Are News Sources Inherently Biased?

Recently I’ve developed an interest in acquiring a general understanding of world events. The immediately suggested source for such information would supposedly be programs developed from one of the major news networks. My experience watching such programs has left me skeptical of the quality and relevance of the information presented by such networks.

Somehow I’ve gotten it into my head that all news sources, particularly those that are funded by large organizations, are inherently biased. Is such an idea unfounded? If not, what sources do you recommend? Why?

People and news sources are biased by tons of things from geography to culture to social status. It’s not possible to be free of all of those influences even though it’s worthwhile to try to be as unbiased as possible.

Marley23 has pointed out that everyone is biased. But you mention news sources funded by large organizations. Are you talking about media outlets or non-media enterprises providing information for those outlets? In either case, the answer is yes they are biased. Biased to the point where they lack credibility on their own. You have to pay attention to all news source, use reasoning and do your own research to seperate fact from fiction, and follow this old adage:

Never believe anything you hear, and only half of what you see.

If the question is “are news outlets funded by major corporations or other big organizations inherently more biased than those that are not,” I’m not sure what the answer is.

Yes, they’re all biased toward doing whatever best draws an audience for their advertisers.

That’s not true, since some news sources do not have advertisers, e.g., ABC News, Reuters. There are other sources of bias than advertising.

Define unbiased. There is so much raw data, and so many interview sources, and so much of the data is conflicting, that any winnowing of it down to something that will fit into a newspaper or broadcast will introduce bias. CSPAN showing a Congressional hearing uncut is unbiased - any reporting on that hearing will be biased in some way.

It is not clear to me that large organizations are inherently more biased than small ones. A small local paper is usually terrible about giving real facts about a town, because the publisher and editors are too close to the power structure. Anyone who has lived in a small town knows what is really going on and what the paper says is going on are totally different.

It is axiomatic that all human endeavors are inherently imperfect. Therefore, it would follow that news sources are inherently imperfect also. Many interpret this as bias. Accepting the imperfections as bias - the important questions for me are:

Are they intentionally biased (as in - promoting a definable agenda) vs. unintentionally biased (attempting to present neutral information and somehow failing).

If I believe they are unintentionally biased, I then try to examine if it is simply that they are not reflecting back on me my own biases.

They all have some bias I don’t even know what unbiased reporting would look like other than a string of numbers. That doesn’t mean that some are not more biased than others. For example NPR is more likely to respectfully include both liberal and conservative views, than is Fox News.

That’s funny, at the bottom of the Reuters page you linked is a section called “Advertise with us”.

But I take your point that there can be exceptions. However, my point is that funding needs have a big effect on hows news is presented. Even news sources without according-to-Hoyle advertisers generally have to make money. NPR has sponsors, and other outlets get funding through subscriptions. This means they are theoretically beholden to somebody. The issue then becomes finding out to what degree, and what direction this takes their coverage of news.

Forget conservative / liberal bias. In my view, most media entities will simply go with whatever is entertaining. They’d drop their pants or take a pie in the face if it would bring in money.

[Mod mod]Changed “Sourced” to “Sources” in title.[/Mod mod]

There are biases inherent in any system of gathering and distrubting information. What are your sources? How much weight do you assign to opposing viewpoints? (Is it bias if you try to give equal weight to all arguments, even if 95% of your agree and the other 5% are nutjobs at one or the other end of the spectrum?) Is it bias if you focus on one-of-a-kind visual events and downplay boring subjects?

What you want to look for is news outlets which make an effort to seek out more than just one point of view on an issue. In my experience, the “large organizations” make a far greater effort to do that than smaller ones.

It’s also helpful if the news source doesn’t try to conflate every subject into an “issue” that requires opposing viewpoints. (Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.)

Also, there is bias inherent in legitimizing which viewpoints will be considered in opposition to each other. (Only white hats and black hats can discuss an issue, no green hats, or brown hats, etc.)

Media organizations have a “liberal” bias in the culture of journalism, to the extent that a hero in journalism is one who plays Jack the Giant-Killer, exposing the crimes and follies of the mighty – the mighty of any kind, whether governments or businesses or labor unions. This is actually a consideration completely independent of the quest for ratings-share; it is part of the values journalists imbibe in j-school. (I’ve been.)

However, they also have a “conservative” bias because journalists are not their own masters; they answer to their editors, who answer to suits with MBAs, who answer to directors who often will happen to be major shareholders in the corporations you might expect the journalists to hold to the fire.

Of course there are biases in all sources, but some strive to be as fair as they can.

Rather than find a news source without bias, which you will not find anywhere, pick a couple news sources with different biases. I’d recommend these three:

The US news is nothing but reprinting AP articles, so just use google news. It gives an overview and you have a wide variety of that AP article with different companies masthead slapped on it. This lets you keep up with which celebrity is sleeping with who, what cute white girl has gone missing today, what Bristol Palin is up to today, and so on.

The BBC, while it has gotten worse, still occasionally does real news. It’s from a western world perspective so while it does tilt left from an American perspective, it doesn’t come at you from left field.

Al Jazeera is actually a good news source, assuming you ignore any article about Israel. It covers a lot of stuff you’d never hear about from the BBC or US sources. Since it comes from a non-western perspective, occasionally you’ll see something that seems completely from left field because it’s a different worldview sometimes.

