04 - Media Bias and Tribalism
This is a common phrase thrown around by people repeating conspiracy theories, but what does it mean? What specifically does this mean? As with other generalities which get thrown around to loosely back up general viewpoints, the same two examples get repeated over and over. BBC! CNN! It’s like no one knows of media beyond that.
Let’s take a look at some definitions to get a handle on what we’re talking about.
“forms of the media, especially traditional forms such as newspapers, television, and radio rather than the internet, that influence large numbers of people and are likely to represent generally accepted beliefs and opinions”
“the traditional forms of mass media, as television, radio, magazines, and newspapers, as opposed to online means of mass communication. Abbreviation: MSM”
So by definition we’re looking at broadcast tv, radio, and newspaper media. I want to address this as “mainstream media” is fundamentally an ultra-simplistic term people use to say “what the government tells you”. There’s a real disconnect between what people think they’re talking about vs what they’re actually talking about, so let’s break it down.
Let’s look at some TV news stations:
Channel 4 News
NHK World Japan
The “big three” global news agencies are:
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Mail
The Daily Star
The Huffington Post
The New York Post
The Wall Street Journal
The New York Times
Los Angeles Times
This is not a complete list - only the more notable names.
So why is this important?
We have 13 TV stations, 3 global news agencies, and 14 newspapers. These are all “Mainstream media” by definition. They cover most of the full range of the political spectrum, and the best and worst of journalistic accuracy.
There’s a lot of variety here. When people say “mainstream media lies” they’re often then sharing links from the Express, or Fox News, or the OAN, or to put it another way - the mainstream media that they agree with.
It’s a farcical exercise in double-standards. Also, I’m willing to bet that absolutely no one saying “mainstream media lies” has checked all of these and this isn’t a complete list, either.
Let’s take a look. Media Bias Fact-Check is an excellent resource where you can check the biases and factual accuracy of various news entities. Let’s take a look at some of the news entities on this list:
Reuters - Mostly unbiased with a very high factual reporting rating.
“Overall, we rate Reuters Least Biased based on objective reporting and Very High for factual reporting due to proper sourcing of information with minimal bias and a clean fact check record”
The Sun - a hard right bias with a factual reporting rating of mixed.
“Overall, we rate The Sun Right Biased based on story selection and political affiliation that favors the right. We also rate them Mixed for factual reporting due to overly sensationalized headlines and numerous failed fact checks”
Associated Press - Mostly unbiased with a very high factual reporting rating.
“Overall, we rate the Associated Press borderline Left-Center Biased due to left-leaning editorializing, but Least Biased on a whole due to balanced story selection. We also rate them Very-High for factual reporting due to proper sourcing and a clean fact check record”
CNN - Hard left bias with a factual reporting rating of mixed.
“Overall, we rate CNN left biased based on editorial positions that consistently favors the left, while straight news reporting falls left-center through bias by omission. We also rate them Mixed for factual reporting due to several failed fact checks by TV hosts. However, news reporting on the website tends to be properly sourced with minimal failed fact checks”
AFP - Mostly unbiased with a factual reporting rating of very high.
“Overall, we rate AFP Least Biased based on balanced story selection and High for factual reporting due to proper sourcing”
The Daily Mail - Hard right bias with a factual rating of low.
“Overall, we rate Daily Mail Right Biased and Questionable due to numerous failed fact checks and poor sourcing of information.”
The Express - Hard right biased with a factual rating of mixed.
“Overall, we rate the Daily Express Right Biased based on editorial content and Mixed for factual reporting due to publishing conspiracies & pseudoscience as well as a few failed fact checks”
NHK World Japan - Roughly center-left with a high factual reporting rating.
“Overall, we rate NHK World-Japan Left-Center biased based on story selection that slightly favors the left. We also rate them High for factual reporting due to a clean fact check record.”
CBS - Center-left with a high factual reporting rating.
“Overall, we rate CBS News Left-Center biased based on story selection that moderately favors the left and High for factual reporting due to proper sourcing.”
OAN - Extreme right bias and low factual reporting rating.
“Overall, we rate One America News Questionable based on far-right bias, lack of sourcing, promotion of conspiracy theories, and propaganda as well as numerous failed fact checks. OAN is not a credible news source."
