What’s Wrong with the Media

From Aaron Swartz: The Weblog:

I should be clear that I think the news has no liberal bias, and in fact has a strong conservative bias.

It’s hard to find a direct comparison, but take a thought experiment. If Al Gore was president, on the anniversary of 9-11 all the major news outlets would have said things like “Al Gore is under increasing public pressure, after having spent two years searching and still not found Osama.” But because Bush is president, they said nothing.

Now a lot of this can be explained by a bias towards reporting what other people are doing. The democrats are too timid to make a fuss about not finding Osama, so the media doesn’t bother to report on it. But even then I’m skeptical. The media picks up stories from conservative outlets (Clinton scandals) but not liberal ones (Plame affair). And they seem to do investigations into lies by liberals (Gore said he visited a site with James Lee Witt when he visited 14 other sites but not that one with him), but not conservatives (Bush said that “by far the vast majority of my tax cuts go to those at the bottom” when the bottom 60% get 14%).

But the journalists themselves don’t vote conservative, and aren’t socially conservative. So why are the stories skewed?

The conclusion that makes the most sense to me is that the media has a conservative political bias, caused by continuous pressure from conservatives to cover stories favorable to them.

Here’s what I want:

I want schools to teach critical thinking skills so that future citizens can sort facts out from fiction and are skeptical of claims by both sides. Unfortunately, schools (structurally) end up teaching the exact opposite — believe (and memorize) whatever is said by authority (the teacher) without questioning and regurgitate it when asked.

I want the media to simply provide the most important information while filtering out inaccuracies. Unfortunately, they’re a total failure at this, spending gobs of time on the least important information and amplifying the spread of falsehoods. I think that when 70% of the country thinks Saddam is related to Al-Qaeda, it’s a dereliction of duty for the news not to prominently correct this.

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