a human reporter to function as a pure conveyor of information. They are, after all, people—not video cameras!

Even the plainest, most robotic report of the facts has some level of bias simply because it’s this story, rather than another, which is given the reporter’s limited attention. How can we expect unbiased journalism when just deciding which news is worth covering is inherently biased?

Now, none of this means that reporters are trying to trick us into believing that their opinions are fact. Sure, some of them are intentionally deceptive, but most of the time it’s just that despite any journalists’ best efforts to be objective, their own views will shape their reporting.

It also shouldn’t be surprising that journalists often work with people who share their opinions—or that we have news organizations with obvious political agendas, which are constantly claiming those agendas don’t exist. We all know how this works: Fox is the Republican National Committee; MSNBC is an extension of the Obama Press Office; CNN is really into planes—you get the idea.

Read the whole thing here.

On news sources & bias

Posted on January 6, 2014 at 11.58 pm

Q. Are there any unbiased news websites you can suggest to me? — cynicalnature, from tumblr.

A. It’s a very common idea — in America, at least — that the news media should be unbiased. But what I want to suggest here is that this is not only impossible, but it’s also undesirable. So I can definitely suggest some websites for news consumption, but let me give a quick rundown of why they won’t be unbiased.


Reporters are people, and people have opinions. People whose job it is to discover, read, digest, and share news are particularly likely to have opinions, in part because they may get paid to do it, and in part because the sheer volume of news to which they’re exposed will eventually trigger some reactions in them.

It is pretty inevitable that some of that perspective is going to leak into news reports, even if the reporter is trying to be “objective”! Whether in subtleties of word choice, or sources selected, or even the topics covered, it is simply not the case that a human reporter can function as a pure conveyor of information. I mean, they’re people, not video cameras.

This doesn’t mean that reporters are bad people, or that they’re trying to trick us into believing that their opinion is fact. It just means that despite any journalists’ best efforts to be objective, their own perspective will shape their reporting — and on a broader level, they may tend to group together with like-minded fellow journalists who share their convictions and interests…and thus we get news organizations which are generally characterizable by a certain identifiable perspective.


So I’ve suggested that unbiased news is, by and large, impossible; but I also want to suggested that it’s undesirable.

It’s a fact of life that journalists have their own viewpoints, and I’d like to have a decent idea of what those are going into a news story. Better “This is where I stand” than pretenses of “fair and balanced,” as far as I’m concerned. When the reporter acknowledges his or her own biases or works for an outlet with a relatively established “bias” (I don’t like that term because of its negative connotation, but we’ll roll with it), the reader is able to consume news content critically, aware of the author’s likely blind spots and peeves.

So that’s why “unbiased” news is undesirable: It doesn’t really exist, so anything claiming that label is actually news with the bias better hidden.

News Sources

Ok, all that said, let’s get to some actual recommendations.

Honestly, my top recommendation is Google News. The big advantage here is that you can search by a topic and access a wide range of outlets which you might not normally encounter. The combination of these different sources won’t give you unbiased news, but it will give you a wide variety of perspectives, which is even better. If there’s enough coverage, they might even label which articles are most popular and which are most in-depth, which can be very helpful.

Beyond that:

  • For stories relating to bizarre regulations, police militarization, and the nanny state, the Reason Blog is often a good aggregator.
  •, of course, is fantastic for foreign policy news and opinion.
  • I always like to check out what Conor Friedersdorf has been up to lately.
  • The American Conservative is a good source for longer (and some shorter) reads which will make you think.
  • Subreddits like r/libertarianr/politics, or r/news can be good to scan to see a wide range of submitted stories. Ditto for the corresponding tumblr tags.
  • Here and here are two posts which together exemplify what I read on an average day.