Fox News - Hard right bias with a mixed factual reporting rating.
“Overall, we rate Fox News strongly Right-Biased due to editorial positions and story selection that favors the right. We also rate them Mixed factually and borderline Questionable based on poor sourcing and the spreading of conspiracy theories that later must be retracted after being widely shared. Further, Fox News would be rated a Questionable source based on numerous failed fact checks by hosts and pundits, however, straight news reporting is generally reliable, therefore we rate them Mixed for factual reporting”
Huffington Post - Hard left bias with mixed factual reporting.
“Overall, we rate HuffPost Left-Biased based on story selection and editorial positions that favor the left. We also rate them Mixed for factual reporting due to failed fact checks and the promotion of pseudoscience.”
What’s the point?
As you can see, what constitutes mainstream media covers factual reporting of a very high standard to a low standard, from the far left to the extreme right. “Mainstream media lies” - what, all of them? Even the ones promoting conspiracy theories? “Mainstream media lies” is an ultra-simplistic opinion which is rooted in a general idea that authority is corrupt as opposed to any knowledge of what these various outlets post or how accurate they are. When you get specific, general viewpoints break down.
What about alternate media?
When we get into alternative media, we have the benefit of media unconstrained by funding and corporate bias, but you also have media unconstrained by standards of journalism and journalistic practices.
Let’s go over some alternative media outlets, which I am going to say are exclusively online publications.
The Young Turks
The Daily Wire
Louder with Crowder
Before It’s News
The Daily Beast
There are way more than this but let’s see what the media bias check says about these.
Infowars - Conspiracy level: tin foil hat, pseudoscience level: strong, factual rating very low.
“Overall, InfoWars/Alex Jones is a crackpot, tin foil hat level conspiracy website that also strongly promotes pseudoscience. The amount of fake news and debunked conspiracy claims, as well as extreme right-wing bias, renders InfoWars a non-credible source on any level.”
Natural News - Conspiracy level: strong, pseudoscience level: quackery, factual rating: very low.
“Overall, we rate Natural News a Questionable source based on the promotion of quackery level pseudoscience and conspiracy theories, as well as extreme right wing bias. This is one of the most discredited sources on the internet.”
The Young Turks - Extreme left bias but mostly factual.
“Overall, we rate The Young Turks Left Biased based on story selection that always favors the progressive left. We also rate them Mostly Factual in reporting, rather than High, due to the occasional promotion of pseudoscience regarding GMOs.”
News Max - Hard right bias with a factual rating of mixed
“Overall, we rate Newsmax Right Biased and Questionable based on the promotion of conspiracy theories and pseudoscience as well as numerous failed fact checks.”
The Daily Wire - Hard to extreme right bias, with a factual rating of mixed.
“Overall, we rate The Daily Wire borderline questionable and Right Biased based on story selection and editorial positions that align with the conservative right. We also rate them Mixed for factual reporting due to several failed fact checks. If the Daily Wire fails another fact check will be moved to the Questionable list”
The Daily Beast - Hard left bias, mostly factual reporting
“Overall, we rate the Daily Beast Left-Biased based on story selection and editorial positions that favor the left. We also rate them Mostly Factual for reporting, rather than High due to a few failed fact checks”
Louder with Crowder - Extreme right bias and mixed factual reporting.
“Overall, we rate Louder with Crowder a borderline Questionable Right biased source based on extremely sensational headlines and story selection that always favors the right. We also rate them Mixed for factual reporting due to the use of poor sources and a few failed fact checks. Keep in mind Steven Crowder is a comedian, which needs to be taken into consideration when viewing his content”
Occupy Democrats - Extreme left bias and low factual reporting.
“Overall, we rate Occupy Democrats Questionable due to extreme left wing bias, promotion of propaganda and conspiracies as well the publication of fake news as evidence by numerous failed fact checks.”
Before It’s News - Extreme right bias and low factual reporting.
“Overall, we rate Before It’s News Questionable based on the promotion of pseudoscience and right-wing conspiracy theories as well as poor sourcing, a lack of transparency, and the routine publication of fake news”
Rebel News - Extreme right bias and mixed factual reporting.
