When it comes to the media and all of the different sources of information (TV, newspapers, internet articles, blogs, social media, radio, and more), it’s important to watch for bias in the message and messenger—and how it can influence our beliefs and perceptions. And, now that election season seems already to be underway (sigh), it’s never more apparent.
Most people have no clue about how much distortion, bias, embellishment, and outright falsehoods exist within the media and among supposed “authority figures.” You see it in infomercials (this or that miracle diet or hair loss cure), political campaigns (“I’ll reduce spending and restore peace on Earth”), investment experts (“Now is the time to invest in ___”), news stories that are editorials in disguise, and even in college classrooms when professors convey their opinions as fact and ridicule students who happen to disagree.
Don’t let anyone pull the wool over your kids’ eyes. Teach them to be a discerning skeptic of everything they read and hear.
There was a time when the news media and America’s universities were more balanced in reporting news and views, but those days are long gone. You can detect it in how they convey the “facts,” as well as in what they choose to report (news contrary to their opinion is often ignored altogether or appears in fine print on page 17 where no one will read it). Increasingly, we see media outlets with a strong political slant completely color the news through their own lens (often by selecting guests who share their views)—rather than reserving their opinions for the editorial page. In their quest for ratings, they often ask their guests irrelevant “Gotcha” questions rather than focusing on what really matters to the average viewer.
How do you deal with a world where objectivity is actually subjectivity? Here are a few suggestions for remaining well informed and not being easily misled:
- Try to get all sides of an issue. Be wary of people who are unable or unwilling to convey the opposing view or who won’t acknowledge what is fact and what is opinion. Be especially suspicious of people who resort to name calling rather than simply agreeing to disagree on the position.
- When it comes to political campaigns, recognize that candidates will tell you what they think you want to hear (and hope you’ll forget by the next election!)
- When it comes to news outlets, 1) watch different channels with different political tendencies (e.g. Fox News generally takes a different perspective from CNN and vice versa) and 2) look at the election endorsements of your news outlets to gauge their political tendencies
- Read the footnotes and caveats in infomercials, advertisements, or promotions
- Remember if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
The bottom line is whenever there’s an agenda or an incentive, you can expect a positive or negative spin and selective sampling and reporting of the “facts.“ It’s an increasingly biased world out there so we have to intentionally train our children to be on the lookout. We want to make sure that our opinions and beliefs are based on facts, so know how to get the full story, no matter what the issue!
Dennis Trittin is President and CEO of LifeSmart Publishing, author of What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead and co-author of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World. With world-class leadership experience, passionate advocacy for the next generation, and acclaimed resources and speaking engagements on the topics of leadership, life skills, and parenting, Dennis inspires and equips young people and those who guide them. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter!
Image Credit: Mayor Villaraigosa