The enemy is not fundamentalism, it is intolerance. – Stephen Jay Gould
What makes your point of view more correct than mine? Most of us believe we’re correct in our beliefs, but who is to say who is right and who is wrong about any number of topics?
The truth is that we’re all biased. And since human beings are biased, it stands to reason that so are the news media outlets headed and populated by humans (a.k.a., all of them). In other words, there are no neutral news agencies, no neutral network news stations, no neutral print media, and no neutral online news sources.
It would follow, then, that there are no neutral news stories, although one could argue, with some merit, that some stories are more impartial than others.
In the past, if you majored in journalism, you were taught the difference between writing news, features, and editorials. News stories were supposed to report “just the facts.” Reporters strove to be as neutral as possible in their stories. I hope that’s still true today.
Yet even when reporters strive to be impartial, it isn’t possible to report stories in an absolutely unbiased manner, because each reporter chooses what to emphasize in each story and which words to use to describe events and people. Then, after the stories are written, editors decide which ones should lead the evening news or receive “above-the-fold” front-page placement in a newspaper, or top billing on news websites; that is, they determine which stories are the most newsworthy, albeit typically following a predetermined set of standards.
I’ll never forget a discussion that took place in one of my college journalism courses about what constitutes exceptional reporting. A classmate’s example involved a comparison between articles in two newspapers. Both reported that an alleged perpetrator had been apprehended shortly after committing a murder. The better story, my classmate argued, included the description of how at the time he was caught, the man was eating something at a local restaurant. What difference did it make? Including that simple detail highlighted the psychopathic callousness of someone who could commit such a heinous crime and then calmly sit down to eat just a few minutes later.
Of course, that example doesn’t address the huge problem we as consumers have with today’s media: How do each of us discern which of today’s news stories are true? Which are misleading? Which contain the most relevant information, and—just as important—which have omitted essential facts?
Though it’s important to find the truth, there is something that is actually much more important: to keep an open mind. And the only way to achieve that is by listening to (or reading) other points of view.
Interestingly, a 2019 article in The Atlantic that presents an analysis of how political prejudice is distributed by county in the United States stated, “In general, the most politically intolerant Americans … tend to be whiter, more highly educated, older, more urban, and more partisan.” That’s because those are the people who are most isolated from hearing others’ points of view. To be fair, there are studies that show that the more education you have, the more tolerant you are. Those studies, however, focus primarily on tolerance toward people in specific groups rather than on tolerance of other political opinions.
Being open to other points of view is the definition of tolerance (according to Merriam-Webster). That means being willing to at least listen to people who have another viewpoint without ascribing negative characteristics to them for their beliefs. And there are benefits to being willing to do so.
According to AllSides.com, a website dedicated to providing links to top stories as reported from multiple viewpoints, “Without exposure to different points of view, we can be manipulated into believing and acting in certain ways. When we are well informed, we are better equipped to solve problems and build ‘a more perfect union.'” I agree wholeheartedly.
At the same time, the saddest thing about deciding to write about this topic is knowing that the people who need to read it the most, won’t.
When it comes to news stories or the assertions of political figures, I sometimes find it frustrating trying to determine what to believe. That’s why I have included the following list of resources for fact-checking the information you hear and read. Note that many of these also have a political point of view, despite describing themselves as nonpartisan. Even they can’t escape being influenced by a specific worldview.
- AllSides, as self-described, exposes “people to information and ideas from all sides of the political spectrum so they can better understand the world — and each other.” This website categorizes news in three columns: News from the Left, News from the Center, and News from the Right.
- Brookings is “a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC” whose mission “is to conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national and global level.” Brookings’ positions are considered center or center-left.
- FactCheck.org says it is “a nonpartisan, nonprofit ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.” They “monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.” This organization tends to lean left.
- Based in San Francisco, KnowWhere.com‘s motto on its Facebook page states, “Get clarity amidst chaos.” It provides analysis of the spin on news stories with labels that let readers know how each story “leans” and providing various points of view for each news item.
- The Media Research Center calls itself “America’s premier media watchdog” and states that it is committed “to neutralizing leftist bias in the news media and popular culture.”
- Politifact.com describes itself as a “nonpartisan fact-checking website to sort out the truth in American politics. PolitiFact was created by the Tampa Bay Times [and] in 2018 was acquired by the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for journalists.” Politifact.com, according to some sources, favors liberal issues, candidates, and policies.
- RealClearPolitics.com states that it is “dedicated to providing our readers with better, more insightful analysis of the most important news and policy issues of the day … daily editorial curation and original reporting present balanced, non-partisan analysis.” This site espouses a conservative perspective.
- Snopes.com is probably the most well-known of the fact-checking websites. It calls itself, “The definitive Internet reference source for researching urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.” This site tends to lean left.
- Washington Post Fact Checker. This is the site that assigns Pinocchio ratings to reporting and statements by politicians. It isn’t linked here, as a subscription is required to read Washington Post articles.
In searching for a focus for this blog, I finally alighted on the idea of WORDS. For a site called “Áccent on Words,” it makes sense. As an editor and writer, I work with words for a living. Words are important to me. But really, they’re important to everyone, and even more so in an age when we’re constantly bombarded with them and continually consume them through social media, television, radio and what we choose to read. My aim is to choose a particular word or phrase as the focus of each new blog post and talk about why our words matter. — Deborah Jackson