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Newsy.com, breaking the mold of Western media bias?

Media is a tricky business. Regular readers here know that Western media bias is a frequent topic on this blog. Few days ago, Rosa Sow, a community manager at Newsy.com, contacted me to embed an video from her company on my post, “China Daily reports, “Japan apologizes for annexation of Korean Peninsula”.” I refused. I was angry at the Western media, and I didn’t think it was possible another could come out and make “truth” and “fairness” its mission. A conversation ensued. At the end of it, I was mainly impressed by Newsy’s approach to this issue.

Our conversation started with her solicitation (email addresses removed):

On Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 1:55 PM, Rosa Sow wrote:
Hi YinYang,

I read your post about Japan’s attempts to atone for its past colonization of Korea. I agree with your premise that tensions have to cool before apologies can be made, and according to that maxim this is a good sign for inter-regional relations. I think you will find this video about the apology interesting. The video uses news coverage from different sources to detail different perspectives on the impact of the apology. It includes commentary from Prime Minister Naoto Kan. It also features reactions from older Koreans who still feel resentment toward Japan for their extended colonization of the peninsula. I hope you will consider embedding the video in your post.

Rosa Sow
Community Manager

I was not impressed by the video nor some other videos I found on Newsy.com, so I replied:

On Aug 11, 2010, at 2:46 AM, YinYang wrote:

Hi Rosa,

Thanks for referring the video. Honestly, I am not very impressed with Newsy. The somewhat admirable part about Newsy is that your organization is including perspectives from other sources (certainly make you unique). While “fair and balanced” on the surface, Newsy seems to be suffering from the same immoral and propagandistic behavior that is so typical of the Western media.

If you are interested in understanding my point – this is why:

Take a look at this video:

Of course, everyone knows, a metric that is critically important for populous countries like China and India are the per capita figures. Compare to American consumers, the Chinese consumers are saints. Certainly, it’s important to look at a country’s total consumption. But it is also equally critical to consider the per capita angle. That angle is missing from this Newsy video. So, the problem with Western media is their self-touting virtue of supporting fairness and these various values. When its fairness for others, they go out the window. And, best of all, the media can do it in a way that Americans are completely oblivious.

That then leads to Americans feeling entitled to an out-sized proportion of the world’s resources.

And my issue with the Japan apology report? While it appears “broad” in perspective, it in fact is not. It does not cover the angle I wrote in my post. In fact, the punchline at the end is whether Japan doing this out of political expedience. That’s not helpful in my view.


She defends the video:

On Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 1:45 AM, Rosa wrote:
I understand what you are saying, but western media adheres to this nebulous, and I personally feel, misguided view of journalism. The fundamental point of contention I have is the “myth of objectivism” it is an ideal that we can only tend toward and never achieve. But, for an example, the video you suggested, granted the statistical basis for the story may be flawed in obvious ways but the overarching point is that China’s quality of life is improving, that a middle class is forming. For me, the crux of that story is that China, a “communist” society is becoming a consumer driven economy society. Yes, this is directly related to the per capita issue you raise, but that is ancillary, it’s a given that China has a large population. A fifth of humanity lives in China. Of course the stats are skewed by the population. But the rote stat isn’t the story, the story is that China, unlike the US is experiencing an economic and cultural period of growth. Yes, western media is messy and flawed, yes, I get that to the rest of the world we seem like backwoods sheep but as far as new media goes at least Newsy is trying to emulate the ideal of a free press. When it come to western media, can you think of something better? You are challenging and interesting, and your honest opinion is something I’d be interested in. Thanks for bearing with me this is a long email. Hope you write back.

Sent from my iPhone

I said Newsy needs 中庸:

2010/8/11 YinYang

Hi Rosa,

I disagree the per capita angle is ancillary. The main narrative in the U.S. is that the rise in Chinese energy consumption means a lowered consumption by Americans. The predominant “view” in the U.S. of that news is as a threat. So, the question of fairness is out the window. That way of reporting (via omission) predisposes Americans into a more unfair (or belligerent) stance with the almighty U.S. military.

I think Newsy is indeed unique in trying to have a balanced view – as I said – for your inclusion of other sources. So I wish you guys the best of luck. I don’t think you are “there” yet. When you are, there will be a wide audience around the world waiting. For now, they resort to Aljazeera, China Daily, and other “international” papers or even blogs. Western media’s credibility has been flushed down the toilet outside the West.

At this point, I am not certain Western media (Newsy included) can break out of the mold, because formally, Western journalists are trained to deviate from “中庸.”

“If Confucius is alive today, he would advise the Western media: “中庸””

You will make me a follower of Newsy if you can get Newsy to formally subscribe to this ancient Chinese wisdom of “中庸.” If you read other articles on Hidden Harmonies, you will realize we think a lot of ills in the U.S. today are due to her failing media.


Her next response made me feel a bit prescriptive on my last email, because she’s making me realize this media business is trickier than I thought. We had competing priorities. I feared further spread of “red scare” in the U.S.. She thought less from that perspective.

2010/8/12 Rosa Sow

Hi YinYang,

We agree, western media is pretty terrible and distortion in the media often leads to conflict within the populace. It furthers damaging policy and dangerous and polarizing ideologies,but hey, at least it’s not controlled by the state. That being said, the way our media system is structured paves the way for all kinds of abuses. It is a commercial, rather than public enterprise. That’s actually why I like blogs so much. You often get a more complete view of an issue by seeing information analyzed. That’s the ideal we strive for at Newsy. Objectivity is a myth, ‘fair’ reporting does not now, and will never exist, it is an unattainable ideal.One that we can only grasp for. Most western media is controlled by a handful of conglomerates. We are a start-up that exists outside of that mainstream system. Of China all I can say is that China IS an existential threat to the US in too many ways to detail. Higher rates of energy consumption in China does have negative economic effects on the world energy market, at least in the short-run. If anything western media downplays points of conflict between the US and China. I like your post, I guess the western equivalent to 中庸 would be the Aristotelian concept of the golden mean. I’ll be checking out Hidden Harmonies and I hope you will continue to check out Newsy.

Rosa Sow
Community Manager

I liked her response. A more complete view indeed require information to be analyzed. I can accept objectivity is indeed a myth. And, certainly, I have no qualms about her views on China, because existing powers always view rising powers as threats.

2010/8/12 YinYang

Hi Rosa,

Fair enough. We indeed see eye to eye on many things. I agree ‘fairness’ is a goal.

Please bear this in mind – Aljazeera stormed onto the world stage on the simple truth: Western media not being trust-worthy of the Iraq war coverage. They made significant inroads too within the U.S.. So, ‘fairness’ on its own has an audience and makes business sense. I hope you guys will aspire to what Daniel Schorr said about media should be “boring.” Xun Zi, another Chinese philosopher, essentially said that the behavior of states on the world stage is determined by their behavior within. (You can think of China as a “world” of many “states” throughout Chinese history until modern times.)

Historically, dominant powers have viewed rising power as threats. But belligerent conduct against the rising power is a sure way to make them enemies. We need to break this cycle. Short of “might makes right”, somebody has to step up to the plate to keep the hawks in all countries in check. That responsibility partly belongs to the media; media should not give ammunition to the hawks.

‘State controlled’ is neutral outside the West. So, for the world to learn the lessons of it (through the European experience), the West must achieve some level of credibility first. China is a threat in the U.S., but the view of that threat has to be tampered by fairness. Otherwise there is no credibility.


She articulates an interesting approach to tackle media bias which I’ll reiterate following her comments.

