Sunday, January 1, 2017

How to Get Around a Biased Media

The media is biased. This is something I've heard a lot of people complain about of late. This is something I always knew. When I took journalism in college, the first thing my professors taught me was that the "news" is sensational. Its not about publishing what's fair and making sure everyone knows every little thing that has gone on. Its about publishing what is unusual, the type of things that you don't see day in and day out. If cars are stolen all the time, publishing a report about it won't make the local paper but if someone stole a cop car, went on a 289 mile joy ride at 150 miles per hour, closing down all of our freeways, thus thwarting plans for the president to visit the city, which ends in a show down and the death of three cops and a 2 year old bystander, that's news. At least, its news unless something more interesting happened in the same day. The media's job, just like anyone else's job is to sell headlines, get people's interest and make people watch or read what they deem is interesting.

People get shot all the time but if a cop gets shot, that's bigger news. If someone is caught on tape doing or saying something shocking or offensive, that's an instant seller. A video of cops beating up a man for no reason is gold. A video of a politician caught on tape bragging about sexual assault is bound to get the attention of every media outlet out there, much more than  him stating that he gave to a particular charity. All politicians give to charity so that wouldn't make the news.

Unfortunately, if there is an interesting day or week, something you thought should make the news won't. Maybe there was a huge protest that you saw or participated in but it didn't make the news because there was an airplane crash and that is a much bigger story. Maybe you were swindled by a parking cop or someone stole your identity. You want the media to hear your story but it never made the news because there was an attempted assassination on the President.

That being said, the news is obviously biased. Everyone is biased. There is no such thing as objectivity. My novel, "The Enlightened Ones" was written in third person through the eyes of many characters specifically to show the reader how impossible it would be for any media outlet to get the gist of what really happened. Everyone's story is so different that there is no real objective source of news. One person might see one side of a story and completely miss another. If you want a really good idea of what is going on in the world, the media is a very poor source, so stop expecting it to satisfy your need for truth. Turn off the news and stop blaming the media for not giving you what you want to hear. There are other sources to help us understand what is going on in the world and here they are:

One day I was having a religious discussion with someone about Buddhism and it confused me so much that I finally just borrowed an Oxford lecture by a professor of theology on the entire history of Buddhism. This same thing happened with a friend of mine who was Hindu and was discussing yoga. I realized how little I knew about his culture so I borrowed another 10 hour lecture on the history of Hinduism. Getting such a comprehensive understanding opened my eyes so much that I didn't have to ask anymore questions. And let me just say, there is soooooooo much more to these religions than what we think we know and what we don't know, only hurts us.

There was a time when I was so confused about the terrorist situation and what was happening in the middle east that I borrowed several books on the history of the middle east, the history of America's role in the middle east and I also read the novels "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns" which explains the history of Afghanistan in a much more interesting way than any non fiction book. After this, I gained more clarity about the situation than watching the news ever could. The news only told me what was happening that day, assuming I already know the decades of history that lead up to that moment. A snippet of news is not enough to help us understand anything so if you really want a good source of subjective truth, you have to investigate for yourself.

Ask Professionals or Experts:
The mainstream media is one of the worst places to get information on health or science. These articles are written by journalists, not experts. They write what they research but they lack the scientific background to understand a study or current finding. Often, they write what is sensational or contradictory to what is the general consensus. For example, if meta analysis (a way of taking many scientific studies in one study and analyzing their efficacy) shows that smoking is, say bad for circulation and suddenly a contradictory study that shows the opposite is released, you'll hear about the one contradictory study. Why? Because that is sensationalistic. That goes against what the thousand other studies concluded. It often doesn't matter how accurate the controls of that study were. Most journalist aren't educated enough in a particular branch of science to know what types of measuring tools work better than others. You won't hear about the many contradictory studies that might have been conducted more thoroughly and if an academic expert speaks up against it, it just causes more controversy which will make more news. Dr. Oz once caused an unnecessary scare that apple juice could kill you despite the fact that most other doctors will say that his logic is sensationalistic and isn't based on real science, just from the fact that there's some cyanide in apple seeds, but not nearly enough to kill anyone. The news thrives on what scares the public because what is scary sells headlines, that doesn't mean its the best news so check with a real doctor if you're worried about medicine. In fact, some studies have shown that you're better off reading the blog of an expert than any mainstream news dealing with science or health, and don't take the advice of some celebrity about your health just because they made the news. You're much better off learning from someone who has made a living off of helping people in the field and has genuine experience in the subject than from someone who is just trying to get attention and sell ratings.

Check Your Source:
We have more opportunities now than ever to get accurate news. Experts now have blogs and there are journals online you can subscribe too on any subject of your interest but check your source. Is the author a true expert? Do they have experience in the field? Do they have a degree or appropriate accreditation in the subject they are tackling? If they have left no source, then you know they are an amateur. Check the journals and studies they site. I always do. If they add footnotes and extra books, here's your chance to learn more. if they quote someone's twitter, its so easy to go on twitter to see if that quote was real. If there is controversy over a speech, I just go and find a recording of the speech so I know exactly what was said. You can't take gossip at face value, so check your source to the best of your ability and with search engines such as google available, this is getting easier and easier.

Get a Life:
There is something frightening about hearing someone complain about the news day in and night, as if they spend every waking hour, looking for news sources. Much of how I see the word isn't based on what I see on the news but what I've learned in my education, my accreditation in my field and what I experience in real life. I've lived in many places and have seen many things. I also open myself up to people. I like to hear what they have to say. What's their story? I love talking to older people who have lived through wars and many economic cycles. They tell me stories that you can't get in the news. I used to take long walks in the city and see demonstrations and protests. I'd talk to strangers and sometimes witness crimes and strange behaviors from the cops. Much of my view of the world comes from what I've seen and heard, more than what I hear in the media which is always a secondary source. Please don't hide behind a secondary source. Go out and talk to people. Do some research for yourself. Make friends outside of your religion or political affiliation and treat them with respect so they aren't afraid to show you their perspective. Get out in the trenches and get involved in a charity you believe in, demonstrate or go to a protest that is important to you. Show up to a neighborhood council meeting and find out what people are talking about and what they care about first hand.You will get a much more objective view of the world when you open yourself up to it and stop hiding in your comfort zone. These days, they are even setting up social networking to coincide with these meetings so people can participate even if they are busy and can't make it to the location.

Take Time to Reflect:
This is important. Turn off everything. Put down the books and let your mind wander. You may find that your instincts and even your rational thoughts will notice what doesn't seem right and this will help you ask more questions and follow up with  more intentional research which sure beats watching the same hypnotizing propaganda over and over again. This will also give you time to rest your mind and emotions so you don't get overwhelmed. It will help you come to terms with your own values and how you fit into all of this nonsense. It might even help you find a purpose and inspire you to realize what is most important to you and how you can contribute to your community and your world.

A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing
In conclusion, what I'm offering might seem like a lot but if you turn off the news and ignore the shallow memes, this affords you more time for deep reading and investigation. It will also make you a more satisfied and happier person. The shallow media will always leave you unsatisfied if real information is what you want and usually a little learning gives us a false sense of reality. Yet, there's this sense of insecurity because we know something's not right so don't waste your time on it. As Henry Thorough famously said, "Suck the marrow out of life."