When I agreed to chime in on DeWang of Hidden Harmonies’ discussion about “breaking the mold on Western media bias”, I consciously wanted to avoid getting into any larger discussion of Western media bias, its existence, or how dangerous it is. I tried to be succinct in laying out that it exists and can be dangerous, before going on to give my opinion that DeWang was overzealous in the particular incident he shared. We all have our moments, and I’ve been criticized for such myself.
DeWang posted a response to my opinion. Since it goes straight for a larger discussion of Western media bias, I figure I might as well share some of my reactions, responses, and thoughts in another post, should they be of any interest to general readers. I’ve reposted most of DeWang’s response below with my comments mixed in:
I think there is a big gap in my post I failed to address for people who do not accept that the Western media is so biased in a way that is dangerous for our world. Everything in my post hinges on that premise – that there is agreement the bias is egregious and dangerous.
Again, I agree that there is such a thing as Western media bias, especially when it comes to certain contentious topics and issues (though not all). I agree it can be egregious and it can be dangerous. Where I think DeWang and I may differ is in how quick we look at Western media through those particular lenses. Its like single-issue politics.
Bias does not define the Western media, but it certainly afflicts it like it afflicts any media anywhere. Why? Because it is an extension of the humans behind, within, and before it. It is dangerous because it is influence. Anything of influence can be dangerous. Influence is control and control is power.
Regarding “systematic conspiracy” – I am not arguing one way or another, and to me it’s irrelevant. For example, racists don’t need to conspire to be racists. The extent of their “conspiracy” is that their public display emboldens one another. Likewise, media bias in one outlet reinforces the same behavior in another.
Overall, I feel DeWang is begging for the Western media, individually or as a whole, to exercise more restraint against what he sees as them indulging in their own biases. That’s a wholly understandable sentiment, but its problematic because it is essentially impossible to define and establish some standard of objectivity or fairness for everyone to adhere to. Your “fair” can easily be someone else’s “bias”.
The idea behind a free and private press/media is the marketplace of ideas, the competition of ideas. “Fairness”, to the extent humans can approximate it, lies not in having others say what you want them to say but in being free to say something different — in disagreement or dissent — from them. You dictating what is “fair” reporting to the media is hardly different from someone else dictating a different kind of “fair”. In this world, “fair” is only as “fair” as those who behold it and agree to it being “fair”.
As such, the media outlets we may consider “biased” may not be so to others and — more importantly — may not be so to themselves. Yes, media bias in one outlet can reinforce the same behavior in another, just as one person can influence another, but it isn’t necessarily that both sides know its “wrong” and indulge in it using each other as an excuse. It could very well be what they genuinely believe to make the most sense. So if it doesn’t make sense to you or others, if it isn’t “fair” to you or others, then it falls to you guys to find a way to influence them away from it. When you do so, expect some people to call you “biased” and “unfair”. Welcome to the game.
I am seriously trying to find an “answer” that could prevent that lack of “competition” in the U.S. media which resulted in the last Iraq invasion – for example.
Eh, there was competition, but one side lost. The question is, how did the winners win? By co-opting the U.S. media? How did they do so? Why was the U.S. media so willing to be co-opted? Why were American voters so willing to be co-opted? The answer to why America invaded Iraq is not as simple as “oh, the U.S. media helped deceive everyone”. Part of the answer is that those in dissent, the losing side of the competition, failed. They failed, perhaps, not just at that critical moment, but in every moment leading up to it. That is the failure of every “losing” side in history everywhere. It is universal.
The U.S. media is not some amorphous entity separate from American voters that necessarily “knows better” and thus somehow failed in its paternalistic duty to propagate “truth” to its charges. The U.S. media is fundamentally an apparatus of amplification. While it has influence, it is also susceptible to influence. Again, it is because it is an extension of humans, of fallible creatures. That has been the underlying reason for every failure of every organization and human-reliant system on Earth.
Westerners understand the value of “check and balances.” Why not extend that to the world stage?
They do. It’s called geopolitics. Those who get checked and balanced against will always think it is unfair.
In my post, I talked about asking Professor Noam Chomsky how do we move towards a world that is less “power” based, and his response was that it depends on the “actions the public willing to take.”
The actions the public is willing to take depends on the appeal of the choices they are aware of.