2010/8/12 Rosa Sow

Hi YinYang,

Sure, people value fair reporting and it would be possible to make money off of it. But the term itself is impossible to define, we all have different ideas of what is ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’ about the way a news story is reported. That’s why Newsy is so useful. Instead of reporting according to an individual bias, we show how different sources are reporting a story. Sure you can never eliminate bias, but we try to maximize users’ ability to make determinations for themselves. It also adds another level of insight, if Fox News covers a story one way, and Al Jazeera covers it in a drastically different way, you can get an idea of the journalistic principles that govern each respective news room.

I completely agree that media are obligated to be a check on power. But they benefit from war, from times of fear and tension. I raise this point to underscore that fairness, objectivity and favorable media practices in general are constrained by so many external factors that there is only so much we can reasonably expect from news outlets. What is more important, I think, is to have an empowered populace who can evaluate the media they are consuming. Public will is the ultimate check on power and we have an obligation as well. We’re obligated to question and challenge dominant institutions and ideas. We are the ones who reward these practices with our consumption, we reward it by paying more attention to scandalous and tawdry stories, for getting wrapped up in the petty politics of non-issues that divide us. The Newsy site and our various apps for mobile devices make it easy to see different perspectives within the span of a few minutes. We let you decide how to interpret the information you are given.

Rosa Sow
Community Manager

Indeed, Newsy includes clips from Al Jazeera, China’s CCTV, Russian, and other sources. I agree “public will is the ultimate check on power”, and I can understand the strategy to empower the public so they can evaluate the media they are consuming. Remember, according to Xun Zi’s thought, how power is abused within a country ultimately means the same behavior will be carried through to the world at large. In my prior post, “On “Civil Disobedience” and commonality between Mohatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.” I wrote about my conversation with MIT Professor Noam Chomsky where he essentially said, on how our world shifts from “power” based to one that is rooted in “morality”, the solution relies on “actions that the public is willing to take.”

So, having varying perspectives (importantly including foreign ones too) put together is indeed powerful in tackling this bias issue. Of course, perspectives within any foreign country on any given issue is a spectrum and never a singularity. Newsy will have to develop a way to find the “average”, the most “truthful”, and “fair” clip to use. So I appreciate the difficulty in that. As I said at the outset, I was not impressed with the two videos – one on the Japan apology and the other on China report by IEA. Watching them again, I can see an attempt at a broader view. At this point, I can accept them based on difference in prioritizing which perspective is more pressing.

Can Newsy break the mold of Western media bias? It is still too early to tell. I like their strategy though, and I am certainly supportive of their efforts. Newsy also has applications on the App Store (for use on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) and the Android Marketplace. They are beginning to make a name for themselves.

Sow may be interesting to follow. She can be heard over at Newsy’s blog. Here is her recent entry, “Yahoo and Newsy – Gauging Audience Insights” and a snippet below:

For Newsy, audience insight is important for determining what to cover and the use of different sources in our videos complicates the mix. It adds more traditionally editorial voices to the conversation. Furthermore, ‘linking out’ to the sources used situates the news consumer into the broader conversation on the topic.

The use of search has the effect of including the news consumer in the editorial process – what is ‘newsworthy ‘ is no longer decided by the fourth estate. Users tell us what they want, and we give it to them in easy to consume nuggets. Just the way they like it.

The ‘linking out’ feature is indeed cool, because it also lowers the barrier in the effort to seek more information. I’ve just used it on my HTC Incredible.

Some of you have read Allen‘s article, “Understanding Democracy,” and you will recall his point that understanding public policy is hard work. Most ordinary citizens are too busy with their work and family, and it is only but a small percentage of the population (true anywhere on this planet I suppose) that would invest the time and energy to gain a sufficiently broad perspective to take the right (informed) actions on any issue.

What guards Newsy from giving the consumers what they wish to hear, Fox News style? How do you balance the should and want? Where do we draw the line between government responsibilities and media responsibilities?

That’s where I am at on this media business for now, and there’s more to discuss for sure!

  1. r v
    August 14th, 2010 at 12:09 | #1

    First, I would say to break the mentality of “news for newsworthy sake”, we must break the concept of “news” itself.

    That is, in essence, News is meaningless by itself. If one reports a war that breaks out without discussing the wider implications, then the “news” of the war is meaningless. (Thus, commentating is almost always required.)

    Consequently, all “news” is for the purpose of the followup commentating to reach a conclusion in some unified fashion of a world view. If we are living in the time of Confucius, then the ancient philosophers would be discussing “news” only in the terms of how the “news” fit into their philosophical schemes.

    Thus, it may be impossible to really achieve any “objectivity” in the commentating, but one should not be lying about the supporting facts in something as trivial as the “news”. Such falsehood is simply childish, and unworthy of any one really seeking the ultimate truth and the ultimate philosophy.

    Furthermore, those who conjure and meddle and color “news” are really just selling nothing at all, and do not deserve any sort of protection as “journalists.”

  2. August 17th, 2010 at 14:27 | #2

    @r v,

    I can see the distinction in “breaking news” type of “news” versus the analyzed formed of “news.”

    But I am really hoping you would put on an optimistic hat on and come up with some ideas on how to achieve “objectivity.” Newsy’s approach is a pretty good one, I thought. Can it be done better?

  3. August 17th, 2010 at 14:31 | #3

    I have asked Kai Pan over at china divide blog to chime in, and here is Kai’s initial take: “Chiming In On Hidden Harmonies’ Criticism of Newsy.” I thought his criticism of me criticizing Newsy’s video was fair from his perspective. But I wished he focused on the elephant – not the pimple on the elephant’s butt, as I explained below via a comment to his post. (I accept fault for having gotten him focused on the pimple I think.)

    My response to his post.

    August 18, 2010 at 4:23 am

    Hi Kai,

    I think there is a big gap in my post I failed to address for people who do not accept that the Western media is so biased in a way that is dangerous for our world. Everything in my post hinges on that premise – that there is agreement the bias is egregious and dangerous.

    Regarding “systematic conspiracy” – I am not arguing one way or another, and to me it’s irrelevant. For example, racists don’t need to conspire to be racists. The extent of their “conspiracy” is that their public display emboldens one another. Likewise, media bias in one outlet reinforces the same behavior in another.

    Every media out let caters to an audience of some sort, whether it be internal or external. What we hope for is competition.

    I am seriously trying to find an “answer” that could prevent that lack of “competition” in the U.S. media which resulted in the last Iraq invasion – for example.

    How do you balance the should and want?

    Not sure what you’re referring to. The same way we all do?

    Westerners understand the value of “check and balances.” Why not extend that to the world stage?

    In my post, I talked about asking Professor Noam Chomsky how do we move towards a world that is less “power” based, and his response was that it depends on the “actions the public willing to take.”

    Yes, the U.S. wants Iraq oil, but should it be allowed via an invasion? That’s what I mean. Of course, if you don’t accept the premise that the U.S. media biased the U.S. population into this WMD threat and this bringing of “freedom” to the Iraqis, then my argument to people with the position you have taken is really moot. We need to step back and debate about how egregious and how dangerous it is with the bias.

    Chomsky’s response to me was that the main “check” for the U.S. power is the American public.

    Back to the Newsy report about China overtaking the U.S. in energy use:

    I guess you could say you “came around” on her arguments that Newsy has “fair” as a goal but I didn’t really think of you as arguing against her on that. It was more of you trying to prove Western media bias before you were willing to give Newsy a chance to sell you on their value proposition.

    I am ok with your first sentence, but not the latter. Sow said:

    We agree, western media is pretty terrible and distortion in the media often leads to conflict within the populace.

