A Journey for Truth In Media

My body became tense. A flash of rage surged through me as I reacted to the turmoil in my mind. Someone just confronted a weakness of mine, and openly challenged and questioned ideas and beliefs that I had held as truth.

These were signs that I would later come to recognize and struggle to control even today. In Ray Dalio’s Principles: Life & Work, he states that “By being aware of such signals of closed-mindedness, you can use them as cues to control your behavior and guide yourself toward open-mindedness.”

Contents

  • My back and forth ride between open and closed-mindedness, navigating my way through the bias in media
  • An analysis of the Media Bias Chart found on Ad Fontes Media
  • The bottom line
  • Commentary on the HBO miniseries Chernobyl (the 34th anniversary of which was on Sunday at 1:30AM), and the parallels of it and our current state.
  • A Stoic and Christian response to the gradual relaxing of stay-at-home restrictions.
  • A Link to my solution for last week’s Riddler Classic.
  • Code for 20% of PT’s Coffee in Topeka.

Featured photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

My Media Journey

It is difficult to pin-point a specific time during my life at which I became predominately open-minded. To this day, however, I am closed-minded more often than I would like. It is because of the two barriers that Dalio speaks about: my ego and my blind spots. These blind spots are places in which I believe I know everything there is to know about something even though I don’t. In some cases, some of the things I “know” can be flat out wrong. This can hurt the ego and cause a flash of anger.

This closed-mindedness does me no good.

In high school and college, I was surrounded by conservative influence. I would watch Fox News a lot, favoring The O’Reilly Factor among other programs, believing it to be what they said it was: “Fair and Balanced.” I have always been one that seeks for truth in the world, however, and it bothered me that there were many people that did not agree with me and found many faults in my trusted news source.

There came a time during one of my deep dives into the political and media landscape when I became angry at myself for not being able to discern what was true. I became open-minded in spurts, desiring to understand more rather than to get a point across (one of the ways Dalio explains how you can tell you are being open-minded). This became easier as I trusted my point of view less and less. As I transitioned from my undergraduate college at Iowa State to graduate school in Indiana, and then eventually to working as a professor at Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, I let those that think more liberally into my life.

I began taking in sources on the left such as CNN and MSNBC. Eventually, I stopped watching Fox News altogether. There was a phase I went through where I went from one extreme to the other. When I finally understood the driving force and the goals of the Fox News Channel, I jumped to the other extreme.

Indeed, if you were associated with me at all in the 2012-2016 time frame, you would have witnessed me ostracizing and persecuting those on the right. I was a hypocrite, doing the very thing that I despised the other side doing. Closed-mindedness had taken over again.

Letting go of my ego and being aware and open to fixing my blind spots is a challenge. However, being radically open-minded is what is needed in order to grow and find truth in the world.

Today, I believe that one can be radically open-mined and think conservatively or liberally. Our society pushes us in the direction of closed-mindedness more, so we have to be vigilant in what we let in.

The Media Bias Chart

Ever since I was introduced to the following Media Bias Chart from Ad Fontes Media (where I obtained a licensed copy), I have been intrigued and fascinated. This is the chart I used in order to find higher quality media with the least amount of bias. Since no media is absolutely and completely true and unbiased, I have been searching for media that (with high probability) will produce articles that are consistently factual and unbiased.

The mountain that this seems to represent is a great analogy.

The vertical axis represents the quality or reliability of the news source, and is measured from 0 to 65. The horizontal axis, measured on a scale of -42 to 42 (negative scores associated with a left lean while positive scores are associated with a right lean). As one would expect, the further away from 0 you get on the bias scale, the lower quality you will get with your reporting.

Like many of you, I was interested in the methodology and data source that the makers of this graph used. Being the data geek that I am, I downloaded the data and played around with it. There is a rubric that is used involving both the quality/reliability of the source and the bias. The assessors rank quality by giving scores to elements such as the title, graphics used, and the sentence metric of veracity and expression. They also count up any unfairness instances. The bias metric is to rank the topic selection, political position, terminology, and characterization on a 7 point scale with Neutral in the middle and expanding outward to Skews Left/Right, Hyper-Partisan Left/Right, and Most Extreme Left/Right.

The Content Analysis Rating Tool (CART) is available on their website so you can train yourself in how to evaluate media. The rankings took several articles and programs from the different sources, and had evaluators on the left, right, and neutral produce a quality and bias score. Each article/program was then given a score that averaged these evaluators scores. Finally, through an averaging over all of the articles/programs associated with a specific news source will produce the final quality and bias score.

If a news source has a high quality and low bias score, this does not mean that the news source does not produce low quality and biased material. It just means the overall average of all its content falls at that high quality and low bias level. On the flip side, a news source has a low quality and high bias score does not mean that it doesn’t produce high quality, low biased articles and programs. You can deduce that it produces far fewer, since the overall average brings it to the low quality, highly biased level.

King of the Mountain

When I saw earlier versions of this chart, I changed the way I received my news, as I wanted to be king of that mountain. When they were free, I signed up for the 10-Point morning newsletter from the WSJ (unfortunately not free anymore) and the Morning Briefing from the New York Times. Both were very high in quality and would offer me the slightly skewed bias in both directions that I could compare.

I also religiously un-followed and hid all news sources (even the NYTimes and WSJ) on the social media I used. Social media is designed to feed you similar and more of the stuff you click on. When you picture the Media Bias Chart again, think of social media as designed to push you down whatever side of the mountain you fall. Your goal should be to get to the top.

Sign up for Newsletters

When you ask people these two questions, it is not uncommon to get the same answer for each:

  • Where is the worst place one should obtain their news from?
  • Where do you get most of your news?

