Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

The Use of the Term ‘Bias’

As promised in the ‘about’ section of this blog, today starts some serious discussion on analysing the ‘right wing movement’, through looking at the idea of ‘bias’ and how it is being used by the right as an attack mechanism.

As one enters the ‘No-Spin Zone’ of Bill O’Reilly of the ‘unbiased commentary’ of Sean Hannity it is fair to say that one gets the impression early on that these two US media personalities have an conservative bias in the way they report the weekly news. Yet, at the same time they both proudly claim to be unbiased media personalities and scold the rest of the US media for their ‘left wing bias’. These claims form a clever, but extremely hypocritical, tactic that the conservative movement often uses to paint the left wing as ‘anti-freedom villains’.  In general they do so in two separate fields.

Media

Anti-bias claims in the media world revolve around the idea that the job of the media is to simple present the facts about news stories through presenting all views of an issue. Although the first two examples of these sorts of attacks I provided (Hannity and O’Reilly) were from the United States, these sorts of attacks are not limited to there. One only needs to look at the way the past conservative government (as differing from the current conservative government) attacked the ABC, eventually forcing it to drop the popular program ‘The Glass House’, for being too left wing in the way it reports the news. 

Academia

Yet, right wing claims of bias are not limited to the media world. Throughout the academic world right wingers love to scold any academic who they perceive to have a left wing bias (whether it be true or not). One only needs to look at the Senate Inquiry into Academic Bias  that finally ended at the end of 2008 and the targeted campaign by the Australian Liberal Students Federation (which produced a list of ‘worst offenders’ of left wing bias) to see how right wing campaigners use academic bias as a way to attack the left. The idea here is that as an academic teaching students, one has the responsibility to present all sides of a political argument and not try to influence the way students think about the issue but to simply to ‘provide the facts’. Whilst this sounds nice and happy, in areas such as ‘political science’ this sort of thinking creates huge problems.

What is Wrong with Such an Attack?

The answer to this is simple; ‘there is no way a media reporter or an academic cannot be biased in some way whatsoever’. In other words, no matter how much one tries there is no physical way one cannot be biased to some level in the way they report the activities in the world. This is simply because there is no way that a reporter or an academic can present all sides to an argument or issue and if they do, biases can become apparent in the way in which reporting of issues occurs (what viewpoint gets reported first, which one gets the most time etc.) For example, when reporting Barack Obama’s recent trip to Europe, how does a media personality cope with all the different views on the trip, report them in an equal manner and do so without providing any level of opinion? Simply, they can’t.

However, attacks on biases go well beyond the practicalities of creating unbiased academic work or media. In the end, through attacking one for being biased one aims to remove the right for another to say as they wish in the public field. For example, in the use of a Senate inquiry into ‘academic bias’ in 2008, the young conservative movement in Australia took direct aim at punishing those academics who said what they believed (noting that they only did this for left wing academics and not right wing ones). Now, whilst it is important that these academics do not punish students for differing from their views, taking away ones right to have an express their views is a simple violation of the rights that most right wing commentators so strongly believe in.

Then Why Use Bias as an Attack Mechanism?

The logic of using bias as an attack however is quite simple. Through attacking the left wing as being ‘biased’ the right wing has managed to paint a picture of the left as the ‘evil doers who are trying to hold back the right of people to have a fair a balanced picture of society’. This is quite a clever strategy as it allows the right to paint the left as the people who are trying to take away people’s rights (i.e. the right to receive ‘accurate’ information), whilst it is actually the right who are attempting to take away the right for people to speak freely.

How Is and How Should the Left Respond?

Here are two ways I think the left could use to respond to such attacks:

1) Point out the hypocrisy. I always find it funny that it is those who criticise people for being biased that are generally the most biased of all. It is the responsibility of the left to point this out, not in order to attack these people for being biased but rather to attack their hypocrisy.

2) Embrace our bias. A lecturer I greatly respect once started the first lecture of a course he took with a slide that stated ‘Beware…Marxist at work’. What this lecturer was doing was openly acknowledging and embracing his bias, through letting his students know about it. As people who believe in academic freedoms and freedom of press the best way to fight the ‘bias attack’ is to openly acknowledge ones bias and publicly allow the public to deal with and accept those biases as they wish.

These are both tactics that I have seen in practice in media and the academic world and have been extremely good ways to bounce off attacks of ‘bias’. It is important for the left to continue such efforts to reject these growing attacks that are not only hypocritical in their nature, but also extremely dangerous. 

 

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April 12, 2009 - Posted by | Analysing the Right | , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Good use of the “post-modern bias rule” Simon.

    While you’re right in citing populist shills like O’Reilly and his ilk in their complete negligence, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    One should always attempt to the greatest degree to avoid bias, it’s not impossible in one’s work. To embrace bias as necessary, I think, is to degrade the status of the academia (what little status it has left).

    As for the media, well, to hell with the the media. They are businesses in their own right, commonly receiving no public funding for their activities, so what of their bias?

    Comment by Jack P | April 13, 2009 | Reply

  2. Jack, firstly I think you are a little harsh on academia there. There is a large pool of academic writers who are producing a great amount of research and adding a lot to the public debate.

    Second, I am not suggesting that one ‘throws out the idea of attempting some level of avoiding bias’. For example in academic teachings it is important for a class such as ‘intro to political theory’ to teach both left and right wing theories. However, even in these situations it is still important to acknowledge that a lecturer will have a bias of some form (which has normally be arrived at through years of study) and it is important that that is embraced. I don’t think it degrades the status of academia but rather enhances it as we see academics who are able and willing to speak their mind as they wish.

    Comment by simon2013 | April 13, 2009 | Reply


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