    I feel you are hung up on a need to “defend” Newsy, but my conversation with Sow in my post clearly evolved to fixing the “pretty terrible and distortion in the media.” We disagree on whether that particular IEA news was biased or not. Obviously, I still hold it is biased without adding the per capita perspective. But, the conversation move on from there.

    I said:

    Watching them again, I can see an attempt at a broader view. At this point, I can accept them based on difference in prioritizing which perspective is more pressing.

    You emphathized with my concerns about the “red scare.” I honestly find it more “pressing.”

    There certainly are people and organizations advancing anti-China alarmist narratives out there, just as there are anti-U.S. narratives in China. I can empathize with him on this.

    I will accept your position that you don’t think the Newsy report was biased. My view – by omission, this is one of the thousand needles. On its own, it won’t bring you down, but over time it will.

    “just as there are anti-U.S. narratives in China” – we would have to look at how “unfair” it is on both sides to know truly how dangerous it is with one side vs the other.

    Anyways, forgive me, I didn’t want to go down this path of discussion – to proof media bias. I am not on a crusade looking for more converts – Noam Chomsky has a sufficient following. If you read the Chinese blogs within China, you will know they simply take Western media bias as a fact. Chomsky was invited to talk to the General Assembly recently. So I suspect that view is global.

    The U.S. is a hegemon and the political culture that has formed in the international arena is dominated by “power” – that’s well documented, and that view has been successfully advanced by people like Tsinghua Professor Yan Xuetong. The “check and balance” is crucial for world peace, and the “actions the public willing to take” and the media “fairness” seems to be the only solution. How we get there is really my question.

    Thank you very much, Kai, for weighing in.


  4. August 18th, 2010 at 18:32 | #4

    Here is my 2 cents: there really ought to be 2 sources of news – one that is “licensed and vetted” and one that is “by the people.”

    The licensed and vetted news are produced by people who have gone through proper training for doing investigative, in-depth reporting. If the press is so important to an informed, civil society, why should they be run by a bunch of semi-educated imbeciles (ok, I know there are some great journalists, but let’s face it, on the whole, would you consider a typical journalist to be your intellectual equal?) or for-profit ideologues? If doctors, dentists, lawyers – heck even real estate agents – are regulated and licensed to ensure they meet minimum thresholds of training, why should not journalists? I believe that the press is important and hence believe a licensed, professionally-staffed media should provide the bulk of our news information. Some may think that a free market will eventually ensure the “check and balance” needed to ensure quality news. But as we can see this is wishful thinking. Just as the government often needs to play an active role in ensuring an economy stays “competitive” (a la antitrust), so too should the government play a role in ensuring the press is being fair and objective.

    But to ensure that the press does not become behoden to speical interests (whether they be government, political, commercial, or other interests), it is also very important to have a second source of news to help triangulate what is reported. This is where blogs and other sources of “news by the people” come in. In general, because sources such as blogs are not licensed or professionally run, they tend to in general produce lower quality work, but quality is not the point. The use of blogs is to check against the professionals – to keep the professionals honest – not to replace the professionals.

    The problem with Western press? There are no minimal standards of objectivity, insight, or fairness and the people do not seem to care, with each of these phenomena feeding on each other in an ever sprialling cycle downwards, resulting in a society that is advanced in many ways, but ignorant also in so many, so many ways.

  5. August 31st, 2010 at 09:17 | #5

    I think it is important to address your argument that journalism should be a licensed profession. I fundamentally disagree with this. In States we have freedom of the press, it gets a little iffy when you start having a regulatory body that determines who can and cannot be considered a journalist.

    Especially, if that regulatory body is in anyway connected to the government. They kind of system is so easily abused it could quickly devolve from who has the credentials to be a journalist to who has the “right sort of ideas”. This is why we have a free press so that ideas can be shared and disseminated by anyone. I can think of a number of broadcast “journalists” whose ineptitude makes my soul cry but I would much rather allow them to spread their ideas then have someone say they can’t for x reason.

    Licensing, in my view, is a violation of our right to a free press. It also forces you to define “journalism” in my opinion David Simon is an excellent investigative journalist but he writes creative non-fiction. Does the fact that he dramatizes elements mean he isn’t a “journalist”? I don’t think so. Plenty of bloggers post great news and insight on their blogs each day, are they not journalists?

    A free press comes with trade offs but, in my view, freedom is more important than doggedly preserving and only furthering “truth”, because one is real, and tangible the other is up for negotiation.

  6. August 31st, 2010 at 14:27 | #6

    Hi Allen, Folks,

    I am just trying to bring the conversation up to date and have cherry picked the various perspectives from the comments section over at Kai’s original post.

    Rosa Sow
    August 19, 2010 at 2:58 am

    I think the end of your post gets at what I was saying in the email with yinyang. It is about individualized checks. The answer to “who checks the American public” needs to be individuals ought to check themselves and each other. I wholly agree that we need to recognize that fairness is a myth, that skepticism leads people to question media characterizations.

    Just as the public has an obligation to check institutions, the individuals that comprise that public have a reciprocal obligation to check themselves and each other. As you pointed out with the Iraq example, some times that check fails. But we have new ways of communicating now, of transmitting and interpreting news media, that can enhance our ability to question institutionally, and socially imposed ideologies.

    Kai Pan (In response to Allen comment #4 above)
    August 20, 2010 at 9:07 am

    Hey yinyang,

    I’m not very bull ish on the idea of two sources of news, “licensed and vet ted” vs. “by the peo ple”, and not only because we already approach a sim i lar dichotomy between “mainstream/traditional media” and and alternative/new media” as it is. I think Rosa said as much and we have the internet to thank for this. Read this The Last Psychiatrist post.

    I really think Allen could poke a ton of holes in his own suggestion if he thought about it, and I’ve already offered some problems with it above. Cynically, his sug gestion of licensing and vetting may lead to a greater semblance of fairness and objectivity with out there actually being so. That’s good for deceiving less critical thinking people, but it’ll never deceive people like Allen…which brings us back to square one.

    August 20, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Hi Kai,

    Well, I very much want to believe this recent up and coming Internet (blog, Newsy even, and etc) is giving the traditional media enough competition. That dichotomy seems more apparent now, but at the end of the day, the Internet is just a tool. Sure, barrier to entry is much lower so people like us can have a voice and compete.

    Blogging is more altruistic, whereas some one working in traditional media, it is more about putting food on the table. I think the latter is going to compete harder. Conflict, wars, polarization, sensationalization, and so forth all sell.

    That Last Psychiatrist post you linked to – to me, the traditional media are light years ahead of people like us in monetization. Rationality vs. sex – the winner is clear.

    Given all these issues, Kai, why wouldn’t you think regulation is needed? Let’s suppose this is a problem set at Berkeley. You need to go down that path. How would you regulate? I am curious what your best shot is.

    I’ll see if Allen can find time to chime in here.

    Kai Pan
    August 20, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Hey yinyang,

    Uh, I think by most accounts, traditional media sees the internet as a major threat if not competitor. The plus side to lower barriers of entry is that there can be more potential voices propagated. The down side is that fringe voices benefit from the same technological amplification. You’ll get people like yourself challenging the narratives of the mainstream media, but you’ll also get people supporting them, or taking them further.

    It’s not that I don’t think more regulation is needed. It’s that I don’t think it’ll actually satisfy you. It won’t necessarily eliminate bias. It just adds another level of complexity. The ideas you’ve mentioned as regulatory standards are fine, but I just don’t think they’ll be as effective as you hope they would be. You’ll end up griping about the bias of the people meant to regulate the media to ensure fairness. As such, I think its less efficient to try to establish a regulatory sys tem to regulate others and more efficient to just get better at telling your side of the story.