Even the attempt to provide balanced reporting of events, and especially very complicated sets of facts can become biased.

Someone decides that measles/mumps/rubella vaccines cause autism. Case studies of seven kids who showed symptoms of autism four months after getting vaccinated are collected and reported. The guys who publish the report are doctors, and the studies are published. Now that is factual reporting. Slim facts, and lots of reporting, but no intent to mislead.

Someone else looks into it. They find that a statistical analysis of people who did get vaccinated over one decade show the same rates of autism as people who did not get vaccinated. This guy is a doctor too, he publishes. Folks who sell vaccines push the publication of this data, because it supports their long held belief that their product doesn’t cause autism. Now, is that a bias in reporting?

A bunch of folks who have autistic children get together on the Internet and collect reports of their children’s experiences, reaffirming the contention of the original doctor. There are several hundred of these folks, and some of them have pretty carefully kept records. Is this biased reporting?

A statistician examines records from eight countries, and finds that countries which have higher rates of autism have much more standardized testing and diagnostic standards for autism, and coincidentally also have higher rates of implementation of vaccination programs. His report says the statistical facts reflect reporting far more than they reflect facts about the disease. Is that biased reporting?

California passes a law requiring that the element of vaccines most often cited as a possible cause of autism are withheld from all vaccinations used for children. That law is implemented primarily because of the intense public interest in doing something to help the children. A few years later, another doctor, another published study, and it turns out that there is no statistical evidence that the absence of the ingredient caused any change in the rate of autism. In addition, a separate study shows many more children not being vaccinated than in previous years, and those children have the same rates of autism as well.

All of this is reported in the media, although the original study of seven children is referenced equally in all the subsequent media reports, not mentioning that all but one of the original doctors listed in the first report have withdrawn, and repudiated the conclusion. Yet in every major report of the controversy, the original conclusion is repeated. Is this biased reporting?

A group of doctors in Denmark make use of the forty years of records available in their country, following 40,000 children included in that database, twenty thousand who are recorded as being diagnosed with some syndrome currently defined as part of the “Autism spectrum” and another twenty thousand chosen because they have no such diagnosis. A thorough analysis shows that vaccinations occurred at the same rates, and over the same times in the children’s lives in both groups. On a television special, data from this report is presented by a television commentator, followed by an interview with the remaining author of the original report, who reiterates his study, and is not even asked if he did any follow up on his original data. Is that biased reporting?

A report is filed by a doctor from the World Health Organization based on a three thousand case study done in several countries in Europe. The study finds that populations that forgo the use of vaccines do have fewer children who are diagnosed with Autism spectrum diseases. The doctor points out in his conclusion that the number of cases in unvaccinated children is less than among vaccinated children but the actual number is lower than the difference between the number of children in the unvaccinated population who died of measles, mumps, and rubella, and the numbers in the vaccinated group. This report is published on the Internet, without the death statistics. Is that bias?

A television investigative reporter reports on the air that the Doctors who repudiated the original study had all done business with the company that provided the vaccines both before and after the report was created. The sole holdout was not doing business with the company either before or after the report. He does not mention that the holdout doctor was not a pediatrician, and never gave immunizations as a part of his practice. The other doctors were all pediatricians, and most of them continued to practice after participating in the report. Was that bias in reporting?

The drug companies paid many thousands of dollars to support and publish the studies after the first one. Was that bias in reporting?

You don’t need a villain, you don’t even need an idiot. People don’t want to hear a dry statistical report that a forty year old medical practice actually does what it was intended to do, and doesn’t have any risks that were not understood forty years ago when it was decided that seven deaths a year from vaccinations was better than 15,000 deaths a year from measles, mumps, and rubella. But tell them that doctors are knowingly killing seven children a year, and you can get some viewers.

Tris (a highly biased reporter.)

All news sources are biased. They depend on human reporters who are biased. Different news sources have different biases, and sometimes news sources have different biases in different sections.

All news sources are inherently biased when they involve any sort of filtering by humans, which they all do. Only raw data can possibly be unbiased, and in the real world even raw data is frequently biased by the methods used to collect it and present it. There also a question of relativity, your own cultural background forms a basis for your own biases and a trully objective report is not actually what you want. For instance, should western news outlets report the stoning of a women for adultery in Suadi Arabia completely objectively or should they start from the premise that it was a bad a thing?

Quality journalism can do a lot to avoid undesireable bias but as you note, most large media conglomerates (especially ones owned by that wanker Murdock) have their own adgendas.

I’m a big defender of the BBC so I’m not sure what you mean here. Worse than what? in what way? why do you say it only “occasionally” does real news? I’m genuinely interested to know your thoughts on that.

And lets face it, the US is so heavily skewed to the right that pretty much anything else in the western world is going to feel like it is coming from the left.

If you want a news resource free of commercial bias and government interference and available world-wide. the BBC is pretty good. Every political party in the UK accuses the BBC of bias against them. That’s a pretty good indication of impartiality.

I think you are right, this paragraph nails it. The public are interested in the interesting (no surprise there) where there is no “story” there is no story.

For the vaccination debate we have to refer people to the trolley problem. It lays out the issues perfectly well but because there is no comforting solution to this we shouldn’t be surprised at some people’s reaction to it.