by Robert Waltz
Not for the faint of art.
|Oh boy, here we go.
First, the good news: Time for another Win A Merit Badge Mini-Contest! Details below.
And now, the news!
PROMPT July 6th
Is there such a thing as “unbiased reporting?” (Consider not just journalism, but storytelling - is it possible to tell a story without bias?)
The one thing that bothers me the most about "unbiased reporting" is when, in an effort to show "both sides" of an issue, a reporter has to call in people who believe the opposite of what the story's about.
In an effort to avoid too much controversy here, I'm going to use an extreme -- and pulled straight out of my ass -- example.
First, the part that hasn't been in my colon:
GPS uses satellites to fix the three-dimensional position of a receiver. That is to say, with enough satellites (four, if I recall correctly), you can pinpoint a receiver's location on or above the surface of the planet. This generally translates to latitude, longitude and elevation, relative to the equator, the Prime Meridian, and the official Mean Sea Level datum, respectively.
The actual inner workings are irrelevant (and beyond me), but basically, this requires the following at a minimum:
the existence of satellites in orbit;
the existence of a receiver;
a (nearly) spherical Earth, with reference points for the coordinates I mentioned above;
extraordinarily accurate timing, provided by atomic clocks in the satellites;
the latter of which is adjusted for relativistic time-dilation effects.
Yes, the satellites are moving fast enough relative to the surface of the planet that relativistic corrections have to be made. Otherwise, instead of accuracy in the general vicinity of a meter or so, your reported position could be off by on the order of a kilometer - not nearly enough for the things we use GPS for, like finding the nearest Starbuck's or searching for buried treasure.
And now the rectally retrieved part:
Imagine a news story about, I dunno, hypothetically, replacing the GPS satellites with updated ones.
A reporter relating this story might have to present "both sides." So she writes about the creation of the new satellites, the software updates necessary in the receiver units, and so forth.
And then, for "balance," she has to find a flat-earther so they can explain how the entire GPS thing is a massive hoax; there can't be satellites because the Earth is flat; and it's all a conspiracy by Big Positioning or something. As a bonus, the moron might even throw in something about relativity being "obviously" wrong, and that time is invariant with speed and position.
Writing your news article like that has the advantage of appearing unbiased and presenting different sides to the issue. More importantly to the publisher, it generates controversy, causing fact-free idiots to share it with each other and crow about how they've exposed something They don't want the rest of us to know; and causing non-stupid people to share it with each other to point and laugh at the idiots. This drives page clicks and increases advertising dollars.
There's only one glaring problem: flat-earthers are completely and utterly wrong, and giving them a platform in the same piece that attempts to explain how physics actually works does science a Dark Ages level disservice.
End of anus extraction. But I'm sure you can think of other issues, real ones, where the facts are presented alongside amateur and ignorant speculation
The only appropriate thing to do with fact-deniers is to completely ignore them, and yet... we don't. We give them false equivalency. When a scientist is interviewed and says one thing, and another scientist is interviewed and says another thing, well, then, yes, by all means, present both sides -- but even there we should be aware that people without an appropriate education are in no position to draw their own conclusion as to which, if either, is right. But when a scientist takes one position, and John Bumpkin with no background in the subject matter at all takes the other, just fucking leave Bumpkin right out of your story. He's irrelevant.
Now, look, it's true that flat-earthers exist. Whether any individual one is trolling or really believes their ignorant bullshit is above my pay grade, but even if you present their "side" of things with all kind of disclaimers about "actually, science has established to near-100% certainty that we live on a globe," you're wasting your and your readers' time. But most of the time they don't even do that, leaving it to the reader to do the fact-checking.
Which they don't, which, again, leads to the ignorant belief gaining the appearance of being on the same level as the science.
So by attempting to show that they don't have bias, they create a new bias: one that is taking us down a path to a fact-free world. Has taken us. Hell, the city lights are looming on the horizon, and we just passed a sign that reads "Welcome To Postfactopolis, population 7 billion."
I'll just say one more thing about bias in reporting, though, and this is relevant to fiction-writing as well. Okay, two more things. Well, a few more things, but they're all related.
It is impossible to present all the facts.
Some things are known to a greater degree of certainty than others.
Even if you report nothing but facts, you're going to demonstrate bias by choosing which facts to report.
Presenting too many facts leads to boredom and tl;dr.
Conclusion: No, there is no such thing as unbiased reporting... and logically, there cannot be.
So, today's mini-contest is this:
Give me an example of false-both-sidedness. This can be real, or, in the spirit of the "fiction writing" part of the prompt and my fictional GPS explanation above, you can make it up.
The response I like best will earn its author a Merit Badge that I feel is appropriate, tomorrow. Deadline, as always, is midnight WDC time.