    Maitreya Bhakal
    August 24, 2010 at 2:24 pm


    Personally, I feel that the main crux of your argument that deserves the most attention is that “bias” for some one might be perfectly “fair” for another. However, I think that people have missed the main point of the western media approach towards China. Most of western reporting about China is centered around two central points, which generally accompany the biased statements they make,

    a) The inclusion of only those facts which support their point of view i.e. selective reporting
    b) Publishing down right lies

    It is point b) which deserves the most attention. But sadly, most blogs only focus on a), and in conjunction with the media’s already biased view point, take it as a basis for simply assuming that western media bias is, in your terms, an established “fact” (As if anyone had any doubts about that). Unfortunately, the basic premise remains that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING can be done about point a) above – the media will deliberately include only those facts which support that particular outlet/journalist/analyst’s point of view. This in fact the media’s definition. It is how the media works – by definition – it simply has to be biased, especially in democracies.

    Your argument that “I don’t think there can be an objective “fairness”, only the “fairness” that the majority can exact from the whole.” (this is not the first time that I’ve seen you bring it up btw :-)) is true in general, but in this particular case, falters. Simply because, there might be, from the standards which we have come to expect from the western media, an excuse for the selective reporting of facts (“We are free to report what we want and to not report what we don’t want, since this is a democracy”, goes the standard argument); there is ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE for publishing lies. One can’t say, like you do, that there is no “objective” truth in this case, simply because a lie is a lie – regardless of whose view point you consider. And I’ve often observed that in the English language Chinese blogosphere, the importance of this point is consistently sacrificed in favour of the traditional media bias attributable to selective reporting.

    The more philosophical the discussion about media bias becomes, the more it misses the point and moves away from what the actual argument should be about – the lies spread by the media, rather than just biased reporting in general. Because, as I said earlier, there is absolutely nothing that can be done about bias which operates in conjunc tion with selective reporting.

    There have been tons and tons of articles in the West ern and Indian press were journalists and analysts have published shameless lies about China with out any research (or remorse, for that matter). As they say, “Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?”.

    Hence, while it is absolutely essential to discuss about media bias and its causes, it is equally important to realise that the rise of China brings along with it numerous misconceptions, and it is these misconceptions which the western media exploits by twisting the truth and publishing lies. Which brings me to your argument about “fairness”. There is absolutely no excuse about lying in the press, and hence this standard flag ship argument about the difference in perceptions of what is “biased” and “fair” and what is not, becomes utterly irrelevant.

    Kai Pan
    August 31, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    yinyang personally asked me to revisit this thread just to respond to your comment, so here I am.

    I don’t really agree with you that most blogs only focus on a) selective reporting and don’t focus on b) down right lies. Frankly, I see plenty of both. You also have to remember that b) has the added complexity of whether or not the person uttering something you consider a lie actually believes what they are saying. There’s that extra level of “is this guy intention ally spreading lies or is he really just that ignorant/stupid?”

    However, calling b) out is really quite simple. You just prove them wrong (or offer an argument for how they’re wrong). Perhaps the reason you think a) gets more attention is precisely because it is less clear cut to prove or argue. As such, there could be more arguing involved. Why? Because it becomes a matter of demonstrating some sort of intent or motivation that may or may not be there. It’s easy to prove bias or prejudice when some one says some thing that’s clearly not true or clearly false. It’s harder to prove bias or prejudice in what information or data some one invokes.

    Next, frankly, I don’t really understand what you’re trying to say in your fourth paragraph (begin ning with “Your argument…”) so I’d rather not try responding until I have a clearer idea of what you’re arguing.

    I disagree with your fifth paragraph. The reason the argument becomes philosophical is because you’re demanding others to see an objective truth or standard that is actually subjective. As I said at the beginning above, its easier to confront down right lies. Its harder to get people to think about how biases and prejudices result in selective reporting that then compounds pre-existing biases and prejudices. I’m less concerned about down right lies than I am about biased/selective reporting because one is the evil you can see and the other is the evil that not everyone sees and is harder to show. It is precisely because the latter is so subtle that it is usually far more dangerous. It doesn’t raise flags, it doesn’t get people to question, it just seeps into people as modus operandi.

    Finally, no one is arguing that there is an excuse for lying in the press.

    Rosa Sow
    August 31, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    I think there are other things to consider, a) and b) are easy to call out. But there are journalistic practices and external demands that complicate the equations. Given that 1) media outlets work on time constraints and want to “scoop” their competitors 2) people are generally apathetic about media, as evidenced by this thread. So (some)news organizations try “pursue objectivity” by adopting the dominant rhetoric surrounding an issue. I think a really good example of this is the phrase “Ground-Zero Mosque”. It is wholly imprecise, the Cordoba community center is not just a mosque, It’s not at ground zero at all but it’s a sexy, and for some reason controversial concept so news organizations run with it. If you were to refer to it as the Park 51 community center no one would know what you were talking about. So if a news organization wants you to read/watch their story they essentially have to use that phrasing. Especially online sources because of the nature of search engine results. I guess my overall point is that so much of what is wrong or dangerous about news media has nothing to do with overt bias, but rather the nature of of competition and external social, technological and cultural pressures. These tacit forms of bias are far more dangerous and far harder to account for with the space of a news story.

  7. August 31st, 2010 at 23:47 | #7

    @Rosa #5,

    I respectfully disagree that a licensed press and a free press is necessarily mutually exclusive. We depend on the government to do so many things for us. Governments run the courts. Government run the military. Government run the police. Government run our elections. We may have a tradition where we believe that a press free from government “interference” serves the democratic process better, but that is just a tradition. The proof is still in the pudding. Eventually any form of government exists for real purposes – to better our lives, to empower our lot, etc. When the system we believe in does not work, it makes no sense to say but our tradition say so and so. To do so is only to perpetuate ignorance.

    To sum, I believe freedom is a good rule of thumb – given the West’s experience of government suppression. In China’s case though – where turmoil and discord has been the experience – the involvement of government is seen as a good rule of thumb. Neither is right or wrong. The final proof is in the pudding.

    So – should we have consumers or government filter out information junk out there? (For the press, you say the people; but as far as consumer information (food safety say) is concerned, we rely on gov’t…) Which system will facilitate movement of information to effectuate the most effective governance? Time will tell…

  8. September 1st, 2010 at 11:45 | #8

    It isn’t a sense of tradition that makes me say that journalism shouldn’t be a licensed profession, though i have to admit I have a bit of an idealistic and abstract view of the first amendment ( and constitutional law in general). I just think media can’t reasonably fulfill its watchdog function when it is regulated by the state. When effective governance and liberty (yes, these are vague terms but I think they’ll serve for now) are in conflict, I think liberty takes precedent. Sure, that leads to messy policy discussions, ignorance, and misinformation but that is a reasonable trade off for me. I think that is more important to have a free press, to allow all voices to contribute to public discourse, then to have the government run more effectively. I also don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. In fact I think preserving a free press ultimately helps government run more effectively, or that it is at least a more just way to run government. But then again, I’m American so this point of view is wholly influenced by American ideas about governmental obligations.

  9. September 1st, 2010 at 12:58 | #9

    @Rosa #8,

    I think we can safely say that we both agree that the media can serve as an effective watchdog that promotes more effective governance over the long term. What we disagree on is what and how? Can tabloid media (sorry for the derogatory term) serve that role? I don’t think so. We need something more … and the market hasn’t given us that.

