Friday, October 20, 2006

Trust No One.

Several weeks ago, I commented here about what I saw as the undue optimism of predictions that the blogosphere, by making empirical information available to more people, would reduce partisan conflict and increase reasoned, fact-driven political decisionmaking. I was (and am) skeptical, noting that we all too easily discredit the validity of information we disagree with, resulting in a situation where we are more likely to use the wealth of information on the Internet to confirm - rather than challenge - our existing beliefs. If that is accurate, our political discourse is unlikely to be enhanced by the mere availability of more information. As Barack Obama put it this week in David Brooks' NYT column, "Politics, like science, depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality" (emphasis added). Without a common reality, we have no common ground to work from.

The current issue of The Atlantic confirms that we as a society are rapidly losing faith in one possible source from which we could build a common reality: the news media. When asked whether they believed "all or most" of the news from various media outlets, respondents showed a striking tendency to disbelief everyone. Of Republican respondents, only 15 percent believed all or most of the news from CBS; only 26 percent believed all or most of the news from CNN; and only around 30 percent believed all or most of the news from those conservative stalwarts, the Wall Street Journal and Fox News (Fox News ranked slightly higher than the WSJ).

Democratic respondents showed a similar distrust of all things media. Only around 30 percent of Democrats believed all or most of the news from CNN and NPR. Moreover, neither CNN, NPR, Fox or the Wall Street Journal scored above 40 percent with either ideological group. Local newspapers fared no better: only 16 percent of respondents said they "had faith" in their local newspaper (down from 21 percent in 2000).

Obviously, this is not the first time in our history that media outlets have been accused of being unreliable or 0f catering to particular constituencies. But it is troubling nonetheless. If we can't agree on what the facts are, how can we ever agree on appropriate solutions? Do we as a society have any commonly accepted sources of factual information? If not, on what basis can we possibly make sound public policy choices?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful take on the current state of affairs.

Seems to me that in the past the "big three" and the major papers got a pass from the public and were thought to fact based. Now, I believe, people are less inclined to take the majors at face value but rather seek out other sources and come to their own conclusions.

It is as easy at looking at the placement of headlines and stories in the print media as well as listening to the lead in headlines on the major networks.

The agenda becomes quite clear.

10/22/2006 9:02 AM  
Blogger Lori Ringhand said...

It is fine - even good - to be skeptical of purported sources of authority. I'm all for that, actually. But if "coming to [our]own conclusions" means in effect "believing whatever facts best suit my personal agenda" then we as a society have a problem.

Moreover, my question is a sincere one - if we all believe the "facts" that best suit our preexisting preferences, how on earth are we ever to have a reasoned debate about anything controversial? Blind faith in authority plainly is not the answer, but what is?

10/23/2006 4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So...where can we find "just the facts?" Unless you are on the inside are not we always subject to the fact reporter's spin?

10/24/2006 6:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with the media is the far too frequent absence of important facts. The media loses credibility most quickly by focusing reporting on opinion and inuendo. It is extremely rare to read or hear a media report that gives you the essential facts to understand the issues so that a reasoned conclusion can be reached.

I for one don't care whether I'm reading the NYT or the WSJ, if I am able to find the key facts. But even here there is a problem. The facts chosen to be included in a news report often reflect the bias of the particular media outlet.

10/27/2006 4:40 PM  

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