Want unbiased news? If so, you’re in good company. According to a Pew Research survey released in January, 78% of Americans believe it is never acceptable for news media to favor a political party in reporting current events.
Why is it, then, that so many of us get our news from biased sites that align with our views?
In the same survey, when asked how much they trust media reports on political issues, only 47% of Americans responded that media’s coverage is fair and balanced. Given the current political climate, this should surprise no one.
What is surprising about this study, though, is this finding:
On the question of whether their news media cover political issues fairly, for example, partisan differences appear in 20 of the 38 countries surveyed. In five countries, the gap is at least 20 percentage points, with the largest by far in the U.S. at 34 percentage points….
The U.S. is also one of only a few countries where governing party supporters are less satisfied with their news media than are nonsupporters.
Interestingly, the survey also revealed that those who are less educated want unbiased news just as much as those who are more educated. [See this chart.] This may come as a surprise to my liberal friends who are quick to label those who support the Trump administration as ignorant and uneducated. But only 21% of Republican Party supporters—no matter their level of education—are satisfied with media coverage. And even among Democratic Party supporters, only slightly more than half are satisfied.
The results of this survey seem to suggest that, in the absence of an easy way to detect bias in our news coverage, we tend to assume that the biases that align with our own are more objective. As the political divide widens, the danger to our democracy if we continue down this path cannot be understated.
For objective journalism outlets to thrive, they must have readers and viewers. The more consumers flock to media outlets that cater to their views and confirm their biases, the greater the danger becomes that the most objective sources of our news will flail and fold. And the more we read only sources that confirm our views, the more insular and less informed we become.
What can we do about this? As I’ve said before in this blog, as teachers we must do a better job of helping our students recognize media bias. Those teachers who foist their own views on students do more harm than good. We must teach our students to question the arguments they like just as vigorously as those they dislike. We must teach them to seek out the original sources of their news rather than relying on sound-bites or click-bait. We must teach them to distinguish fact from opinion.
And what about those of us who have long since finished our educations? We don’t always do these things either. As individuals we must challenge ourselves to go to the most objective sites first, and we must reward those sites with our loyalty and support. Periodically, we should read or view a source that challenges our own thinking.
Digital and media literacy sites for teachers have some excellent suggestions for students that adults might also find valuable. Here are just two that I’ve found helpful:
- ISTE’s Top 10 sites to help students check their facts. At the top of their list is AllSides, a site that offers views from the left, right, and center in three adjacent columns that allows readers to compare coverage.
- The National Association for Media Literacy Education offers a guide in three languages for parents to help their children question what they see in media. We adults would do well to ask these questions ourselves.
We can’t afford to procrastinate or to dig in our heels and entrench ourselves any more deeply on opposite sides. I had conversations recently with two friends, one a liberal and one a conservative. Both admitted to me that they had almost no close friends who didn’t share their political views. That is just as dangerous as having no friends of other races. I have other friends who tell me they hate holiday dinners because they can’t have a civil conversation about politics even with family members they love.
We must find ways to bridge this divide, just as we want our lawmakers to do. And if we can’t do it face-to-face, we can at least start by changing our habits in the media we consume.
What can you commit to do?