  10. September 1st, 2010 at 13:28 | #10

    @ Allen, Rosa,

    Regarding Allen’s point on Chinese viewing strong government as a good thing. This is one thing often missed in the ‘West’ for whatever reason. Since the first Opium War, the Chinese population have lived miserably through foreign invasion up until the end of WW2. It was precisely a weak government that the Chinese population suffered invasions and exploitation.

    That view is in fact polar opposites to the American and European public experience; that power and governments are to be distrusted.

    “Free press” and “state controlled press” are also viewed as polar opposites in the West. “Freedom” arouse very strong emotions, especially in the U.S.. The Western press in fact take “state controlled press” with extreme antagonism.

    With that said, I am with Allen on this idea of the need for some standards for media. To date, it seems the U.S. government is very dysfunctional. I don’t see the U.S. media helping towards that. The media has polarized American society so badly, and it’s beyond messy – no agreement can be achieved on anything.

  11. September 2nd, 2010 at 07:33 | #11

    @Allen, yinyang,

    Oh yes agreed, American media has completely fragmented public opinion. It’s very frustrating actually. Somehow, the media has put things that are a matter of empirical fact up for debate, at some point it’s like they just collectively decided that rhetoric was more important than evidence. The sheer volume of misinformation that is disseminated in western media is astounding. This type of journalism is eroding our cohesiveness as a nation. But then again, sometimes we don’t make the best decisions when we are united (see our entire history as a nation for examples).

    You’ll get no argument from me that journalists need standards, my point is that it is too dangerous for those standards to come from the government. The institution needs to self-regulate, and the people need to check this kind of dangerous media by eliminating the market for it and actively recognizing its structural flaws.

    I feel the need to qualify these statements, what I’ve described is how I feel it ought to be, but I don’t think that we are going to achieve that ideal in the foreseeable future. That being said, while state control of media is practically enforceable now, and has potential to fix problems within the system I think it is too dangerous to cede that much power to the government.

    Of China, it’s understandable, reasonable even, that a nation with that kind of history would want (or even require) a strong central government. I believe that government is meant to protect the people. I’m just saying that we have different ideas about what constitutes ‘protection’. I would rather have some measure of chaos in the system if “freedom” is preserved then stability at the expense of expression. Granted the type of “chaos” our media perpetrates also constrains “freedom” but there are checks on that system that don’t exist in other societies. Whether we use those checks or not is another matter, but I value their existence, however abstract it may be.

  12. September 2nd, 2010 at 08:53 | #12

    I’m about to hit the sack but I wanted to drop in at yinyang’s invitation. From what I’ve read, I don’t think we’ve made any progress on the discussion though. The debate still boils down to some people thinking the government should play a role in news/media/information quality control while others think that’s too risky. What now?

  13. September 2nd, 2010 at 11:24 | #13


    Bear with us a little bit. Explaining the nuances of our positions is useful.

    What now?

    1. I simply hope more ideas come forward. We should also actively fetch out ideas and perspectives from around the world.

    2. As Allen said, we are searching for ‘what and how.’ So, in that sense, we are all on the same page. I’ll quote Rosa (#16) above:

    The institution needs to self-regulate, and the people need to check this kind of dangerous media by eliminating the market for it and actively recognizing its structural flaws.

    This is that same theme she spoke of earlier on in the discussion – the public checks itself. Self-regulation is still a form of regulation. Allen will have to explain if he thinks regulation must come from government or not.

    Professor Chomsky’s quick response to my email on this topic (I hope he elaborates further):

    The only way to break it is education and organization, and working hard to create alternatives.

    He apparently shares Rosa’s views – education, organization, and creating alternatives – and in Rosa’s words, “eliminating the market for it and actively recognizing its structural flaws.” Sounds like he’d be supportive of Newsy.

    We should actively seek out examples around the world for effective ‘education, organization, and creating alternatives.’


    I think ultimately addressing “media bias” chips away at the more urgent issues of ‘lies.’ Well, I hope. So I simply hope you put your priority on pause for the moment.

    Have you come across ideas within India on addressing this issue?

  14. September 2nd, 2010 at 20:59 | #14


    Cool. I have to express my skepticism of some of the stronger condemnations of today’s media or the effects of today’s media (in the United States). I’m not saying the media hasn’t had appreciable changes (some for the better, some for the worse, depending on what your values are), but I get the feeling that there’s too much “the sky is falling” rhetoric here. I’m not arguing against fighting for improvements, but I just think a little perspective has been lost.

    How about a law under which media companies can be sued, that doesn’t seek to define “truth” or “lies” but makes one liable for damages if a plaintiff (like in a class action lawsuit) can legally prove negligence or malicious intent? This would leave the “independent judiciary” to be the arbiter, but in some way hold media companies liable, and give complainants a means in which to exercise oversight.

    But do you see the problems there yet?

    Not least of which is this one. The media deals in speech, in information, in expression. Presenting or aspiring to objectivity was and is self-selected, not the other way around. I don’t think it was ever defined that the media should be objective. Objectivity was a selling point, not a requisite. I think people have forgotten, arguably because the very industry of the media, of journalism, has done so much to convince themselves of that being their modus operandi. A worthwhile goal, of course, but as with things like righteousness, sometimes people think that their aspiration automatically becomes their attainment and they an embodiment. So how do you respond to that? By always being skeptical. We can aspire towards teaching that, as many American educators do, but part of teaching that is also always being skeptical of how successfully we’re teaching that.

    The reason why this conversation becomes philosophical, Maitreya, is because it can’t avoid becoming so. There is no uniform solution to the fundamental flaws of humanity that will always underlie the problems of lies or selective reporting that we take issue with. There’s always a deeper layer rendered suspect. We solve for one thing and realize that it can be undermined by another. That’s the inherent futility and danger of trying to legislate or regulate something out of existence that is inherent to us. Is the media’s narratives dictated by a minority to the detriment of the majority right now? Maybe, arguable. Does anyone think government interference would do much more than possibly redistributing who dictates media narratives? Would that redistribution be better or worse? Isn’t that just another echo of the age-old debate between democracy and authoritarianism? Between enlightened kings and oppressors?

    For ideas like licensing (beyond proxies like degrees in journalism and credentialed experience/work in the field) and regulation, the market must demand it. For the market to demand it, someone has to argue the case. Some of you are arguing it. That’s fine. I’m just skeptical of how much good it will do versus how much “bad-by-another-name” it could do. The “you only think that because of tradition” argument doesn’t work on someone who actually knows why that tradition exists and can argue it.

    The desire for ceding more control versus the apprehension against ceding more control is normal, a philosophical issue that has been with humanity since its inception as a limited creature. There’s nothing inherently right or wrong, advisable or inadvisable about it. It’s a matter of individual trust.

  15. September 3rd, 2010 at 14:00 | #15


    Fair enough. After reading about “Yellow Journalism” it certainly appears things today have become less blatant (I avoided the use of ‘better’ because I haven’t concluded one way or another for myself).

    (Btw, what’s up with “Yellow Journalism”, “Black Lists” and “White Lies”? It’s a different topic, and I don’t mean to digress now. Something to look into in the future.)

    Presenting or aspiring to objectivity was and is self-selected, not the other way around. I don’t think it was ever defined that the media should be objective.

    When did you, Kai, come around to this understanding? While in college? Post college? What percentage of the U.S. population would you say have this same expectation?

    We can aspire towards teaching that, as many American educators do, but part of teaching that is also always being skeptical of how successfully we’re teaching that.

