Friday, September 30, 2011

Recent 2d amendment news

The Oregon Court of Appeals has struck down a rule forbidding guns from state university campuses (pdf). The FBI reports that gun crime continues to decrease, while gun sales and concealed carry licenses surged. A book of photographs explores some of the estimated 15 million women in the US who own and use guns.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Perception and bias

We have gone through a time of aspirational objectiveness in news reporting, during which the organs that report news in the US have claimed they are merely giving us the facts without spin or commentary (except when labeled as such). For much of that time reporters and publishers of news were admired and valued for investigating and explaining how things worked and how people made them work, from businesses to politics to personal lives.

Except it turns out we don't actually believe them about being objective. Gallup reports that 55% of people polled have little or no trust in the media to be unbaised, to report the news "fully, accurately, and fairly."

The breakdown by party line is revealing.
Seventy-five percent of Republicans and conservatives say the media are too liberal. Democrats and liberals lean more toward saying the media are "just about right," at 57% and 42%, respectively.
If Democratic party adherents and liberals believe the media is just about right, that probably means that what they read and hear in the news closely adheres to their worldview--it reinforces what they already think.

Of course liberals and Democrats also believe (at least the ones I know, and the ones I read) that they have a better perception of the real world, and would argue that the reason conservatives and Republicans don't trust the media is because conservatives and Republicans are misled or wrong about the real world, so when the media reports the truth of the real world it conflicts with the mistaken conservative/Republican perceptions, and therefore it's not that the media is biased (it's still objectively reporting the truth), it's that the conservative and Republican worldviews have skewed so far from reality that the truth looks like a lie to them.

But none of that really matters. What matters is that 55% of people polled in the US don't trust the media to tell the truth. They turn to other sources, sources that don't even pretend to be unbiased, such as bloggers and talk radio hosts. And confirmation bias works again to preclude a community that acknowledges difference and works toward compromise.

This breakdown in trust is a problem for the media to choose to address, or not. But as co-occupants of our society we need to build responsibility toward our community, to commit to shared goals, to lessen our burdens by working together, and I believe these tasks are much more difficult when we lack the insight into other people's thinking and opinions that is the natural consequence of living in the echo chamber.