Monday, March 02, 2015

Confirmation Bias

"A confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias that involves favoring information that confirms previously existing beliefs or biases. For example, imagine that a person holds a belief that left-handed people are more creative than right-handed people. Whenever this person encounters a person that is both left-handed and creative, they place greater importance on this "evidence" supporting their already existing belief. This individual might even seek out "proof" that further backs up this belief, while discounting examples that do not support this idea."~ What Is a Confirmation Bias?

The recent brouhaha over the misrepresentation of facts by Bill O'Reilly and Brian Williams shows the fundamental difference between NBC and Faux News. Contrast the two situations and the response to the two:

  • When caught misrepresenting the facts, Wilson was forced to apologize and then was asked (forced) by NBC to take a leave so that the news they offer might be untainted by the misrepresentation.
  • When caught misrepresenting the facts, O'Reilly was unrepentant - challenging the accusers and was defended by Faux news in spite of the mounting evidence of his misrepresentations. 

What accounts for this disparity!? Faux has long claimed that O'Reilly was not really a "News" personality - they claim that his show is "Opinion" or "Entertainment" despite the fact that his "opinions" are often indistinguishable from the "news" presented on the rest of the network. Additionally, the entire business model for this channel seems to be to pander to the misguided right-wing conspiracy theorists who are looking for support for their beliefs that a godless leftist conspiracy exists to ruin America and all that they hold dear. If you happen to believe that the President, by making sure that you have affordable medical care, is Satan incarnate, then this is the channel for you.

Faux News is certainly not a "News" channel - repeated studies of how informed people are show that viewers of this channel frequently rank near the bottom. People who claim this as their source of information are often the worst informed on current affairs; perhaps more dangerous, by citing this as a reputable source, they often misjudge the level of their own ignorance. Take, for an example, the sheer number of people who still believe the long-disproved rationales for the war in Iraq. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Faux News viewers often still believe that the US found WMD in Iraq or that Iraq was somehow involved in the attack on the US perpetrated by Al Quaida on September 11, 2001.

Personally, I see this company as being the most blatantly opportunistic out there - they prey on people searching for a confirmation of the skewed view of the world they already hold. Their defense of Mr. O'Reilly's demonstrable misrepresentations is further proof that they are not a reputable source of news.

Perhaps it is just that the Journalistic Ethics that were all in vogue when I was a Broadcasting major in eighties, perhaps it is just my personal belief that one should not hold a belief which is demonstrably untrue. But I find it intellectually lazy to allow someone else to tell you what to believe - and I find it morally reprehensible to pray on such people by perpetrating a hoax in the guise of news.

Wherever you are, I hope that you have the wherewithal to seek and embrace the truth.

Don Bergquist - March 02, 2015 - Lakewood, Colorado, USA 

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