News isn't information. It's about inciting conflict.

Funny and sad post from Paul Krugman today:

Long ago I said that if liberals said the Earth was round, while conservatives said it was flat, the news headlines would read “Shape of the planet: both sides have a point.” But I encountered a new wrinkle today.

I was tentatively scheduled to be on a broadcast dealing with — well, I won’t embarrass them. But first they had to find someone to take the opposite view. And it turned out that they couldn’t — which led to canceling the whole segment.

In a way this goes beyond my original point, which was the unwillingness of the news media to referee a controversy by actually reporting the facts. Now it seems that a fact isn’t worth reporting unless someone is prepared to deny it.
Okay, everyone likes to complain about the media and all of its biases. Journalists I know in DC take offense at this line of attack, and rightly so, because most journalists don't let personal agendas into their reporting.

Unless it sells.

And that's the point. Journalists are selling a product. Like all salesmen, they adjust their pitch to whatever sells best. If they don't adjust they'll lose their job.

What sells best, unfortunately, is inciting conflict. The beauty is that they can do this and appear objective using the standard he-said/she-said approach. If the facts come down squarely on one side, reporting it that way is less interesting and makes reporters vulnerable to claims of bias.

Another unfortunate fact is that genuine ambiguity is uncomfortable for most audiences. Most prefer salacious conspiracy theories and political horse races over underlying intellectual challenges. While some can present information about difficult tradeoffs in a captivating way, it's a hard thing to do.

The end result of all this is that we have media (most of it anyway) reporting on political conflict and popularity contests but precious little about the underlying issues. Key facts are often never presented and the analysis, well, usually there isn't any.

Who's to blame? We the people get the news we deserve. If you don't like it (or even if you do but know it's wrong and socially destructive) then don't watch it or read it.


  1. This was such a good post, including your comments, I copied it to my own blog, if you don't mind.


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