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  • Terry Wigmore

The danger of consuming an unbalanced diet of information

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

After Fox News called the election in Arizona in favour of Biden, in the November elections, Trump seemed to suggest that he would look for new support for his messages, perhaps moving a little farther to the right. Newsmaxx? OANN? How far right would Trump go to get the support and favourable press coverage that he seemed to believe he deserved, and that his base wanted? Was the Main Stream Media that "evil" and that "fake" that they couldn't be trusted to tell their viewers what was really happening?

It is important to consider the source of information we consume on a regular basis. Does it matter who writes the stories? Does it matter that your favourite talk show host is repeating false claims? Does it matter that a lot of what passes as "fact" are really "opinions" and these facts need to be tested and verified before they are believed and repeated?

YES IT MATTERS!! And it should matter to everyone, although it doesn't appear to matter to many people, and that is the essence of the problem facing the US, and many other countries where parallels can be found. Facts matter. Truth matters, and the more journalists and reporters there are working on uncovering facts and corroborating evidence, fact-checking sources and rejecting the spurious ones, the better off we'll be.

We have the right to news, and the press has the right not to be threatened or maligned in their pursuit of the facts. Yet, that is what Trump did for the duration of his 4 years in office. The constant attack on the main stream media, and his personal attacks on specific reporters and news outlets was truly something Orwellian.

It always amazed me to learn that the people who were the most vigorous defenders of Trump were getting their information from a very narrow section of media - from Fox to OAN and NewsMaxx and other outlets and purveyors of very skewed slices of stories and perspective that were more obviously opinion than news, and incendiary opinions at that. Facts were often relegated to smaller and smaller portions of the webpages and airtime in these media outlets. I should include social media such as Facebook and Twitter and Parler, perhaps even YouTube and a host of other platforms. The most extreme views could be found in links offered to viewers on all of these platforms via algorithms that dropped links to like-minded conspiracy theories onto the suggested lists of those who, well, liked this type of media. All of this is coming to light as the FBI continues to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol and how the attack was organized and stoked through social media.

If we only read the stuff that we agree with, it would be hard to remain open to other points of view. I watch networks I don't necessarily agree with, if only as an academic exercise, to compare how their anchors and hosts are conveying stories that other networks and news outlets are carrying. There is a difference between reporters and journalists and talking heads or hosts. There is a difference between the Pulitzer prize winning reporters for the New York Times and the reporters for the National Enquirer. Not all talk show hosts on the networks are anchored in the facts and truth of the stories they cover. That is the unfortunate reality of the media. It means that the average viewer must be aware of the bias of the news and information they are consuming, If they do not check into news and sources themselves (who has the time to fact check everything they consume?) it is likely that what they hear on the news will go unchecked, and unfiltered for context, and become part of a repeated buzz-word laden mantra, regurgitated thoughtlessly to others and spread like an infection, with equally calamitous results.

So, where do we get your news? Do we use more than one source? How reliable are these sources? A survey of Democratic supporters and Republican supporters, conducted by the Pew Research Center*, indicated that that Republicans tended to get their news from one source, whereas Democratic supporters tended to use several sources. Republicans tended to distrust most of the news outlets, whereas Democrats tended to trust most news sources. Republicans tended to get their news from right to far right news sources, whereas Democrats tended to look to sources from the center to the left. Does this make a difference? Absolutely! It can so distort what Republicans and Democrats view as truth and believe to be true that, in the words of the former Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway, while Democrats have "facts", Trump supporters have "alternative facts". Remember, facts=truth, and "alternative facts" ≠ truth.

As well as looking at the data from the Pew Research Center, it is useful to check out a media bias chart. In the chart I use (from the news outlets listed near the top contain more factual reporting, while those at or near the bottom of the chart are closer to rubbish, pawned off as news. The center presents a balanced reporting of the news, and the farther to the Left and Right you go for your news, the more skewed to the Left and Right are the stories covered.

How does your media diet measure up? As with most things in life, balance is the goal. If we simply reinforce our existing opinions, we are in danger of developing an unbalanced opinion, based on spurious facts. So, we need to be careful of the information we choose to consume. I will conclude with the words of a family member, conscious of diet, who often opined: "What you eat today, walks and talks tomorrow!"

Bon Appetite!

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