Here’s a worthy question to begin with: How well do we really perceive each other and our world?
This 40-minute investigation by The Center for Humane Technology is from their program “Your Undivided Attention.”
For illumination within these dark forests, Media Bias Fact Check (MBFC) covers over 5,000 publications around the world.
Next is an eye-opening podcast on the history of “fake news” from Andie Tucher, a professor at the School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York. She takes us through 400 years of fake news in America, beginning with a story published in 1690. Today, of course, given the the speed, anonymity, and reach of the Internet it’s much easier to get away with faking it. Her book is Not Exactly Lying: Fake News and Fake Journalism in American History (published March 2022).
Yes, synthesizers, especially those who distill truth from chaos, are deeply valuable and necessary for our world. Among the best is Heather Cox Richardson, an independent American historian who works from her home on the coast of Maine, gifting the world with a daily column, Letters From an American, that brilliantly weaves common sense with keen research.
Here is Ms Ricardson on the responsibility for journalists (and all of us) to seek truth over “objectivity,” in her comments (6/8/23) about avoiding the misdirection of “bothsides” to an issue:
Yale scholar of authoritarianism Timothy Snyder today applied this idea to coverage of the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine, which has rained down humanitarian, ecological, and economic disaster on Ukrainians as they appear to be launching a counteroffensive to the Russian invasion of their country.
Snyder warned journalists not to “bothsides” the story by offering equal time to both sides. “What Russian spokespersons have said has almost always been untrue, whereas what Ukrainian spokespersons have said has largely been reliable. The juxtaposition suggests a false equality,” he wrote. “The story doesn’t start at the moment the dam explodes. For the last fifteen months Russia has been killing Ukrainian civilians and destroying Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, whereas Ukraine has been trying to protect its people and the structures that keep them alive.” “Objectivity does not mean treating an event as a coin flip between two public statements,” he said. “It demands thinking about the objects and the settings that readers require for understanding amidst uncertainty.”
Meanwhile, back in the trenches of city journalism, these are the nine newspapers and wire services that appear most often on the “most trusted” lists:
British Broadcasting Corporation is the world’s largest international broadcasting network, broadcasting speeches, discussions, digital and radio news in over 40 different languages across the world.
Moreover, as it is funded by the British government, it is not under the influence of any corporation.
New York Times
The NYTimes is the third most circulated newspaper in the world. Since it’s establishment in 1851, it has won a total of 127 Pulitzer Prizes, the highest number by any newspaper.
In discussions about ethical journalistic standards, the NYTimes is most often cited as a prime example.
Despite it’s factual and highly transparent reporting, it has been known to be slightly left-leaning, especially when it comes to political news.
This major American daily is owned by Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon) and is one of the big three national newspapers including the NYTimes and Wall Street Journal. The Post’s editorial page is center-left in comparison to the NYTimes.
Public Broadcasting Service
PBS is a USA-based, non-profit, public broadcaster and TV program distributor, well trusted by both Democrats and Republicans.
Funding of the PBS comes from member station dues, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, private foundations and individuals. It is subject to a protocol that prevents influence on programming.
James Wilson established The Economist in September 1843 in London. It has published its magazine-styled weekly newspaper ever since.
The Economist is clear about its editorial stance. It supports classic economic liberalism: free trade, globalisation, free immigration, and cultural acceptance. Nonetheless, it is known for thorough editing, based firmly on the facts. Also, it does not display bylines.
National Public Radio
NPR is a non-profit organization that makes radio programming for public stations throughout the USA. It has a reputation of being left-leaning but also of being truthful. Its journalists are, in fact, highly respected in their search for truth.
Wall Street Journal
The editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal are quite conservative, but the paper has proved itself to be a trusted source of authentic information.
It is owned by News Corporation, run by the conservative Murdoch family. Some of their media outlets have a reputation for spreading biased and inaccurate news. Regardless, the WSJ has retained a good reputation for authentic and unbiased news. It is the second most circulated newspaper in the United States and has won 37 Pulitzer Prizes.
Owned by Thomson Reuters, Reuters is one of the most trusted wire services, providing news to newspapers, radio, and television stations. It has a huge network of journalists that send reports from throughout the world.
Reuters is well known for its “value-neutral approach” to minimize bias. Furthermore, its journalists adhere to the Reuters “Handbook of Journalism” – known as an excellent resource for any reporter.
Founded in 1846, AP is a US based non-profit wire service, more or less similar to Reuters. It reports news in English, Spanish, and Arabic. It is a symbol of factual and unbiased news and has won 53 Pulitzer Prizes.
For quick comparison, here’s the Forbes list of trusted sources from 2017.
The search for truth is of course rarely easy and often unsatisfying. Here are a few basic suggestions in seeking voices we can trust:
- Use information from various sources (including those with opinions different than yours).
- Try to detect bias and propaganda.
- Be conscious of our own biases.
- Consider the context of what we are hearing or reading.
- Accept that truth is often not what we hope it to be.
In the 1980’s (as a visiting lecturer at Babson College in Boston), I designed and taught a course to help students discover what’s truly happening in the world. THI is currently researching — from curricula across the continents — dozens of way more recent (!) examples of such a course, as we intend to develop a “positive change curriculum” for high school and college students. TB
This introduction to “bias, symbolism and propaganda” from National Geographic is aimed at grades 5-8..
How hard, in fact, is it to trust each other? Here’s a simple, graceful, 4-minute film that helps answer this question.