“Overall, we rate The Rebel Right Biased based on story selection that always favors the right and Mixed for factual reporting due to poor sourcing techniques and consistent one sided reporting.”
Vox - Hard left bias with mostly factual reporting
“Overall, we rate Vox Left Biased due to wording and story selection that routinely favors the left. We also rate them Mostly Factual in reporting, rather than High, due to two failed fact checks, with only one offering a correction.”
Breitbart - Extreme right bias and mixed factual reporting
“Overall, we rate Breitbart Questionable based on extreme right-wing bias, the publication of conspiracy theories and propaganda as well as numerous false claims.”
If you hadn’t noticed, the factual reporting of the alternative or non-mainstream sources can be and usually are more politically extreme and less factually accurate than the mainstream counterparts. In a world where all you need is a camera, studio and an audience - personality and the team you play for can be more important than whether your content is actually true or not. This brings me to the problem with the media and tribalism.
Firstly, what is tribalism? The Cambridge dictionary describes tribalism as:
Tribalism is a group mentality. It is playing a side, it is loyalty to a group. It is Trumpism. It is being a part of the alternative world of conspiracy theories. It is being an anarchist or a patriot. It is religion, being a cult-member, it is being an atheist edge-lord. It is being a liberal or a conservative. It is the world of alternative medicine or belief in the paranormal.
And remember: the first rule of cult-behaviour is convincing you that everyone else is lying to you.
This goes hand-in-hand with ignorance and biases from the previous section. The media, whether mainstream or alternative, contains outlets which are highly biased and incoherently unfactual. There are also central and highly factual outlets, too, but let’s look at the unfactual and ultra-biased.
While these ultra-biased outlets sell stories and tell a narrative which is politically skewed and misleading to unfactual which endorses and promotes triablistic ignorance and biases, it’s worth remembering that these outlets are run by people with these same qualities. Whether it’s by design for an agenda or simply being run by people who don’t know any better, or a mix with funder bias thrown in, it’s not sure. You’d have to look at each outlet individually to make that call.
News outlets offer a political perspective typically, which speaks to certain groups of people. They host tribalism and reinforce biases, which in turn leads to a more politically one-sided and factually ignorant audience. Some outlets such as Fox News or The Young Turks rely on the tribalistic outrage because that’s their market - their audience wants to be angry about the other side.
Some outlets such as the Young Turks offer mostly factual content, but are massively politically biased. Some outlets are politically biased and have very low factual reporting such as the Daily Mail. Regardless of factual reporting quality, they offer a skewed view of reality - selectively reporting on what fits their biases and agenda.
Ultimately, some outlets exist to stir the pot, keep the outrage machine going, and entice their target audience into coming back to satisfy their tribalistic needs to self-validation. Viewership is more important in many cases than integrity, and journalistic integrity is thrown out for triablistic integrity.
You can check out this interactive bias chart to see if the news you consume comes with some major biases or not.
Another great resource is GroundNews. They take articles published around the world’s media sources and compare the coverage, and stories outlets refuse or choose to cover.
With GroundNews you’ll generally find that the factual news typically gets covered largely by central news such as Reuters, and AFR, and AP. When the central news doesn’t cover it, chances are it’s for a reason. Those reasons might be: the story isn’t a story, it’s an opinion piece, it’s a hit piece, or it’s just not true.
Here are some examples.
This was picked up by 1 left source, tons of right to far right sources, and no central sources. A report from the Washington Free Beacon.
The article claims that a man was abused at a camp oversaw by democratic senator cendidate Raphael Warnock, and the story is his opponent, republican senator candidate Kelly Loeffler says an investigation is needed. The Washington Free Beacon is an extreme right-wing outlet with mixed factual reporting.
To me, it looks like a hearsay report published by an extreme right-wing site picked up by the person in questions political opponent which tons of right-wing media ran with. The left also ignored this story because you don’t fight for the opponent, do you? This happened on the 28th of December, which is coincidentally right before the Georgia runoff election finishes in which both these people are competing.
APNews has some more info, but the election is close to ending.
With limited digging it looks like a hit piece which would explain why no central news at all picked up the story. It’s one person’s word of what happened and the story ends. There’s no corroboration from other campers, no police reports, just a single testimony.
