Watch Yourself: Google is Just Humoring You.

Google news bias
This caricature of Sean Hannity was adapted from a Creative Commons licensed photo from Gage Skidmore’s Flickr photostream. (DonkeyHotey, Flikr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

There’s actually a relatively easy way to stop inadvertently perpetuating our own biases.

Hemant Mehta in his May 25 Friendly Atheist post — “There’s a Reason Conservative Christians are so Bad at Fact-Checking the News” — explains how we routinely delude ourselves even when we try not to.

In this post, I will try to explain a good way to avoid that, and it’s not rocket science. Although Mehta’s post specifies “Conservative Christians,” everybody runs into the same deceptive realities in seeking good, reliable, even-handed information in the modern media forest. But, if all you want is to reaffirm what you already believe without challenging yourself with discordant reality, you’re irrelevant to this proposal.

Don’t just stop at Fox

Here’s the deal: If you want to entertain a variety of viewpoints on the same news issue (as you should, to be balanced), you can’t — as Mehta rightly warns against in his post — just Google it. You have to search for relevant information from a variety of media: online, mainstream newspapers and magazine, and television are primary sources of good info. But if you do Google it, don’t just give telling keywords, such as “pro-life abortion,” which inevitably will lead Google to give you more conservative info than if you typed “pro-choice abortion,” for example.

The key: If you’re conservative, don’t just Google conservative websites, watch only Fox News (the latter word is actually a misnomer) on the telly, or just read the National Review if you’re looking for a little more intellectual heft. Also check out some more left-leaning websites, like the Southern Policy Law Center and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); click to CNN and MSNBC on cable; and (even perhaps while holding your nose, as I do with Fox) pick up copies of Time magazine and The New York Times.

You can trust most liberal journalists (really!)

Conservatives seem to think that liberal-leaning or middle-of-the-road media are all extravagantly biased against their beliefs and ideas. Not true. I was in the newspaper and magazine business for 40 years, and I can tell you that journalists are not all liberal, but all of them do believe deeply in the primacy of facts.

So, if you want to learn more about what’s happening between America and North Korea, for example, balanced straight-news stories on this issue from all the supposedly liberal media I mentioned above will present even-handed views from all sides involved. Honestly. You can then make up your own mind where the facts should lead your opinion about the reality.

On the other hand, virtually every news outlet also presents opinion in various forms, such as “analysis” articles, editorials and columns. By their natures, these are biased toward the opinion of the purveyor and should be consumed with that in mind. However, even good opinion considers the various sides of an issue fairly, but you need to learn which are reliably fair and which are just vehicles for raw ad hominem attacks. Use your head. And your reason.

Still, not everyone’s fair

To be candid, straight-forward news and opinion is becoming hard to disentangle on cable TV “news” shows, liberal and conservative, because uber-biased Fox News, by far the most popular and profitable in cable land, seems to have had a virulent negative effect on the others. Opinions on a number of ostensible news shows on cable, sad to say, are worn in full view on the sleeves of their anchors. Don Lemon comes to mind. But Sean Hannity is far worse.

But still, you can find good, clear, fair-minded, balanced, uncontaminated news in outlets across the spectrum. You just have to spend some purposeful time flitting from bee to bee to bee.

If you just go to one place all the time for your “news,” be aware that you’re part of the know-nothing anti-intellectual rot we’re now experiencing in this country.

The only way we can transcend our own beliefs and opinions — which for all of us are often misguided or just plain wrong — is to really try to understand the other guy’s position and ask yourself, with a wide-open mind, “Mightn’t they have a point?”

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