In this week's edition of The Daily Banter Mail Bag, Bob, Ben and Chez discuss avoiding media bias, the Super Bowl and our State of the Union guests.
1. In our current age of media that (in many cases) has a slant towards the left or right it is often said by many that we should depart from the outlets that echo and confirm our own opinions. How, as a columnist, do you find and trust reliable sources that are loyal to facts and not agendas?
Ben: Great question. Generally speaking, big media organizations that take themselves seriously tend to publish reliably sourced articles and news items. Why? Because they have the most to lose. For example, the BBC is accountable to the British government, the regulator Ofcom, and the BBC Trust, and as a public service broadcaster, is also accountable to the public. If it didn't thoroughly fact check its work and make sure its sources were extremely reliable, they would be subjected to rigorous investigation and have its funding placed in jeopardy. Other for profit companies like CNN, MSNBC etc aren't quite so transparent and accountable, but their reputations have been built on being serious institutions. If they started using people like Alex Jones as their source for reliable news, their brand would suffer and advertisers would eventually pull out. This isn't to say that the examples above aren't biased - just by virtue of what they choose to report on makes them biased - but you can generally assume that they've done their homework when it comes to sourcing their reporting. We obviously don't have the time or resources of the BBC, but we won't ever publish anything from an unreliable source, or something that hasn't been vetted by a serious media outlet.
During Bob's work on the NSA scandal, I lost a lot of faith in the The Guardian, a newspaper I had a lot of respect for. I'm more pro Snowden than Bob is, but the way the The Guardian handled the whole thing was ridiculous. Greenwald published error ridden reporting almost on a daily basis, and wasn't, as far as I can tell, held to account by any of the editors. They also published what appeared to be fake photos of the damage done to their computers during a 'government raid' of their office (that turned out to be voluntary), making me wonder how they could take themselves seriously. As a consequence, I vet pieces from The Guardian more closely because I think they often border on activism rather than journalism.
Chez: That's a damn good question. One of the problems with the sheer volume of media out there these days is that it's difficult to tell who to trust. Maybe this is why, while true objectivity is indeed impossible and a ruse, an attempt at objectivity is still laudable. If you know ahead of time that a journalist, through his or her work, is trying to push you toward a certain political viewpoint then unless that person's credentials are spotless his or her work has to be somewhat suspect. My dad always says that the smart thing to do is get all opinions then make your own decision; I'd agree except that even then it's tough to tell whose facts are for real. Regardless of how the right likes to paint them as liberal because of that "liberal bias" reality has -- as Colbert once brilliantly said -- outlets like the Times, the BBC, and even AJAM are can mostly be counted on. Just don't believe everything you read or see, and always keep in mind that in the age of Big Viral, where everybody wants the instant revenue of clickable material, it's going to be harder than ever to separate fact from fiction.
Bob: I tend to cite first-hand sources and fact check sites a lot. I especially like to quote tweets because the quotes come directly from the person I'm writing about (Greenwald and Sirota, or Steve Stockman to name a few). I also like to quote articles from the Fox News and Wall Street Journal websites, since it's difficult to accuse either of having a liberal bias. Mainly, though, if there's an opportunity to actually report news that I've researched myself without relying upon a third party news site, that's the best case. For example, this week I broke a story about an NSA agent being outed, with its facts drawn solely from first hand observation of the story as it happened. All of this isn't to suggest that I haven't fallen prey to biased information, but I try to take steps to mitigate such a trap.
2. I like football and I'll watch the Super Bowl on Sunday but I'm one of those people who feel like it's gotten TOO jingoistic. Do you feel the same way and does it affect how you watch?
Chez: The jingoism never really bothered me, mostly because I've always just accepted it as a part of American sports and the NFL in particular, mostly because football is intrinsically American and the whole warrior spirit of the game dovetails into patriotism and the militarism. Some people let this send them into tizzies -- which makes me wonder whether Sirota will watch given that he lives in Denver but hates all that yucky military propaganda -- but I really just don't care. It's definitely low on my list of things to give a shit about.
Bob: I don't really see too much jingoism, but that's mainly because I don't watch football. Mostly, as a cycling fan, I resent how football players are drugged up and get away with it, while cycling, which stringently polices for drugs, is tarred as being a sport of cheaters.
Ben: I don't watch Football. I'm from England and don't understand it. And before you ask, no, I'm not a soccer fan either. I'm a fight fan. It's boxing and MMA or nothing at all.
3. If you were a member of Congress attending the State of the Union and wanted to make a statement who would you invite as your guest?
Bob: David Lee Roth. The statement would be narcissistic and incoherent, much like Congress.
Chez: Jinkx Monsoon
Ben: In all seriousness, probably a homeless person. Americans and their leaders need to see what's happening in their country close up.