WTF Community

In Praise Of Bias

I found this video interesting for many reasons. People often praise WTFJHT for being “unbiased” and “just the facts.” I mostly find that to be ridiculous, which might surprise people. My position is that humans making decisions about the relative importance of things is inherently biased. But I try to be transparent about my position on this with my editorial policy, which basically says I try not to intentionally offer commentary.

This seems to echo Jay Rosen’s “View From Nowhere” theory:

…the View from Nowhere is a bid for trust that advertises the viewlessness of the news producer. Frequently it places the journalist between polarized extremes, and calls that neither-nor position “impartial.” Second, it’s a means of defense against a style of criticism that is fully anticipated: charges of bias originating in partisan politics and the two-party system. Third: it’s an attempt to secure a kind of universal legitimacy that is implicitly denied to those who stake out positions or betray a point of view. American journalists have almost a lust for the View from Nowhere because they think it has more authority than any other possible stance. (Press Think)



Yes, yes to all of this post. I only want to reiterate that presenting both sides can create a false equivalency. That can be very dangerous depending of the subject matter. Not all arguments are created equal and some are just flat out wrong.


Great example! False equivalency can lead to false choices.


Reminds of this (mini) TED talk I watched awhile back. It’s from 2015, but still relevant.

The moral bias behind your search results | Andreas Ekström

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So, I have a few points of contention with that video, but I agree with some of it’s general thrust.

I think the video fails to understand that bias limits your audience, and in doing so, can shut down marginalized viewpoints that can’t create space for themselves at the table, but may be worthwhile ideas.

I think the video fails to understand how focus on objective tools from journalism can be stronger unifying forces than bias, which creates conflict almost inherently.

I think the video overlooks how bias that does not contextualize itself is very easy to spin to propaganda, and shuts down criticism over objective truths.

In these ways, I am skeptical about what the video is trying to promote.


I do agree that identifying one’s own biases, and articulating a vision of what is “good,” what ends someone is working towards, is a good thing. I think these things can be talked about in an unbiased way, if they are given the proper context. It’s taking “We should X” and adding “if we want to achieve Y, and this is why we want to achieve Y.” And I think that’s a very important step. Bias shortcuts that second part and assumes the audience is already on board, or can not have objections about Y, and those that do are cast out from the conversation.

That’s my take.

Very interesting stuff to ponder. The video almost implies that the news sources need to develop a value system that supports the “best” life and cover stories that exemplify and reinforce that value system. Long gone are the days when we could rely on the media to supply us with “the facts and only the facts” and allow us to make up our own minds. But now, there’s a media outlet for whatever we have selected in our own mind - to serve as confirmation bias of what we already believe. So what comes first - the chicken or the egg? our values or the media bias? I’m not quite sure why, but this videotape sent me running to look up Ayn Rand’s objectivism philosophy.

*Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
*Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
*Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.

In laymen’s terms, Rand believed there exist observable truths or facts, which do not change based on public opinion or peoples’ wishes. She believed that the only way in which people can interpret the world is through one’s experiences, observations and intelligence. She believed that individualism and selfishness are the keys to morality, while altruism and concern for others is misguided at best and dangerous at worst.

But this video argues the opposite. The media should be selective in what they choose to present to the public as facts with the aim of reinforcing the opinions (self-experience?) of groups of people. So chicken and egg, again? Are we biased and select our choice of media to support our experiences? Or are we blank canvasses and the media provides us with a world perspective based on the bias they subscribe to?

It may be time to read the Fountain Head again - not that it addresses the media, per se. But it does look at collective vs. individualistic perspectives and those can be facilitated or challenged by media bias. And here I was thinking my tendencies promoted socialism as our expert Wayne LaPierre might suggest when all along I was an objectivist. I can’t say I’m fully in sync with Rand’s rejection of altruism and societal concerns. Does that make me an objective socialist or a socialistic objectivist? Or maybe just an individual looking for truth.

I don’t see where WTFJHT is necessarily biased in its reporting. In my opinion, Matt has done an excellent job in identifying a target audience with specific interests and has provided them with articles that appeal to those interests. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he is promoting his own interests, too; that’s what makes for a real community). But it’s not as if most people are reading the newsletter with no opinion of all. I think we all gravitated to WTFJHT because the articles were ones that told the truth from our persepctive. We refused to buy into a lot of the BS that was being passed on by people who were so desperate to have their man in the WH that they were willing to resort to putting their own fake news out there and then claim what we knew to be truth was actually the fake news. In my opinion, that wasn’t media bias. That was manipulation pure and simple.

