Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Everyone is biased

I have spent a lot of time since the beginning of the Lebanon war posting about media bias. It is a topic that needs to be emphasized, and very often the biases of the reporters and editors and photographers and videographers will seriously color the news in a certain way.

The problem is that this is unavoidable. The very fact that newspapers have front pages make it unavoidable that someone needs to decide what the top story is, how the headline is written so it fits in a certain space, which picture to use to illustrate the story - all of a myriad of decisions that will, inevitably, end up exposing the subconscious or conscious biases of the editor.

As I have pointed out previously, pictures can show bias by how they are framed, how they are chosen, how the captions are written and even whether they are taken to begin with.

On the flip side, I can well understand how Fox News' claims of being "fair and balanced" is treated with derision by liberals. Of course it isn't. I believe that it is an important counterweight to the vast majority of left-leaning media, but to pretend that it is unbiased is absurd.

To give another example from the "other side" - I just read an Arab News editorial from a woman who wrote two articles, in Arabic, about the sources of Islamic terror. The first one said "Britain’s discrimination and sidelining of immigrant Muslims has been one of the main causes of creating a culture of extremism among Muslims in Britain. " The second said that "certain expressions of extremism among young British Muslims were mainly caused by certain “fatwas” or religious edicts issued by some of our (Saudi) scholars."

The author, Hatoon Al-Fassi, points out that only one of those articles was translated by MEMRI - the second. She is concerned that because people in the West only saw her second article, then the points made in the first are not noticed by anyone except people who read Arabic.

MEMRI has to pick and choose what to publish just like any other media outlet (or blog, for that matter.) It has a bias too.

(The author seems quite comfortable writing in English and I don't see what is stopping her from publishing her own translation about Britain's discriminatory policies - she strikes me as a pretty honest writer and it is all too rare to see well thought out articles in English from the Arab world. From what I can tell, it is a pretty good bet that much of European Muslim extremism comes from the fact that Muslims are not assimilated into society nearly as much as they are in the USA.

(Of course, her comparatively reasoned approach doesn't stop her from saying that MEMRI is "a right-wing organization which supports the Zionist, Israeli enemy." At least she has the honesty to say right afterwards "I am not denying the fact that MEMRI’s translation of my article was accurate and beautifully written." I would much rather hear her opinions than those of most of the hypocritical Arab writers I usually find.)

I strive for truth and accuracy on this blog, but my choice of topics shows my clear biases. Yesterday I had a cordial exchange with a moderator at MideastYouth.com, which appears to be a bastion of free speech forArabs. He mildly criticized one of my articles and pointed out my own inaccuracies and biases, which I was happy to discuss. And I will be thrilled if he finds me examples of moderate Muslims that are overlooked by the mainstream media (which is also a bias.) From thousands of miles away, I only have a limited amount of information to form my opinions, and most of it is from the MSM, directly or indirectly.

This is the greatest promise of the Internet - the ability to gather and report information from sources that are outside the traditional media. Just like cable news has supplanted network news over the past two decades, the Internet has the potential to do the same to the MSM.

The flipside, of course, is that much of the Internet is filled with half-truths and outright lies, and people do not read as critically as they should. Stupidities like 9/11 conspiracy theories can travel over the Internet much faster than the truth can. Just like reporters have biases, so do the consumers who are willing to believe things that jive with their prebaked opinions and ignore any facts that don't fit.

It gets frustrating, but we can only do what we can.