Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Media balance at its best at CSPAN

Jerry Stratton, March 20, 2005

I’ve written before that for most of the mainstream media, “balance” is more important than what is or is not true. Balance usually means nothing more than providing dissenting opinions.

In “Evaluating Information” I wrote:

...the way balance works usually makes evaluation of the information difficult. “Balance” means finding the same number of experts in opposition as are in support.

For example, suppose a newspaper decides to do a feature article about standing beneath doors in earthquakes. There are about a thousand experts in the field of earthquake survival, suppose, and two of them oppose standing beneath doorways. In the name of balance, most newspaper articles will present an interview with no more than two supporting experts to ‘balance’ the only two opposing experts they could find.

Suppose, now, that no earthquake survival experts oppose standing in doorways. In the interests of balance, the newspaper reporter will find a non-expert and treat this person as an expert, in order to balance the report. They might, for example, choose a doctor at a hospital. This doctor will claim that everyone who has presented themselves at the hospital for standing in a doorway has been injured. You might think this sounds silly, but the next time you’re reading a newspaper or watching a news show in which a doctor is being interviewed for something other than their specialty, look at it in this perspective. Is the doctor basically saying that everyone who comes to the emergency room has an emergency?

You probably will not find a more quintessential example of this than the latest from CSPAN: CSPAN was going to broadcast Deborah Lipstadt’s Harvard lecture about the holocaust and about holocaust denial. In order to balance Lipstadt’s lecture, they chose to broadcast a speech by David Irving denying the holocaust.

Lipstadt, understandably, withdrew her support of televising her lecture so that CSPAN would not give Irving a national audience.

Richard Cohen asks in the Washington Post,

For a book on the evils of slavery, would it counter with someone who thinks it was a benign institution?

The answer, probably, is yes. The media does this all the time, and they create controversy where none should exist by presenting falsehoods on an equal footing as the truth. There is a wide medical consensus, for example, that marijuana is useful medicine and relatively harmless as a recreational drug; so the media presents drug warriors to counter any such message. All in the name of balance.

There comes a point where we need to recognize that the truth is the truth, and “balance” only obfuscates the truth.

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