Yes, the U.S. wants Iraq oil, but should it be allowed via an invasion? That’s what I mean. Of course, if you don’t accept the premise that the U.S. media biased the U.S. population into this WMD threat and this bringing of “freedom” to the Iraqis, then my argument to people with the position you have taken is really moot. We need to step back and debate about how egregious and how dangerous it is with the bias.
Well, let’s see, those who invaded Iraq for oil probably don’t care whether they should or shouldn’t, just whether they could or couldn’t. What I don’t accept is the premise that the U.S. media, and the people in it, uniformly intended to deceive everyone it could influence and then set out to systematically do so. I accept that there is bias, and influential bias can become dangerous. However, I don’t think “bias” itself can be eliminated, a solution I feel DeWang is searching for. Instead, I think we can only combat the instances of bias we identify and persuasively arguing our cases. Most people can agree on bias itself being potentially dangerous and, yes, even egregious, but identification and shaming by itself isn’t very practical. We need to compete with the ideas we prefer to be out there, those ideas we consider to be less “biased” or more “fair”.
Chomsky’s response to me was that the main “check” for the U.S. power is the American public.
So what’s the main check for the American public?
“just as there are anti-U.S. narratives in China” – we would have to look at how “unfair” it is on both sides to know truly how dangerous it is with one side vs the other.
I’m afraid someone would say DeWang’s opinion of how “truly” dangerous anti-U.S. narratives in China are versus anti-China narratives in the United States will be “biased”. What then?
Regardless, my point is that biased narratives exist everywhere and recognizing that should help us better understand how they come to be and why they persist. I genuinely feel that going down this avenue of thought will get us closer to combating biased narratives, to achieve an approximation of “fairness” closer to our own subjective desires, than trying to argue who is more biased and whose bias is more dangerous. I mean, seriously, what can we do by arguing the latter?
“American media bias is more dangerous because it is tied to the world’s most powerful military!”
“Well, Chinese media bias is more dangerous because it is tied to the world’s largest population of disaffected young men!”
I’m being facetious, but it really isn’t hard to find all sorts of seemingly reasonable and persuasive “reasons” to argue how one must be more dangerous than the other. The “with great power comes great responsibility” Uncle Ben talk only works when they know they are doing something wrong, willfully indulging in irrational, unreasonable, or unethical biases or deceptions. There needs to be guilt before there can be restraint.
If there isn’t guilt, then what?
That’s a good question, isn’t it? I already gave my answer earlier.
Anyways, forgive me, I didn’t want to go down this path of discussion – to proof media bias. I am not on a crusade looking for more converts – Noam Chomsky has a sufficient following. If you read the Chinese blogs within China, you will know they simply take Western media bias as a fact. Chomsky was invited to talk to the General Assembly recently. So I suspect that view is global.
I’m not surprised many Chinese blogs within China take Western media bias as a fact. Many Western blogs with the West take Chinese media bias as a fact too. They’re even! Better yet, there are Chinese blogs within China that take Chinese media bias as a fact and Western blogs that take Western media bias as a fact too!
There’s less of a need to prove media bias than there is a need to show media bias wherever and whenever it appears. Do the latter well and the former will follow. There are people who do, like Glenn Greenwald (for — mostly American — politics) or The Last Psychiatrist (for potpourri mindfucks). What we’re after is growing individual skepticism towards the influences of mass media and fostering individual research and critical thinking. When we give evidence for “Western media bias”, the emphasis should be on “media bias” rather than “Western”. Be careful of arguing for “Western” as the cause instead of just some identifier. That’s playing to identity politics, a bias in of itself.
The U.S. is a hegemon and the political culture that has formed in the international arena is dominated by “power” – that’s well documented, and that view has been successfully advanced by people like Tsinghua Professor Yan Xuetong. The “check and balance” is crucial for world peace, and the “actions the public willing to take” and the media “fairness” seems to be the only solution. How we get there is really my question.
I don’t think we can ever get away from “power” but we can aspire to power being checked and balanced by power. This arguably cynical view is premised upon my understanding of human fallibility. I don’t think there can be an objective “fairness”, only the “fairness” that the majority can exact from the whole. We will thus get what effort we put in, what “power” we can command. It comes full circle in a way, doesn’t it?