Why the “liberal media bias” is no excuse to stick your head in the sand

I’m getting a little tired of Republicans attacking the integrity of my political positions and assuming that because I don’t agree with them on something, I’ve been duped by the “liberal media”. If you want to actually talk about the issues, then we can. However, avoiding intelligent and reasonable dialogue by questioning the intelligence of anyone who disagrees with you is insulting and only highlights the weakness of your position.

Most Republicans that I talk to always seem to assume that to the extent that I disagree with them, it must be due to my being influenced by the bias and attacks of the “liberal / left-wing media”. What’s worse is that they’re always peddling conservative pundits and commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity as better sources of info. They freak out if I post an article from the Wall Street Journal or The Associated Press, but then gleefully send me articles from CitizenLink, WorldNetDaily, and ExposeObama.com. Many of these people might be surprised to know that I already regularly read articles and posts from sources like that, some for the info and some for the pure comedic value. I’m also happy to check out the ones that I haven’t read before and see if I find anything interesting. I regularly read conservative and Republican blogs and websites, and I look up clips from conservative TV shows when they deal with something interesting. Anytime I’m in the car, I try to listen to political talk radio, which is overwhelmingly conservative. But you have to keep something in mind: for almost ALL of those sources, I am listening to them for their OPINION of the facts, not for the facts themselves. Here’s why:

Almost none of the sources that Republicans (at least the ones I’m always hearing from) trust are sources of original research. In other words, those organizations, which are almost all self-described as being biased to the conservative side, have a mission of giving a conservative viewpoint and perspective to the facts. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is crucial to understand that they are editorial sources, not original sources. They do not send out reporters, they don’t conduct investigations, they don’t interview people, and they don’t cover events live. They are NOT news sources, they are opinion sources.

So ask yourself this: where do THEY get their facts? If you read pretty much any article on any of those types of sources, they talk about how Obama did this and McCain did that and this is what it means. They quote people and they give numbers and they build a case for their opinion. All this is well and good, by the way. But where do they get that information in the first place? What’s the original source? How does Rush know what Obama said at a press conference, or how much McCain has collected in campaign donations, or where Palin was mayor? Where do the quotes and financial numbers come from? Where do the photos come from? None of these organizations are collecting them themselves, so they must be getting them from someone else.

Turns out that they’re getting their facts from the same place I am: the mainstream media. They watch the wire services (Associated Press and Reuters), TV news channels (CNN, MSNBC, Fox), newspapers, and other “mainstream” journalistic sources.

(Side note: I’ve often wondered exactly how these people determine what sources are “left-wing / liberal”? Is it just anyone who disagrees with them or ever prints anything positive about Obama or negative about McCain? What’s their evidence to support their indictment that certain sources are “left-wing” and therefore not to be trusted? I haven’t gotten an answer yet.)

Now, journalists aren’t perfect. They’re human beings, and they have natural bias that DOES creep into their work. This bias goes both ways, but let’s assume that bias in the “mainstream media” is primarily liberal in nature (highly debatable). The fact that there is some bias doesn’t mean that those sources have no value. We must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Journalistic integrity is not completely dead, at least not yet. Journalists actually DO strive to be fair and balanced for the most part. Some might disagree with that last part, but my question is this:

Why not go to the original source? How can one make the case that instead of going to the slightly biased original source, I should instead go to someone who takes that original source, wraps it in their opinion so it fits their ideology, and then feeds it to me as news? And I should have that be my only source of information? And the worst part is, those sources have told me that they’re biased! So why should I trust that the picture they’re painting for me is the whole picture? Why should I believe that they’ll faithfully report the facts, even if they’re damaging to their cause? Why should I think that they’re going to show me both sides equally, the pros and the cons? Of course they won’t: they’re in the business of selling a conservative ideology, and those things don’t sell their product very well.

The entire problem can be avoided by going to as many of the original sources as possible for yourself, taking them all with a grain of salt, listening to the conservative and liberal editorial voices on both sides, and making up your mind for yourself. But some people can’t stop advocating for only listening to the conservative editorial voices. So either they can’t think for themselves, and thus have to rely on a “conservative” editorial source telling them what to think, or they’re not really interested in the truth, just in hearing what they want to hear, so it doesn’t matter to them if the conservative source is biased to the point of distorting the truth.

Which is it?