Let’s Get Skeptical…Skeptical

Skepticism invades my brain. It’s a unique skepticism that constantly grows, thanks to the kudzu of evidence  of the innate biases present in all news sources. I’m not referring just to American or Western news sources; I assert that bias infects all news sources. It’s natural, I think. News is presented within the framework of the news organization’s understanding of the society in which it functions. If one’s framework of understanding was built in America by Americans, it’s logical to assume the framework will be biased; it’s “slant” probably will paint a rosier picture of its host society than another news source, one from an “enemy” country for example, might. Iranian or Bosnian or Peruvian news, similarly, are biased because of their frameworks of understanding.

With that as a backdrop, I am skeptical of what I read and hear. Everything. And I’m growing more skeptical every day. I don’t automatically believe what I read or hear on CNN, the New York Times, Fox News, or NPR. Nor do I fully buy into BBC online, Sarajevo Today, the Toronto Star, or Today Venezuela. But I find the news offered by each source informative, if not necessarily completely factual. I learn things I wouldn’t know if I limited my consumption of news to the ones various political parties want me to mainline. Today, for example, I learned by reading an article in the Sarajevo Times (an English-language newspaper) that the relationship between Iran and Bosnia and Herzegovina is strong and growing stronger. And I learned that Chinese President Xi Jinping is viewed, at least by Sarajevo Times (ST) editorial writers, as far more responsible, intelligent, and future-focused than Western leaders.  The paper says the recent “clash of civilizations worldview in the West…is dangerously irresponsible.” I can’t agree more.  Yet I’m skeptical of ST, too, and I read its pronouncements with a healthy assumption that the paper, like others, has a significant credibility deficit.

I suppose my skepticism arises, in part, from the fact that I have to rely on English-language versions of newspapers and television news and other such source. The fact that these news outlets are designed for an English-speaking audience suggests some built-in bias. And I’m always afraid of translations, when stories were not written initially in English; translations seem always to miss the message between the lines. When I discuss a translated article with a native speaker who has read the original (admittedly an extremely rare occurrence), I sometimes pick up on subtle messages that aren’t relayed in the translated version.

The bias in U.S. media is absolutely obvious in some areas. For example, I think it’s impossible to find a single reputable source of news in the U.S. that isn’t inherently biased against Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, China, Russia, and any other country our “leaders” have labeled the “enemy.” Our media accepts that those countries are the “bad” that contrasts with our “good.” Reporting about the embargo against Venezuela, for example, almost always deal with the impact (or lack thereof) of the embargo on the political situation in that country; the unwritten but obvious position of the news media is that the embargo is good. Because it’s “us.” Rarely is the embargo’s impact on Venezuelan citizens examined; how often do we learn about a mother who cannot afford (or simply cannot get access to) diabetes medications for her daughter, thanks to the embargo? Another example of bias slaps me in the face whenever I open a browser window with FoxNews. The pro-Trump drivel is so utterly obvious and appallingly biased that it’s almost impossible to read or watch; but I do, because I want to know what horseshit is being fed to the deeply unthinking masses (I guess I’m rather biased, too, yes?). But the same is true with CNN. CNN once seemed pretty straightforwardly “news and nothing but news. ” Today, it is a biased rag that looks exactly like a propaganda machine. I don’t know what changed. Is it my perspective of what I read and see and hear or, instead, is the content different? Perhaps a bit of both.

Yet none of them (the reputable media) are “fake news,” as the moron who thinks he’s king spouts. They’re just biased; they offer news through a filter that appeals to their sensibilities.

Speaking of Sarajevo, during our recent tour of the Balkans, I got a taste of how one’s perspectives are colored by one’s environment. I grew up in an environment in which Josip Broz Tito was painted as a brutal dictator, a monster responsible for the suffering of Yugoslavians (I touched on this recently, so this paragraph is something of a rehash). Through the lens of many people who lived in the former Yugoslavia during his reign, though, he was a revered leader who brought stability and comfort. Could the reports from news media in Yugoslavia have influenced Yugoslavians’ perspective of the man’s leadership? Of course. And could American news coverage have influenced our views of his leadership? Undoubtedly. In both cases, though, I think it bears considering the extent to which the powers of government to influence news media might have played a part. Might, hell. They do. Governments’ willingness to release information (or not) and the quality and content and scope of information released has to play an enormous role in how we see the world. In my view, that’s not talked about enough. We ought to openly question the extent to which the news that reaches us is manipulated, either overtly or covertly, through government influence. I’m not suggesting the media is government controlled (it is, of course, in some places), but I do suggest the media often has no choice but to accept what it’s told as “truth” when, in fact, it may be entirely manufactured.

In today’s environment, in which the President openly challenges the legitimacy of the media and asserts that any questions or comments that challenge his supremacy are “fake,” I’m afraid the very real biases of the media are being blown into monstrous, artificial assertions that the media is a machine designed to lie for the sole purpose of bringing down the President. The manipulator-in-chief is attempting to use the flaws in the media as entry points for his axes; a tiny crack attracts the blade of his pick like a magnet.

Yes, I’m wandering all over creation with this post. I started on a road that diverged in the wood and took one that led me on a spiral; then it took me across a hatch-work of intersecting paths where all the answers I sought, trodden underfoot, were no longer recognizable. All I want are answers, yet questions are all I find.

That little Frost reference has triggered in me a desire to write some poetry. I think I shall. But not here. Not yet.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Please tell me how this post strikes you.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.