Win Some, Lose Some

Coke or Pepsi

Miracle Whip or Mayonnaise

Big Mac or Whopper

iPhone or Galaxy

Rap or Country

Republican or Democrat or ______

We all have our tastes and preferences, and we make our choices accordingly. Sometimes we like our options. Other times, we choose what we dislike least.

And so it goes with our elections—especially last week’s. Like you, I “won” some and “lost” some. (Thankfully, my life goes on because I don’t define my hopes and dreams or faith in America by which person or party is in office. That would be giving them way too much credit.)

But, after observing the aftermath of this election, I’d like to share a couple of thoughts to help us keep things in perspective:

  1. Our nation is clearly divided, but this shouldn’t be news to anyone. In most of my voting years, the Presidential election is always pretty close. Usually, only a few percentage points separate the winner from the loser. So, you should expect half the people will disagree with you! And, yes, they did their homework, too.
  2. Knowing this, the question is how we deal with our victories and losses. Are we constructive or destructive in the aftermath? Do the winners rub it in? Or, do they respond with humility and kindness, knowing that the losers may be struggling with fear, anger, or disappointment? Do the losers resort to whining, blaming, name calling, protesting, and shaming to make the winners feel guilty or stupid? Do they really believe these misguided efforts to “enlighten” will change minds? No, they reinforce!
  3. Let’s remember that citizens consider many different factors when casting votes. What tips the scales one way or the other may be the candidate’s person, specific policies (of which there are many), party loyalty, or other factors. Our decisions are not only influenced by the candidates’ philosophies and positions, but also in how we uniquely weigh their importance. I might emphasize economic policy and someone else foreign policy or social issues, and that’s okay. For these reasons, it is highly presumptuous (not to mention silly, useless, arrogant, and obnoxious) to judge another’s votes. Please, let’s stop this.
  4. There is a tremendous disconnect between the worldview composition of the “mainstream” media and college complexes with the people of the United States. In other words, our population is much more philosophically and politically diverse than are our primary news sources and the educators teaching our young adults. This imbalance is a concern. Judging by our governorships, congressional memberships, and the White House, our nation’s political offices (and our general elections) are quite balanced between Republicans and Democrats. Therefore, so long as our primary media outlets and college educators’ worldviews are skewed (presently Leftward) rather than balanced, there are significant implications:
    1. We are more subject to bias and alarm (intended or otherwise) and less likely to understand different points of view and election outcomes we may not like. If our news and opinion sources are primarily Left-or Right-leaning, we are more apt to consider their information as unbiased truth, when it’s often opinion. In contrast, when we pursue a variety of information sources with differing worldviews, we develop more complete, objective, and informed arguments.
    2. We become more polarized and intolerant of differing views, considering people who disagree with us as uninformed, misguided, or worse. We argue rather than respectfully seek mutual understanding and new perspectives. Or, sadly, as is becoming more prevalent on college campuses, we simply shut others down. Ironically, we often agree on the ends, but simply differ about the means to achieve them! A good example of this is the use of tax cuts or government spending to stimulate the economy. Reasonable and really smart people disagree!
    3. We lose friendships. Now, this is just dumb.

The bottom line is that, politically, we are pretty much a 50/50 nation because of legitimate differences of opinion. So, let’s be respectful and resilient. When elections don’t go our way, let’s spend a little more time respecting the judgments of others, accepting that we don’t hold a monopoly on truth, learning more about opposing views, diversifying our friendship circles and information sources, and finding constructive ways to advocate for our positions the next time around.

And, yes, there will be a next time. After all, we Americans are a fickle bunch.

Be On Guard for Media Bias

Consider this hypothetical set of facts: the US Government just reported that the nation’s GDP (gross domestic product, an indicator used to gauge the health of a country’s economy) grew at 4.0 percent last quarter. This compares with 6.0 percent for the prior quarter and 3.2 percent for the long-term average.

How might this be reported by the purveyors of our news?

Well, first let me tell you how I’d report it: “US economic growth remained strong by historical standards, although it decelerated from the previous quarter.” Accurate and unbiased.

But, let’s say that the media outlet is biased in favor of the sitting President. You’re liable to see something like: “US economic growth remained stellar by historical standards in the latest report, exceeding the long-term average by 25 percent!”

Now, let’s say the news outlet is biased against the sitting President. You’re more likely to see something like, “US economic growth plunged 33 percent from the prior quarter, causing some to believe a recession is on the horizon.”

See the difference? The fact is, media bias is everywhere! And, in election years like now, it’s on steroids!

 I must confess that when I was 18, I had no clue about how much distortion, bias, embellishment, selective reporting, and outright falsehoods exist within the media and among supposed authority figures. We assume that our news reports are accurate and truthful, until we realize that many outlets have an agenda. After all, they have a bully pulpit and can influence our perception of the facts. And, the uninformed and undiscerning will never know. But, not you!