    I’ll agree to that, and we all can play a part in that too – to encourage and to push for formal teaching of ‘how’ to read and interpret media.

    Regarding “independent judiciary” idea, I still don’t see the problems there yet. You said:

    The media deals in speech, in information, in expression.

    There is no uniform solution to the fundamental flaws of humanity that will always underlie the problems of lies or selective reporting that we take issue with.

    You know that hate speech is illegal. “Hate” is a fundamental flaw of humanity which has to a large extent being successfully “regulated” now around the world. Some argue it has gone underground – or as you say, “there’s always a deeper layer rendered suspect.” Sure. But that deeper layer is to be further improved upon by our future generations. We take down what we can now.

    Are you hung up on ‘freedom’ as if it is some kind of absolute truth?

    I also think that in the last couple of centuries, humans on this planet have learned that racism is a bad thing. Would you say this is truth that we have collectively learned. (Sure, as of today, mileage still varies at different societies complicated by other factors.)

    Prosecuting racist crimes is hard, but nevertheless as a society we have decided to try to root out ‘intent.’

    In this same vein, why not try to aim higher when it comes to media behavior? We are not capable of arriving at more truths?

  16. September 4th, 2010 at 06:49 | #16

    I’ve posted the first part of this comment at c/d too.


    “You also have to remem­ber that b) has the added com­plex­ity of whether or not the per­son utter­ing some­thing you con­sider a lie actu­ally believes what they are say­ing. There’s that extra level of “is this guy inten­tion­ally spread­ing lies or is he really just that ignorant/stupid?”

    I don’t care what the reason is. If one is “ignorant/stupid”, one has no business calling oneself a journalist or analyst or an expert in the subject. When one publishes an accusation without there being any evidence for it, then that means that that person most certainly believes it, or, what is more likely, simply doesn’t care, because he/she knows that most people are going to fall for it anyway.

    How­ever, call­ing b) out is really quite sim­ple. You just prove them wrong (or offer an argu­ment for how they’re wrong). Per­haps the rea­son you think a) gets more atten­tion is pre­cisely because it is less clear cut to prove or argue.

    If calling b) out where really that simple, then more people would have called it out – simple!
    a) gets more attention because it is also EASY to argue – one can simply generalise the whole matter – like you did. b) is more difficult because nobody knows the truth anyway, and are too lazy to find it out, and believe what they read in the media. Of course, if one argues about specific to-the-point instances rather than philosophising the whole matter, then pointing out a) also becomes equally challenging, something which many people are shying away from by taking the easy way out.

    “The rea­son the argu­ment becomes philo­soph­i­cal is because you’re demand­ing oth­ers to see an objec­tive truth or stan­dard that is actu­ally sub­jec­tive.”

    Can the truth be subjective? A standard can be subjective, an opinion can be subjective, but can the TRUTH be subjective? Two plus two equals four. What is this truth subject to? Ones’ nationality? One’s ethnicity? One’s religious beliefs? Yes, it is such blatant ridiculousness that is going on in sections of the media nowadays – and the worse part is, this phenomenon is increasing.

    As I said earlier, your argument is true in general, i.e. the media can set subjective standards for itself, but in this particular case, that argument doesn’t hold water for reasons explained above.


    “I think there are other things to con­sider, a) and b) are easy to call out. But there are jour­nal­is­tic prac­tices and exter­nal demands that com­pli­cate the equa­tions.

    Read my reply to Kai. Competition and “external demands” are no reason for lying and being irresponsible. In fact, freedom of press is used as a common excuse for irresponsible journalism. The other excuse is “competition”.


    “There is no uniform solution to the fundamental flaws of humanity that will always underlie the problems of lies or selective reporting that we take issue with. “

    How about a a journalist or analyst doing some effective research, in order to verify his/her claims, instead of blatantly spreading lies?

    “We solve for one thing and realize that it can be undermined by another.”

    So if all journalists and analysts start doing proper fact finding and publishing the truth, do enlighten me as to what will undermine that.

    That’s the inherent futility and danger of trying to legislate or regulate something out of existence that is inherent to us

    I have never said that the media should be legislated or regulated. And if you really believe that lying in the media is inherent in journalists – then this entire discussion is futile.

    In short, from your tone it is clear that you believe that this problem is unsolvable and that it is in human nature to lie and be biased. I agree with the later, and have never said otherwise (in fact, no one has. You are again and again bringing up a point which everyone agrees with). The point is that it is also in human nature to aim for the truth, as yinyang correctly pointed out. But the question here is – does the media really WANT to aim higher and publish the truth?

  17. September 4th, 2010 at 13:06 | #17

    @Maitreya I think you are conflating my argument. I am not saying these factors excuse lying/misinformation. All I’m saying is that in the absence of the ability to control what journalists say the best check is an informed populace that understands that external pressures, and bias exist. It arms people with a sort of filter through which to evaluate the information they receive.

  18. September 4th, 2010 at 18:36 | #18

    I will push forward the argument this way: assuming that some government regulation of speech is ok (consumer protection, religious denigration, racial denigration, slander, etc.), the question is where it is not ok.

    I’m no expert on Supreme Court jurisprudence on freedom of speech, but one take is that government has the power to regulate, but not where it comes to political speech, speech that foster the type of dialogue that is so fundamental to a vibrant democracy.

    Even under this framework, one might ask: can government regulate in the name of promoting “quality” democratic discourse.

    Many would say NO. The quality of democratic discourse depends on the will of the people and the people alone. If the people want to have low quality discourse – that is the choice of a democratic people. What’s low quality in one’s eye could be sanctimonious in another’s (an atheist might think the best of preachers a hoax).

    So if one think of media, journalism as a sort of political discourse (which by definition cannot be objective), I guess I can sort of understand the resistance to government regulation.

    Political speech is fundamentally different from product labeling. Freedom of speech doesn’t necessarily guarantee efficiency or even efficacy of information processing, it simply is; it defines the nature of a government.

    I personally don’t subscribe to this voodoo identitism. I believe governance of a country is like the governance of a company – which is like the management of a car factory – which can be made efficient, scientific. To the extent freedom of speech can promote better governance, fine. But I simply don’t see how un-regulated, low quality speech can lead to effective information disseminiation or quality discourse.

  19. September 4th, 2010 at 22:39 | #19


    Fair enough. After reading about “Yellow Journalism” it certainly appears things today have become less blatant (I avoided the use of ‘better’ because I haven’t concluded one way or another for myself).

    I’m not so keen to say “better” either. In some ways, things have gotten “better” but in others, they’ve just gotten more “sophisticated”.

    (Btw, what’s up with “Yellow Journalism”, “Black Lists” and “White Lies”? It’s a different topic, and I don’t mean to digress now. Something to look into in the future.)

    LoL, I’m pretty sure they have little to do with race but more with perceptions of color.

    When did you, Kai, come around to this understanding? While in college? Post college? What percentage of the U.S. population would you say have this same expectation?

    No idea when I came to this understanding, probably in high school, but to address what you think is more important: I agree that the majority of the U.S. population’s views on media objectivity are not so sophisticated.

    I’ll agree to that, and we all can play a part in that too – to encourage and to push for formal teaching of ‘how’ to read and interpret media.

    We do play a part, by presenting, arguing, and trying to persuade people of “how” we read and interpret media. I think both of us agree on improving the audience’s skepticism and capability for critical thinking or independent research. That’s improving the “demand” side of the information market. I think what you started on was a criticism and desire to improve the “supply” side of the information market, right? I just want to reiterate that I too want the supply side to improve in the areas where it can improve. Our disagreement seems to rest on how that can be accomplished. You feel there are certain solutions worth exploring, and I’m being the party-pooper by saying my explorations of those solutions result in the same problems we were trying to solve for, albeit in different guises. I think I’m just more cynical than you.

