Unconscious bias has made the media less trustworthy


Bias within the media is always present. The distinction is whether it is intentional on the part of its creators or not and if it is useful to our discourse. Unintentional bias is also known as unconscious bias and can permeate many forms of media.  

Bias is always present- here’s why

Our brains are like sponges. Even before we have a conscious memory, it absorbed and stored every nuanced detail of our experiences. Ever been irritated or angry for no reason? Those meticulously recorded memories begin to shape our values and beliefs and are deeply stored in our subconscious, and the emotions associated with them can be triggered or retrieved at any time.

Unknowingly to many, all those “recordings” create a lens and filter which serves to make sense of and interpret new experiences as we move through life. The lens and filter create a customized, unconscious bias and sense of right and wrong resulting in a particular assessment or judgment leading to a decision. Our interpretation becomes the story we communicate to ourselves and others. It’s typically a harmless, unconscious, biased perception.

This perception then becomes our reality and our truth, sometimes regardless of whether it is rational or true to others.

Therefore, two people can have the exact same experience and interpret it in completely different ways. This is where the source of potential conflict can begin. The degree and level of conflict are dependent on how we handle differing perceptions -- for example, we choose to say someone else’s perception is wrong and insist on ours being right, even vilifying the person with a differing viewpoint.

Of critical importance is to recognize that once our perception is formed, the brain becomes selective in what it sees and interprets.

We have an innate need to have our world make sense to us because it defines our identity, self-worth, and our place in it. So our brain looks for ways to secure and reinforce identity by continually looks for ways to confirm and reinforce previous interpretations. This is called unconscious confirmation bias. The more frequent and intense the confirmation, the more right we feel as values and beliefs are cemented.

Unconscious confirmation bias can greatly inhibit the ability to see an event or experience with a fresh, “clear lens” view that is essential to our discourse. This is where the condition “no matter what I do, they won’t see the good” is created. It takes a conscious effort on our part to battle the bias.

Now imagine you are part of a group with similar interpretations, with similar lens and filters through which you see the world, including your beliefs and values. This can easily amplify unconscious (and eventually conscious) confirmation bias within an echo chamber that confirms your own views

Now imagine one giant echo chamber: a political rally where certain phrases are repeated in large crowds and then constantly replayed in the media, reinforcing unconscious biases held by both the candidate’s supporters and detractors. Such a phenomenon is not unfamiliar to anyone who follows the news.


Bias, the Degradation of Mainstream Media & the Birth of Fake News

When thinking about these facts, we can see how confirmation and selection bias has and continues to play out in a range of ways throughout the media landscape. It has caused faulty, costly reporting decisions. Consider Brian Ross of ABC News and his misreporting on Michael Flynn or the CNN team that resigned due to a “story on its website that a Russian bank linked to a close ally of President Trump was under Senate investigation”.

Unconscious bias has also given way to the “fake news” phenomenon coined by President Trump. His perception of misreporting and mistreatment by the media - some accurate and some not - has substantially and forever altered our opinion of news media.

The fact is, every reporter operates from their unique filter and lens created from early childhood. Unknowingly, this shapes how they see and interpret the news they report. No reporter can escape this. This is the everyday experience of unconscious bias for all professionals. However, without a conscious understanding of this, many reporters have become victim to or even willful participates and perpetrators of what’s becoming conscious, destructive bias.

What is slowly being destroyed? Reputable journalism. Today’s reporting significantly blurs the lines between opinion and authentic journalism -- sometimes unashamedly so. This is the slow and sure degradation of the media as we’ve known it.

I’ve been a news junkie for most of my adult life. However, that has substantially waned as of late because watching the news has become downright painful.  Up until recently, I believed there were honest attempts - a conscious effort -  to report news and information just as it is, with as little bias as possible. As one of my friends at a prestigious journalism school suggested, practicing good journalism.

But this is changing. With the election of President Trump, there seems to be a righteous fervor in creating and justifying the blurred line between fact and opinion in the name of saving the country from itself.  We’ve gone from healthy journalism to political evangelism masked as journalism.

As an avid news viewer and voting adult, I don’t need political evangelism- I can go to a rally for that. I want real journalism that cuts through the noise, righteous indignation for great reporting

I, and I’m sure many viewers, thirst for meaningful, accurate, vetted information, facts with context, and nonpartisan healthy discussion with diverse points of view developed from a variety of experiences.

I want to make an informed decision - not an opinionated one - and I want the media to act as a trustworthy partner in our democratic experience.

I am sad to say, in general, our media has become less “worthy of trust”.

Here’s a suggestion to start. Gather a larger variety of experts and guests vs. the same clanging, beltway commentators. News networks have become their own echo chambers with the same commentators spread across different shows spouting their tired redundant, self-righteous proclamations.

Or how about this- start with this urgent plea from an average American and bring back authentic, intelligent journalism. Thank you.