Here are some of the more common clues that your news sources have a slant:

  • Their sensational headlines steer readers toward the perception they want
  • Their opinions don’t stay on the editorial page, confusing readers over what is fact versus what is spin; their opinions are embedded in the articles, often by emphasizing “experts” that reinforce their view
  • They locate positive news items (to their leaning) in the front pages and negative reports toward the back
  • They deliberately feature news items favorable to their views while avoiding news hostile to their view (note this is incredibly common and difficult to detect because one needs to review sources on both sides to notice what’s missing)
  • During elections, their editorial boards strongly favor candidates of one party over the other
  • They take “snipits” of comments or video clips out of context to deliberately mislead
  • They “rereport” articles from news agencies and sources friendly to their editorial leanings

In addition to the print and online journalists, we also observe media bias in our national news reporting and, especially, among radio shows. In addition to the above list, it’s commonly revealed by: 1) the mix of guests they select (skewing in their “favor,” 2) the nature of questions they ask during interviews (often editorialized and slanted), 3) the tone and body language they exhibit with their guests (friendly versus hostile), and 4) the airtime they allow guests favorable versus disagreeable to their views.

Interestingly, when you review the national and state political scene in our country, Americans are essentially split in their leanings. However, studies consistently report that America’s news media and college professors lean left of center, on average. It’s something to be aware of as we filter our news.

The bottom line is this: some try to inform, some try to persuade, and some think they’re informing when they’re really persuading in disguise. That’s why being a discerning skeptic of all we read, hear, and watch is so important.

So, in this election year, have your media (and professor) bias detector on overtime, and use this season as a learning experience for your children and students. Have them watch/read/listen to folks on the political Left like Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, and news sites like the New York Times and Slate), and contrast that with the reporting you’ll receiving on the Right from the likes of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and the National Review. Watch the post-debate commentaries on different news networks to gauge their different perspectives and angles.

It’ll be an eye opener, for sure.

How do you detect media bias? Do you factor it into your interpretation of the news? Do you consciously seek out alternative views when you develop your political opinions?

Be a Discerning Skeptic

Consider the following (hypothetical) news release: “The government reported third quarter economic growth at 5.4 percent. This compares with 6.0 percent for the second quarter and a long-term average of 3.0 percent.”

 Now, pretend you’re a journalist charged with reporting “the news.” If it were me, I would say something like, “Third quarter growth remained strong by historical standards, although it decelerated modestly from second quarter levels.” This is an accurate portrayal of the facts.

 So what do you think happens when the journalist and his or her news publication don’t care for the sitting president and his political party? In today’s biased news media, you’re more likely to see something like the following: “Third quarter economic growth fell a disappointing 0.6 from second quarter levels, causing some to believe a slowdown is at hand.”

 See the difference?

Most people have no clue about how much distortion, bias, embellishment, and outright falsehoods exist within the media and among supposed “authority figures.” You see it in infomercials (this or that miracle diet or hair loss cure), political campaigns (“I will reduce spending”), investment experts (“Now is the time to invest in ___”), news stories that are editorials in disguise, and even in college classrooms (professors conveying their opinions as fact and discriminating against students who happen to disagree).

 Don’t let anyone pull the wool over YOUR eyes. Learn to be a discerning skeptic of everything you read and hear …

There was a time when the news media and America’s universities were more balanced in reporting news and views, but those days are long gone. You can detect it in how they convey the “facts,” as well as in what they choose to report (news contrary to their opinion is often ignored altogether or is shown in fine print on page 17 where no one will read it). Increasingly, we see media outlets with a strong political slant completely color the news through their own lens—rather than reserving their opinions for the editorial page.

 

How do you deal with this unfortunate situation? Here are a couple of suggestions for remaining well informed and not being easily misled:

  • Try to get all sides of an issue. Be wary of people who are unable or unwilling to convey the opposing view or who won’t acknowledge what is fact and what is opinion.
  • When it comes to political campaigns, recognize that candidates will tell you what they think you want to hear (and hope you’ll forget by the next election!)
  • When it comes to news outlets, 1) watch different channels with different political tendencies (e.g. , Fox News versus CNN) and 2) look at the election endorsements of your newspaper to gauge their political tendencies
  • Remember if it sounds too good to be true, it isn’t
  • Read the footnotes and caveats in infomercials and in any advertisements or promotions

  

The bottom line is whenever there’s an agenda or an incentive, you can expect a positive or negative spin and selective sampling and reporting of the “facts.“ It’s an increasingly biased world out there so be on the lookoutl                                                          


Do you believe most of what you read and hear from news outlets? Have you noticed how closed minded some are to differing points of view? How do you think this influences our culture, and young people in particular? Please share your comments with us; we’d love to hear your experiences and point of view!