    You know that hate speech is illegal. “Hate” is a fundamental flaw of humanity which has to a large extent being successfully “regulated” now around the world. Some argue it has gone underground – or as you say, “there’s always a deeper layer rendered suspect.” Sure. But that deeper layer is to be further improved upon by our future generations. We take down what we can now.

    Is hate speech illegal? I’m not sure if it is being “successfully” regulated, much less around the world. I think there are changing social norms, not necessarily a progression towards an objective ideal. When I said sophisticated above, I’m precisely responding to the issue of deeper layers.

    This and this happened. How do you know?
    This and this happened, I was there. How do I trust that you were.
    This and this happened, I was there, here is evidence. How do I trust your evidence?
    This and this happened, I was there, here is evidence, here are my credentials in reporting things. How do I trust your credentials?
    This and this happened, I was there, here is evidence, here are my credentials in reporting things, as licensed by the relevant regulatory body for regulating people like me. How do I trust them?

    Increasing sophistication.

    Are you hung up on ‘freedom’ as if it is some kind of absolute truth?

    Truth about what?

    I also think that in the last couple of centuries, humans on this planet have learned that racism is a bad thing. Would you say this is truth that we have collectively learned. (Sure, as of today, mileage still varies at different societies complicated by other factors.)

    Is that a truth? One that we have collectively learned? No. I think it is a social norm that has changed and, as you say, where mileage varies.

    Prosecuting racist crimes is hard, but nevertheless as a society we have decided to try to root out ‘intent.’

    Not sure I understand. What do you mean by rooting out “intent”?

    In this same vein, why not try to aim higher when it comes to media behavior? We are not capable of arriving at more truths?

    I’m not sure we aren’t aiming higher. Through the advancement of technology, we’ve empowered a more democratic information market, where more people are able to broadcast their voice and fight for attention, to compete to persuade others. I think a problem here is seeing the media as a single entity instead that either does one thing or another, where if it is failing at arriving a truth then it must not be aiming higher. I don’t agree with that. The media is an extension of ourselves and an extension of our plurality. Some of us, like some of the media, are aiming higher while others are not (to us, of course).

  20. September 4th, 2010 at 22:52 | #20


    What is “voodoo identitism“?

    Allen, you’re a technocrat. That’s fine, but that’s still subscribing to the concept of an enlightened monarch, that someone else knows better for you and should be allowed to prescribe what is quality discourse and effective information dissemination to you. That inherently makes their subjectivity master over you. Some people will assent to that. Others will not. The main question is still who should be the regulator? Who will be the management of the car factory? Who will be the boss?

    As far as “the West” is concerned, the reigning social norms there predispose them against government authorities dictating speech and/or predispose them towards special interests (democracy in action, right?) influencing government power towards dictating speech (think public education). I’m repeating this because it is what must be kept in mind when trying to answer the above.

  21. September 4th, 2010 at 23:39 | #21

    @Kai Pan,

    “voodo identitism” is a made-up term. Just as religion, race, ethnicity, gender can be the root of identity politics, so apparently can ideologies such as democracy, freedom.

    I am no technocrat necessarily – not with respect to freedom of speech. I’m just trying to search for the zeal for freedom. Why do we not want anarchy? That’s true freedom.

  22. September 6th, 2010 at 09:53 | #22


    “I am not saying these factors excuse lying/misinformation”

    I never said you did.
    When you said: “I think there are other things to consider, a) and b) are easy to call out. “, I assumed that what you are implying is that a) and b) are both easy to identify, and that the “external demands” etc. are reasons which should be considered for media bias. However, your points 1) and 2) are those points which exist in each and every industry in the word and are not limited to the media industry. Such work pressures are nothing new.

    I guess my overall point is that so much of what is wrong or dangerous about news media has nothing to do with overt bias, but rather the nature of of competition and external social, technological and cultural pressures. These tacit forms of bias are far more dangerous and far harder to account for with the space of a news story.

    I guess that point of yours made it abundantly clear that you giving more preference to “competition” etc. as a reason for media bias. However, I do not agree that such reasons for bias are harder to account for, simply because, it is common knowledge and practice that organizations try every trick in the book to stay ahead of their competitors.
    You are making two points here:
    1) That such forms of media bias (which arise from ‘competition’ or ‘external pressures’ etc.) are harder to account for
    2) More dangerously, that “so much of what is wrong or dangerous ” about the media has nothing to do with overt bias.

    Point 1) holds true for every industry, is pretty debatable, and goes into the reasons why the media is the way it is. Point 2), however, is the most damning of all, simply because you are saying that media is the way it is not “so much” due to reasons pertaining to its inherent nature, but simply due to “competition” and “external pressures”!!
    THAT is why I said that this point cannot be used as an excuse.

  23. September 7th, 2010 at 00:05 | #23

    @Kai, Allen, Rosa, Maitreya

    Allen articulated much better and more broadly than I did regarding ‘freedom.’ I am really curious how you respond to Allen #21.

    Also I wanted to drop this note to let you guys know I am continuing to search for what other perspectives are out there.


    For me, I came to this understanding about the Western media around the time of the 1997 Hong Kong hand-over. When the coverage intensified leading up to the hand-over, I remember thinking to myself, ok, here is a chance for the Weterners to learn the lessons of history – that nation states were in fact drug dealers and here is a perfect opportunity to take a stance against that.

    That didn’t happen. Instead, the Chinese government were made the bad guys. The U.K. government were treated with upmost respect. It was as if all the moral people in the West went silent. Most of my American friends knew nothing of the Opium Wars. All the supposedly moral people went dead I guess. The Western media made it out to be the Chinese government about to take over and destroy Hong Kong’s way of life.

    I was kicked in the pants and came to this understanding. That’s when I started to actively seek out what others are saying about the Western media. That’s when for me a lot of what Professor Chomsky wrote made sense.

    So, Kai, I am frankly surprised you came around to this when you were around high school. Good for you. I am impressed. Was there a specific moment that awoke you?

  24. September 9th, 2010 at 09:20 | #24

    No, I’m saying that because “overt bias” is overt it is easier to call out. Hence “overt”. It’s easy to see the outward bias of say Bill O’ Reilly or Keith Olbermann. I think seeing their bias makes us question them. Whereas it is harder for large groups of differently minded people to see the subtle bias in a phrase like “Ground Zero Mosque”. The former is dangerous and wrong, but I think the latter has more insidiously dangerous effects.I’m not excusing the harms of overt bias I just think that in the spectrum of dangerous things about media you are overvaluing that harm. Other harms should be considered,considering those other harms doesn’t mean that I don’t accept overt bias as a harm.

  25. September 9th, 2010 at 09:45 | #25

    Ah the social contract… we don’t want anarchy because we live around other people and some of those people are crazy, dangerous, stupid or all three. We’d simply rather not spend our time armed to the teeth afraid of our neighbors. So our lot is to strive for the maximum amount of freedom we can while preserving the minimum amount of safety we need to survive.

