Tuesday, November 2, 2010

To everyone who thinks MSNBC = Fox News. I'll try to be nuanced.

Hello off-line friends, Facebook friends, fellow Americans, and fellow Global news watchers.

I've been watching the MSNBC commentary and the short Q&A's they tried to have with Republicans who either won or whose endorsee has won.

The link to the Q&A's will be here: ____________________ (when I get it).

I want to address something that has been either implied or explicitly stated: that MSNBC and Fox News are two sides of the same coin. Equally partisan and biased and differing only in direction. Like the Capulets and Montagues, the Hatfields and McCoys, the Phantom Tollbooth's dueling kings of Dictionoplois and Digitolopolis these pairs of news stations hide behind their "hatred" for each other the one thing they will never admit to sane, rational bystanders: that they are equally insane, destructive, self-interested, smug, and disingenuous about any claim they make about "fighting for a greater good".


It's a hell of claim. To make it and justify it one would need to study both Fox and MSNBC carefully and make lists of claims made by each. Personally I think it would be most informative to focus on the contradictory claims each made about the same thing. Then do some reality testing. This may include looking at the "unbiased" news networks like NPR and BBC. Though there's probably room to look further. Perhaps checking appropriate stats on the government site. See what the real numbers are. Fact Check.org might be another source. You all have a lot more knowledge in many areas that I do not have, so I bet you can add to this or figure out which of my suggestions might be done more efficiently or skipped entirely.

But how many of you have done such an analysis?


I myself have not done something like this. I watch primarily MSNBC with some CNN. Since coming to NYC, I've seen a lot of NY1. I haven't listened to much NPR since maybe the few times from a couple years ago. And rarely, rarely do I watch BBC. I've seen Fox slightly more often.

I will agree with all of you that I would benefit strongly from watching NPR and BBC and taking their words into account especially when they claim that one of my favorite MSNBC commentators has fudged facts or even out right lied (have not heard this, but stand to be corrected). My first desire, the passions of confirmation bias perhaps, would be to see if Rachel Maddow or any of them would rebut it. My knowledge-craving part of the brain ought to go beyond this.

I will agree with you all that busy lives and schedules means we are limited in how much research we can do. For this reason picking a "sure bet" for unbiased news, like NPR and BBC, would at least keep a busy person well-informed if not fully and completely informed.

I will also add that while I keep insisting that you folks haven't proven that NPR and BBC are as unbiased as you think they are, the cognitive shortcuts you took in making that call (reporting facts without anger, not calling anybody a negative name, etc) are pretty-good cognitive shortcuts. As a graduate-level psychology student and an experienced person in life, I have come to respect the wisdom of quicker decision-making (and the unknown field of stereotype accuracy) even though such heuristics generally are less accurate than the slow and deliberate processes for which all social scientists have different labels.

But still the slow and deliberate thought/research/inference processes will usually catch what the cognitive shortcuts miss. Have any of you ever seen Rachel Maddow's interviews with people she disagrees with? Yes, she really tries to have dissenting thinkers on her show. Check out her interviews with Rand Paul, ex-gay advocate Richard Cohen, Pat Buchanan, (I'll list others as I look them up). And check out the follow-up commentary on that interview the next day's show.

Lawrence O'Donnel's interviews with Ron Paul and tonight's Q and A with Eric Cantor who would not answer a question on a deficit ceiling no matter how many times Lawrence asked it.

Chris Matthew's tough questions to conservatives and Republicans, like tonight's questions he asked to Michelle Bachman who would not answer Chris' question about Bachman's on-video statements about calling for an investigation of any Congressmembers with"Un-American thinking".

If I had more time (or at least more discipline) I might want to switch to Fox to see if they might rebut how these guys asked these questions, but these Q/A clips from tonight seem straightforward. If I see otherwise, I have to post another blog to correct what I'm saying here.


I am betting a lot of you have responsibilities that I don't have. Families to care for, whether kids, partners, or financially-struggling parents. Even if it's just you, I imagine your still dealing with student loans and are probably doing part-time or full-time jobs, maybe while still in school and against your academic adviser's advice. I can't know how hard it is for you to find time to watch and study news. Neither me nor anyone can make any claims about your "laziness" without doing a full and complete objective analysis of how you spend your time and even that would be flawed because 1) you have a right to be left alone 2) no "objective analysis" can define the personal human values you use to guide your day to day choices. You have a right to these values.


What I can say is that no matter what the reason is for why any of us can't do a thorough analysis to justify (or disprove) such a claim like MSNBC = Fox, what we can't do is make such a claim. We could say the same for the opposite claim: that MSNBC is NOT= to Fox. BUT, which of these two is the more reasonable assumption (pending a thorough comparative analysis)?

Perhaps I have to concede that I can't claim that MSNBC is better than Fox, or that NPR and BBC isn't better than MSNBC. I haven't done the homework to justify that. I may have good reasons for not doing that homework, but I still need to it to make those claims with reasonable confidence.

BUT, I would propose this hypothesis: That MSNBC is better than the "unbiased" news in connecting the dots to draw legitimate and objective moral conclusions. How do you get an objective moral conclusion? Isn't morality just an opinion?

That was not the consensus when Carl Paladino said his garbage about homosexuality so soon after the gay teen suicides. Nor was it the case when Anderson Cooper asked an Assistant Attorney General why he is following around a gay college student and blogging about him being a Nazi. The AG said "it's nothing personal". Anderson interjected: "well of course it is. your following him around. making comments about his family, etc. you can't say it wasn't personal".

Was Anderson being "biased" when he asked this accusatory question?

Are you being biased when you claim MSNBC = Fox?

When Rachel talks about candidates that oppose abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, is she really being "biased" when she says that this candidate is in support of "the government forcing the woman to bear the rapist's child"? Or is she just saying the moral truth that the "unbiased" news stations feel is too "biased" to say?

I would remind all of you who took some form of ethics course to review what you learned about moral relativism. Use these principles as a guide to help you understand what I am trying to say here.

I hope that, busy schedules permitting, there will be interesting commentary after I post this on Facebook.


cynthia said...

Well done, H. I think comparing each news station's claims on the same issue/fact is really a good way to compare. And I agree with you--I do think that MSNBC has seen that the type of ratings that come with angry, loud, outspoken and unbiased journalists such as Fox's, is good for the network. Still, MSNBC seems far more responsible as journalists, not just spin doctors or televangelists.

cynthia said...

Well done, H. I think comparing each news station's claims on the same issue/fact is really a good way to compare. And I agree with you--I do think that MSNBC has seen that the type of ratings that come with angry, loud, outspoken and unbiased journalists such as Fox's, is good for the network. Still, MSNBC seems far more responsible as journalists, not just spin doctors or televangelists.

Harry834 said...

Just saw your comments, C. Thank you very much.