Did the left ignore it to help the democratic candidate? Probably. Does the story look credible? Not particularly. In the subjective objectivity page coming up, I will explain what this leads to, but this partisan reporting indifferent to story strength or credibility is a big part of the radicalisation of people and the tribalism of partisan media.
This introduces why simply not covering a story isn’t an omission of bias, and covering a story isn’t an exercise in honest journalism. Every story has to be assessed on a case by case basis. Simply saying “CNN makes fake news” isn’t helpful. Is every story fake, then? Almost certainly not.
The “story” broke that Trump’s hotel jacked up their prices when Biden’s inauguration will happen.
It was picked up by mostly the left news, with one right wing outlet breaking the story. Is the omission from the right wing media proof they’re covering up for Trump’s shady dealings? Well, maybe. Maybe not, though. A hotel needs to make money, and a big event would probably see prices increase to cash in on the demand. Not to mention that we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Have the prices dropped to encourage stays recently?
At the bottom of the article:
“The report notes that Trump International is not the only hotel to raise rates, but "it is now priced considerably higher than most rivals.”
In honesty this is a bit of a non-story. It’s a throw-away article which the left picked up to make Trump look like a shady opportunist or some kind of spiteful baby. He is those things, but this isn’t proof of that by any means.
The right virtually ignored this because it makes Trump look bad and the pro-Trump bias means they’d require more than that to demonise their president. It’s also not a good story and looks like a desperate attempt at a hit piece.
Here’s a story of Janet Yallen about how she made 7 million dollars in speaking fees over 2 years to financial firms and tech companies. She’s going to be the treasury secretary.
It was reported heavily over the political spectrum. Let’s take a look at some of the headlines by various places. What immediately strikes me about this is a treasury secretary who looks comfy with financial companies could have a conflict of interest in helping out big business over the public in her new job. That’s hypothetical of course, I know nothing about her. It does at the very least raise questions that need to be asked.
Newsweek - left wing news - article title:
“Dem supporters blast "misogynistic" criticism of Janet Yellen speaking fees: "How much should women make?"”
Yes, how dare you. It’s a sexist misogynistic attack on women because men feel threatened by a woman who makes money. That’s not the point at all, and this is a political spin to deflect from the point.
“Numerous critics asked "so, how much exactly should women make?", in response to the article and highlighted several male financial leaders who also received exorbitant sums of money for Wall Street and corporate speaking fees.”
How many of those people are going to be treasury secretary? It’s like comparing apples to oranges. The fact that she's a woman is also nothing to do with the story - that has been introduced to make it look like a sexist attack.
“Probably an unpopular take but I think it’s important the public knows what their public servants’ financial & income streams are, regardless of gender or party.
We can note how scrutiny gets disproportionately wielded on women, but Wall St ties are a very reasonable to examine”
Common Dreams - left wing news - article title:
“Biden Cabinet Picks Blinken and Yellen Each Made Over $1 Million From Corporate Clients and Speeches”
Sneakily combining this with another person to say they each made over 1 million. The article properly says she made over 7 million, but we all know many people don’t read past the headline.
APNews - Central credible news - article title
“Biden's pick to lead Treasury made over $7M in speaking fees”
Yep. Just the facts in this headline. A little on-the-nose but relatively neutral.
Reuters - Central credible news - article title
“Biden's Treasury nominee Yellen discloses paid speaking gigs for financial firms”
Even less sensational. Quite mundane and nothing exciting about this headline.
RT - Right wing news - article title
“Reporting on Biden's Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen earning MILLIONS from Wall Street speeches is SEXIST, Democrat supporters say”
MILLIONS!!!! MILLIONS I SAY!!! The democrats think this is SEXIST! SEXIST!!!! Some do, but some don’t. AOC is a prominent democratic politician and she didn’t say that. Capital letters and finger-pointing for sensationalism. It’s to work up the right against the left as being unreasonable and obsessed with sexism.
What they then go on to do is pick 5 people on twitter as proof the democratic supporters are unreasonable. That’s selection bias and shows a total bias in reporting.
The Daily Caller - right wing news - article title
“Biden Treasury Pick Reportedly Raked In Massive Speaking Fees From Wall Street”
Massive speaking fees! Massive! Massive money from wall street. It’s a bit sensational. She raked it in! Come on.