    But then, we are all still individuals so my idea of this balance could be wholly different from yours. This conflict can end two ways: battle for dominance, or compromise. Ultimately, it ends in both, well both or death for one of us. But let’s say we both agree that death isn’t the best option; that’s compromise number one. Then the domination/compromise battle begins again, this time with a rule. And that’s government: the rules we form to keep ourselves from tearing each other apart.In the myth of American democracy, not-tearing-each-other-apart has “evolved” into a philosophical ideal: preserving the maximum amount of “freedom” for everyone. It’s often described with the phrase “my rights end where yours begin”. We have a parity of freedom, we use government as a tool to figure out the limits of my rights in relation to yours.

  26. September 9th, 2010 at 10:09 | #26

    @Rosa #25,

    I used to have an argument with my roomate: he liked to listen to music while studying; I liked it quiet. I told him to put earphones on; he wanted me to put on ear plugs. He argues for his freedom in enjoying music. I argue for my freedom of being quiet. Freedom against Freedom.

    When later I went to law school, I learned that freedom is just an “emotional” term for a right – which is another “emotional” term in itself. In the example above, one wants a right to listen to music without things plugged into his ears while the other wants the right to be free from noise without things plugged into his ears. We each call our right a “freedom.” In the end, however, a neutral 3rd party will not see any “right” or “freedom” – just a need to work out a “balance” (between yin and yang if you will) that is satisfactory to all.

    So I have no qualm with what you say. Freedom is not about “freedom” – it’s about a “balance” that is acceptable to a society. A social contract is an expression of that “balance” – or at least a process to achieve that “balance.”

    Not that you said this, but I still want to iterate for my own sake: a social contract is a social contract – call it whatever you want – it’s a polical arrangement that works for one society … at some point in time. It is not a “human right” – nor is it one people’s right to enforce one’s contract or form of contract on another people. (In the example above: if in your house, you favor the “right” of the music listener, it does not mean that another house that favor the “right” of the quiet person is somehow wrong or repressive.)

    P.S. Did you remember ever signing your social contract? I might have implicitly but unwittingly signed mine when I naturalized as a U.S. citizen (DOH!).

    DOH! - Simpson

  27. September 10th, 2010 at 01:10 | #27

    @Rosa #24, Allen #25

    Very neat exchange.

    Then I’d say, what Confucius prescribed 2500 years ago for the Chinese in “中庸” equally applies today to a “freedom” loving America.

    (I’ve often wondered if the “中” in “中国” was inspired from “中庸.” Rosa – “中国” is China in Chinese and pronounced Zhong Guo. Hidden Harmonies logo is “中” also. It directly translates to “middle.”)

    Confucius teachings were part of curriculum in schools throughout much of China’s history. Scholar officials attain positions of power when they pass tests, including those of Confucius thought. Confucius thoughts permeated throughout Chinese history. I don’t think the Aristotle equivalent ever took root so deeply in the West in comparison.

    Rosa said:

    We have a parity of freedom, we use government as a tool to figure out the limits of my rights in relation to yours.

    Then, seriously, even keeping everything the same, I think if America indoctrinates her society with “中庸” – the country will become much more functional.

    Achieving middle ground is critical. I suppose if Allen and his room mate had gone fundamentalist, one of them would be dead. Is American society trending towards fundamentalists? If we look at the abortion divide, Christian vs. gay, immigration, etc issues – does it seem everything is so ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and there’s little room for in-between?

  28. September 12th, 2010 at 13:07 | #28

    Agreed, I think in the U.S. we are constantly indoctrinated with this idea that our form of government is inherently superior to all others. An idea that is only a little obnoxious– until it is paired with a very dangerous sense of obligation to “expand the empire of democracy”. An idea and tradition that is hegemonic, paternal and almost always violent and, somewhat ironically, undemocratic.

    I also see what you are saying about “signing the social contract” and I think that opens up an interesting debate about whether it is oppressive or not, do we really opt-in if we are indoctrinated to do so by institutions that support the the government ie education,media etc.? Would we thrive in a state of anarchy or even if we didn’t thrive, would we value it over democracy? I can’t answer that question though. I don’t answer hypotheticals… 😉

  29. September 12th, 2010 at 13:34 | #29

    Aristotle’s point echoes in our form of government, and Christians in this country would know his secular “golden mean”as the Christian concept of “the golden rule”. Because it is echoed by (stolen by, whatever) Christianity it is a major theme in many literary works. Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure comes to mind, Milton’s Paradise Lost, an any work that features classic Christian concepts of sin. Sin is typically described as not maintaining balance by wanting or doing something in excess or not enough. For example ‘avarice’ is the act of being too covetous whereas sloth is being too slow to “Love God” or “do right”etc. Essentially to “sin” is to be spiritually out of balance. So in that sense it is indoctrinated in some people, those being people who subscribe to Abraham religions and nerdy pretentious Liberal Arts majors (like me).

    But you are right, it seems like America is trending toward polarized fundamentalist points of view. But getting back to media distortion, I don’t think we are actually as divided as media make it seem. We just have small, but vocal, fringe groups that hijack the public agenda because they are the ones that state their desires. On most of the issues you described there is a comfortable bell curve with most people agreeing in the middle and smaller groups of people violently disagreeing at both ends. This doesn’t generally end well though because the apathy of the people in the middle means institutions like media and government exploit the fringe which has negative effects on policy.

  30. Rhan
    September 12th, 2010 at 19:50 | #30

    “P.S. Did you remember ever signing your social contract? I might have implicitly but unwittingly signed mine when I naturalized as a U.S. citizen”

    Interesting. What if you were born in US? The social contract applies as well? What if a US born citizen defies (criticize and etc) the constitution? Is that an offence under the US law, or freedom of expression apply here?

  31. September 13th, 2010 at 02:07 | #31


    I completely agree that the majority are in the middle, and they are largely apathetic while the extremes dominate the discourse. Apathy trumps the “golden mean” I guess.

    Thanks for explaining for me how pervasive this “golden mean” or “the golden rule” idea has been taught in the West. But I am a bit sad now. 🙁 Because that idea’s restraint on a “free” society such as the U.S. seems so weak. If we look at modern history, “Confucian” Japan during WW2 was not restrained in her rampage in Asia either. Sigh.

  32. September 16th, 2010 at 08:23 | #32

    Yeah it’s a bummer that these ideas largely exist in the abstract. Japan is a lot like the U.S. in this respect. They have a history of regional domination paired with a sense of ‘moral obligation’ to expand their way of life. I guess, it all ultimately comes back to the pursuit of power.

    @Rhan and @Allen good points it’s hard to say. Many have advocated ‘civil disobedience’ (Thoreau, King etc) and they seem to be tolerated more than say, the crazy Hutaree : http://www.newsy.com/videos/fbi-raids-christian-militia/ people who reject the social contract through violence. I guess we “sign” the social contract by participating in society i.e. voting, getting social security numbers, paying taxes. And I suppose the only way out is, death? Or moving out of the country? Maybe prison? That’s a bleak picture.

  33. wuschel
    October 2nd, 2010 at 08:49 | #33


    I am short on time, therefore I will not be able to finish reading the many comments displayed on this page. However, I have some short comment for You:

    – “Western media’s credibility”
    I would not be to quick to judge the credibility of western media in general. There is more than just CNN , Fox News, the Singapore Times or some ‘chinese propaganda blog’.

    The problem that comes with the production of news in general is that it a) is embedded in the value chain of a capitalistic economy and b) is heavily involved into the forming of public opinion and thus politics.

    The crux lies here: how much state and capital interference is in the news production and publishing process, and what is the audience of the news producer.

    As a politically loyal chinese newspaper, I will not praise the wests achievements. On the other hand, even a renomated newspaper in Germany might be severely influenced by spin-doctors and news consulting agencies.

    The most important part of the news process is the critical reader.

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