If you want to know the truth about media bias, the short answer is: it exists, it's everywhere, and it's not going away. If you want to know which networks and programs are most and least accurate, well, that's where things get complicated. You see, not only is it a matter of perspective, but you'll find a smattering of  ideological bias no matter where you tune in.

I keep coming back to NPR as an example, not because I dislike it, but because much of their programming is substantive and in-depth, and when they get it wrong, its almost always because their analysis falls short, oversimplifies the issue, or displays contempt for independent points of view.

NPR's news division, as I have previously lamented, takes Washington hegemony at its word so often that its analysis is often performed by people who serve to directly benefit from putting out their point of view. I'm talking, of course, about think tanks, those ubiquitous idea generators that supply the fuel for the narrative fire that keeps headlines rolling over us day after day. The think tank pipeline, I often think, is made from the best materials and runs through the most relevant country, but it's not always easy to tell if it's filled with shit or not.

For NPR, it makes business sense to avoid fracturing relations with the cadre of think tanks insiders that supply much of its post-story analysis. I think NPR genuinely believes these are the most qualified organizations and people to comment on goings-on in Washington. However, relying on the institutions that serve as foundation stones for the Washington spin machine isn't always a good idea. This sometimes results in stories that feel like incomplete report cards submitted by the very players in Washington responsible much of the frustration in politics.

These criticisms are not meant to invalidate NPR's existence or credibility when it comes to its programming en masse. There are still numerous tools at NPR's disposal that make it an incredibly powerful, accessible source for news, arts, science, and economics. It because of this potential that I criticize it in the first place - because I believe it can do better.

On the other end of the spectrum, political infotainment (like talk radio) has all but squandered its potential for becoming an interesting or credible place for discourse. While NPR's issues are that it gets too much of its serious, focused analysis from biased sources, resulting in a myopic, hegemonic, insider's take on politics, the political infotainment genre suffers from too little seriousness or focus.

The issue that emerges from looking at these two opposite poles of journalistic inadequacy is whether there is an achievable middle ground that improves journalism as a whole.

The easy, lazy answer is, maybe we should let these formats do the best they can, and take it upon ourselves to seek out diverse sources apart from these, in our quest for truth in Journalism. Maybe the level of knowledge we obtain from being active citizens is pursuant to the amount of time and effort we put into it.

Unfortunately, there is only so much time in the day, so we hope that the few sources of news and information we choose to access are giving us the perspective we require, rather than the same old narrative. Diversifying that narrative involves tapping into more sources for analysis, for facts and for perspective. This solution of tapping into varying sources to shape an issue is a correct one, but the burden to do so falls on us, rather than the news organizations themselves.

The cost of diversification, for many mainstream outlets, is simply too high. There is the reality of sponsors, shareholders and news directors. There is the reality of maintaining access to important politicians and organizations. It's a political unreality to expect one mainstream news organization to broaden its narrative. This is where we must take it upon ourselves to decide what we think is bullshit, and what we think merits further thought. It's an ongoing process, it takes tons of time and effort, and it's not easy, but it's the only way to tunnel to the truth.


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