People tend to know they shouldn’t get their news from social media, but they do anyway. Perhaps you could ween yourself off of this, and start getting news separate from social media. Here is a list of some of the highest quality news sources (a few on the left and right) that you can have delivered to your inbox each morning and read and/or delete at your leisure. I would recommend at least two (for comparison), and to really consider not going higher than three (the inbox gets clogged enough).

The Bottom Line

It is sad to see that the right side of the “mountain” has a gap, and that there are not more right leaning news sources in the neutral and skews right category. It is sad that the “Big Three”, or the three highest rated and most watch news programs in the United States, are Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, all of which fall far from the top of the mountain. Fox News hovers on the line of having serious reliability issues (remember that this would mean a lot of the content does have serious reliability issues for the score to fall where it does).

A good sign that your news source is not that good, is when you can turn on late night programming and find that the main source of comedy is your news source. Yes, I’m talking about Fox News. You can also tell this when you listen to individuals who use it as their primary source exclaim outlandish things that has come primarily from that source (and ones further down the mountain). As an example, many people downplayed the seriousness of the COVID-19 crisis early on. Your news source makes many of you sound very ill-informed and secluded from the world of facts, science, and data.

Do you feel a surge of anger going through your body like I once did? Check your ego, look for your blind spots, and search for confirmation in a higher quality news source.

Chernobyl

Coincidentally, on the 34th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, my wife and I finished the five episode HBO miniseries. As the final episode wrapped up, Valery Legasov (played by Jared Harris) narrates the final line:

To be a scientist is to be naive. We are so focused on our search for the truth we fail to consider how few actually want us to find it. But it is always there whether we see it or not, whether we choose to or not. The truth doesn’t care about our needs or wants, it doesn’t care about our governments, our ideologies, our religions. It will lie in wait for all time. And this, at last, is the gift of Chernobyl. Where I once would fear the cost of truth, now I only ask: What is the cost of lies?

line in HBO Miniseries “Chernobyl”

Although the COVID-19 crisis is not a Chernobyl, it has killed many and changed lives in significant ways. We have been able to witness how all of the countries responded to this crisis. We have been able to see how well or ill-prepared each country was.

How truly embarrassing the example the leadership of the United States has set! The Associated Press article, Coronavirus shakes the conceit of “American Exceptionalism” describes how the world views our response to the pandemic. It also describes how George W. Bush was ready for this 15 years ago. Why were we not ready under the current leadership?

What happens when those who lead put only those who will be loyal to the leader in very important positions, rather than those who are highly qualified? What happens when the leader appoints only those who will not let truth come out if it damages the leader’s reputation, rather than putting people in place that will state the facts, and ask the hard questions that need to be asked? What happens when the leader prioritizes his ratings and how he is perceived over everything else? Things like Chernobyl happen. This disgraceful response happens. The repercussions to the COVID-19 crisis happen.

I get it. Those of you who voted for Trump wanted to shake up the system – to send a message to the establishment. This failure of a leader was not the way to do it. It was a HUGE mistake, and we are suffering the consequences.

How many lives could have been saved with a proper team and plan in place? A stimulus check may be one of many things on a checklist of to-do’s in a pandemic. Many supporters point to this as if we should be happy. It is as if the dead-bead dad on the couch says, “I’m up, I’m dressed, what more do you want?!?” And the Trump supporter is pointing at him, exclaiming, “SEE! He’s up and dressed! Why are you all bashing him?!? What more do you want?”

We wanted more qualified individuals on his team. We wanted Trump to take things more seriously from the beginning with a plan that we wanted him to already have in place. We wanted some very basic qualities and duties of a leader to come through… all politics and personal issues aside.

We wanted a leader to be one of the few who actually wanted to find the truth. Instead, we have been plagued with Trump’s lies. This has been the gift of COVID-19: to show us how disorganized and worthless our current leader is; to show us that Trump is not the leader this country needs or deserves; to show us that Trump is not a leader at all, in fact, but a dictator that governors must first say nice things about in order to get help in their states.

What Would Marcus Aurelius or Jesus Do?

The stay-at-home restrictions are going to start begin relaxed. Are you one who cares about whether or not you get sick or about whether we get sick? Remember who we’re doing this for. This is for the cancer patient, those with preexisting conditions, those with weak immune systems or respiratory systems, and our elders among many others. What are you going to do as we gradually relax the restrictions in place?

Marcus Aurelius said: what’s bad for the hive is bad for the bee. Jesus said to love thy neighbor as thyself.

They [Marcus and Jesus] would have said that it’s your duty to protect them [our neighbors], to help them however you can. In fact, this is a sacred duty. There is nothing more admirable and virtuous than a person who takes it seriously—and nothing less Christian or less Stoic than blowing it off.

The Daily Stoic email from Ryan Holiday on 04/27/2020 [reorganized]

Monty Hall Problem Variation

Last week, The Riddler changed up the Monty Hall problem a little bit.

Suppose either 0, 1, 2, or 3 goats are chosen at random each with a 25% probability. The goats chose are dispersed behind three doors at random, and a brand new car is placed behind the others. You randomly select a door. If there is a goat to show behind any of the other two doors, Monty will open a door to reveal a goat. If not, he will tell you of this impossibility.

Under the condition that he does open a door to reveal a goat, what is the probability that you will win if you switch doors?

I offered a simulation and a mathematical solution here.

P.S.

If you enjoy my blog, consider signing up for a weekly email at the bottom of this post. I write this blog because writing is a passion and I have never accepted money from advertisers. Since I love PT’s Coffee in Topeka, however, I would take an opportunity of 20% off roasted coffee by offering my readers the same: 20% off PT’s Coffee!

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