A lot of thoughts, a lot of words, maybe too much for 1am at the end of a horrific week. Thanks for the stimulating video. I plan to share it with a number of people I know.

Reference: ‘Objectivism’ isn’t Objective: The Fallacy at the Heart of Ayn Rand’s Signature Philosophy
Posted on September 27, 2015 by knuge86 in FRONT PAGE, Kevin Nugen

There are some places where I really want bias in a certain direction, and I will not so much as touch a publication that suggests otherwise. “LGBTQIA people are people who deserve full rights to be themselves and marry the love of their life” is one of those biases. If your publication is trying to “two sides” that issue, as far as I’m concerned it’s a rag because I’m not going to spend my time reading something known to dehumanize people based on gender and/or sexual orientation.

Same goes for “sure, police killed that person, but in fairness they did have a tail light out” or “sure, that guy was shot for reading a book in a car outside his kid’s school, but really it was his fault his quiet pastime activity led them to fear for their lives.” Because excusing police brutality because the person didn’t fit the “profile” of an “innocent person” in their heads is stupid and also wrong because there’s no justification for shooting someone like a goddamned carjacker.

Same goes for “vaccines cause autism” because it— wait, this one isn’t a moral issue, it’s literally fake news.

There are many reasons for passing up a publication altogether. It’s always good to look for meaningful sources, but I’m not willing to give up all bias.


I agree…it’s called common sense & decency towards fellow humans of all kinds. Sources that pander to viewpoints designed to undermine society must not be legitimized. Enough gaslighting.


I agree Anna that we need to hear both sides of the issue but what if the other side is lying and distorting many of the facts? How are you going to get a fair and balanced view of the issue by listening to them? For me, I select the media that I TRUST to give me the most truthful recount of the news and (for better or worse) that happens to be the “mainstream media” such as PBS, ABC, etc. (Of course, WTFJHT is my preferred source, but for now we’re just discussing major media.)


Something that I didn’t think of in my first post. Bias doesn’t only change how you report the news, it also changes what you report. A journalist’s lens is going to inform them on what is newsworthy. So, even aside from an issue that has many sides, you’re going to hear stories on some bandwidths that you won’t hear at all on others.

That, I think, might be the most critical factor in bias in journalism. We want to curate our news experience toward the issues we find important, and different outlets will match our issues more often.

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This is an old trick among researchers who conduct empirical studies. Plenty of professors have earned tenure by publishing data and conclusions that support their hypotheses. Dig a little deeper and you’ll often find that data was not published because it refuted the validity of the conclusions. That’s why peer reviews are so essential in credible academic journals. Put a group of accomplished academics in a room and they’re going to turn the data and conclusions upside down and inside out looking for possible flaws.

I’m not aware of any such safeguards in place for news media. I’m not even sure that any organizations would ever agree to a peer review panel, simply because there is no consensus to who might be a “peer”. There are no safeguards to ensure reporter’s are telling the entire story, no damages for those who tell half truths and ultimately, no accountability.

Once upon a time, we had the NAB, National Association of Broadcasters. They were extremely demanding - at least when it came to commercial claims. I worked in marketing in a prior life and despite the public’s perception that advertising claims were all fake, the NAB was extremely demanding that appropriate research be conducted to prove the claims. I’m not sure what happened to the organization. As cable channels became more prevalent, I suppose it became difficult to get all of them to agree to rules governing advertising. I suppose the same must be true of news organizations these days.

So what’s worse, lying intentionally or lying by omission? And which reflects more bias?

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It’s called news value judgement and it’s a central journalism tenant. These are the “safeguards” that make the news, news. They’re also designed to require a story to pass multiple filters (i.e. editors) on their way to the public. If you’re a highly partisan site (i.e. Breitbart or Daily Kos), you’re not even bothering with this because your intention is to push your agenda by dressing up your propaganda as “news.”

You don’t need associations or peer reviews to determine “consensus” facts if a publisher is sticking to the basics of news-value judgement and has an editorial team keeping them honest.

The issue isn’t the “mainstream media” bias. It’s the assholes purposefully spreading disinformation with the intention of causing confusion and sowing discord.