It’s painfully clear that the right attack the left. The left attack the right. The left shield liberal candidates from scrutiny, the right shield conservative candidates from scrutiny. Each side works for their own group. Hell, this even applies to mainstream vs alternative world-views. Being anti-mainstream is a tribalistic mindset. Being anti-alternative is a tribalistic mindset.
The hard and far left outlets publish hit pieces and misinformation about the right, the hard and far right outlets publish hit pieces and misinformation about the left. The left strawman the right, and the right strawman the left.
If it’s a topic that favours the left or left ideology, then it’s more readily picked up and spun to attack the right and their ideology. If it doesn’t favour it, it’s ignored or defended against.
If it’s a topic that favours the right or right ideology, then it’s more readily picked up and spun to attack the left and their ideology. If it doesn’t favour it, it’s ignored or defended against.
This is why listening to both sides and making your own mind up is in my opinion, a bad idea. What makes sense to you is going to be guided by your own biases and muddied by your own ignorance. You’re going to follow your tribalistic monkey brain and pick what supports your side.
As with ignorance and biases with the self, ignorances and biases with the media can be overcome by examining them, understanding them, and avoiding them.
Politifact is a good resource to help see what fact-checkers rate various pundits, personalities, and outlets.
Media bias fact checker says this about Politifact:
“These sources have minimal bias and use very few loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes). The reporting is factual and usually sourced. These are the most credible media sources”
The media bias fact check site also has a browser addon.
When you go onto a news story you’ll get the bias and factual rating of that site to help you see through the misinformation.
If you go on the Express website for example, the addon says:
“These media sources are moderately to strongly biased toward conservative causes through story selection and/or political affiliation. They may utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage conservative causes. Some sources in this category may be untrustworthy.”
Ground News has a browser addon
Let’s go on a sensational super biased article on the Express to demonstrate the utility in these addons and resources.
World war 3!!! FEAR EXPLODES!!!!!!!!!!! Nightmare missile!!! Panic!! - this is pure sensationalism.
Clicking the GroundNews addon, only two outlets ran this story.
Sputnik News ran the story with the headline:
“German Media Calls Russian, Chinese Hypersonic Missiles a 'Nightmare' for European Security”
In the same article:
“At the same time, the media noted that Russia is not concerned with other countries' progress in the field of hypersonic weaponry due to having advanced S-500 air defence systems, designed to counter such threats.”
So a single German center-right outlet says Russian and Chinese hypersonic missiles are a threat to European security but countermeasures exist. Naturally the Express can’t resist to drum the fear of WW3 and explosive danger into their readers to spark fear and sensationalism.
From my personal opinion, the Express is an untrustworthy worthless rag that should only be picked up to put it in the bin.
Media both mainstream and alternative offer a wide range of heavy biases and misinformation. Some outlets in the mainstream are central with high quality factual reporting, some are heavily biased with a low quality of reporting. In the alternative world, the gaps in biases are a vast chasm - opening up further to both political extremes with even more fluctuation between factual reporting and misinformation.
Media - both alternative and mainstream, contains biased sources which fuel tribalism to various degrees. In my opinion, this is done much more in the alternative media landscape of extreme polarities, while some mainstream media outlets have shoddy journalism and heavy bias, the landscape is diverse including reputable, central, and high-quality news agencies like Reuters, APNews, and AFP.
So when I hear someone say “the MSM lies” or “don’t listen to the MSM”, it’s clear they don’t actually know what they’re talking about. They usually mean the popular alphabet outlets like the BBC, CNN, MSNBC etc. In reality, the MSM includes a vast variety of outlets across the political spectrum of various journalistic abilities.
This demonstrates why “don’t trust the MSM” is an overly generalised and ultra-simplistic talking-point with no real application. It also implies that alternative media is by contrast reliable or more reliable when in reality, they contain ever greater political extremes and even worse journalism descending into pure pseudoscience and conspiracy theories.
Next I will write about what happens when someone gets stuck in this feedback loop of media bias, tribalism, and combine this with the ignorance and bias of the previous page with snowflakery thrown in for good measure.
Next page - Subjective Objectivity