Frequency: Events that occur suddenly and fit well with the news organization’s schedule are more likely to be reported than those that occur gradually or at inconvenient times of day or night. Long-term trends are not likely to receive much coverage.

Familiarity: To do with people or places close to home.

Negativity: Bad news is more newsworthy than good news.

Unexpectedness: If an event is out of the ordinary it will have a greater effect than something that is an everyday occurrence.

Unambiguity: Events whose implications are clear make for better copy than those that are open to more than one interpretation, or where any understanding of the implications depends on first understanding the complex background in which the events take place.

Personalization: Events that can be portrayed as the actions of individuals will be more attractive than one in which there is no such “human interest.”

Meaningfulness: This relates to the sense of identification the audience has with the topic. “Cultural proximity” is a factor here—stories concerned with people who speak the same language, look the same, and share the same preoccupations as the audience receive more coverage than those concerned with people who speak different languages, look different and have different preoccupations.

Reference to elite nations: Stories concerned with global powers receive more attention than those concerned with less influential nations.
Reference to elite persons: Stories concerned with the rich, powerful, famous and infamous get more coverage.

Conflict: Opposition of people or forces resulting in a dramatic effect. Stories with conflict are often quite newsworthy.

Consonance: Stories that fit with the media’s expectations receive more coverage than those that defy them (and for which they are thus unprepared). Note this appears to conflict with unexpectedness above. However, consonance really refers to the media’s readiness to report an item.

Continuity: A story that is already in the news gathers a kind of inertia. This is partly because the media organizations are already in place to report the story, and partly because previous reportage may have made the story more accessible to the public (making it less ambiguous).

Composition: Stories must compete with one another for space in the media. For instance, editors may seek to provide a balance of different types of coverage, so that if there is an excess of foreign news for instance, the least important foreign story may have to make way for an item concerned with the domestic news. In this way the prominence given to a story depends not only on its own news values but also on those of competing stories. (Galtung and Ruge, 1965)

Competition: Commercial or professional competition between media may lead journalists to endorse the news value given to a story by a rival.

Co-optation: A story that is only marginally newsworthy in its own right may be covered if it is related to a major running story.

Prefabrication: A story that is marginal in news terms but written and available may be selected ahead of a much more newsworthy story that must be researched and written from the ground up.

Predictability: An event is more likely to be covered if it has been pre-scheduled. (Bell, 1991)

Time constraints: Traditional news media such as radio, television and daily newspapers have strict deadlines and a short production cycle, which selects for items that can be researched and covered quickly.

Logistics: Although eased by the availability of global communications even from remote regions, the ability to deploy and control production and reporting staff, and functionality of technical resources can determine whether a story is covered. (Schlesinger, 1987)

Data: Media need to back up all of their stories with data in order to remain relevant and reliable. Reporters prefer to look at raw data in order to be able to take an unbiased perspective.


:raised_hands: ahmen, @kightp

Trump is unqualified for X, Y, and Z reasons, BUT HER EMAILS!!!


What if you are not aware of ALL the facts? How may your opinion change if you are given additional information that was not presented previously that are the total opposite to what you were presented initially?

Are we biased and select our choice of media to support our experiences? Or are we blank canvasses and the media provides us with a world perspective based on the bias they subscribe to?

Yes to all three. We are a blank canvas. If we continually read/listen only 1 point of view that becomes our belief on that subject.

The major media sites are owned by the ultra wealthy. They will feed you what they want you to believe. That is why it is important for everyone to view both sides of a news story. Once you start doing this you will be able to see each sides agenda and in most cases between the two filters you will see things entirely differently.

Your points are good ones, but as a former journalist and one who’s studied journalism, I’m wary of calling up an imagined Golden Age when “we could rely on the media to supply us with “the facts and only the facts” and allow us to make up our own minds.” From the earliest days of American journalism - and going back even further in the history of journalism abroad - the field has always included reporters and publications that advocated for change. Consider the era of the muck-rakers, (Muckraker - Wikipedia), the Depression-era populist commentary of H. L. Mencken (H. L. Mencken - Wikipedia), and later, the Nixon-era investigative journalism of the Washington Post and New York Times. So-called “objective journalism” is relatively new on the scene, originating in the 1890s and only becoming a journalistic standard in the post-WWII era. I hold with those who consider accuracy and fairness to be a better standard than “objectivity,” which pretends that the human beings reporting the news have no opinions about it.