A decade ago, the lead character in the self-titled medical drama House regularly dispatched the buzz phrase “Everybody lies,” either to explain an unlikely medical diagnosis or to unravel a personal conflict. I’ll leave you to consider the veracity of Dr. House’s credo, while challenging you to journey through the next week without speaking the slightest of fibs.
Lies, however, are not the point of this piece, or rather not directly. Bias is the object of focus, along with the truism that everybody is biased. Whether it be your professor, your roommate, your priest, your parents, or you, people’s upbringing, hometown, life experiences, joys, sorrows, challenges, and triumphs shade everyone’s beliefs.
Bias can either conform to the truth or blind one to the truth. In the case of the latter, reason can overcome bias if people are open to reason—and provided with the facts.
It is here that of late, our country, her leaders, and journalists—who are probably the most biased of all—have failed. All too often, facts no longer matter. The end game is not to report a factual event, or even to prove the correctness of a view, or principle, or policy position, or to convince an intellectual foe by logic and reason to change course; rather, the goal is to create the narrative, to confirm our bias, and to sound off to the like-minded.
This happens on both the right and the left, which is why the chasm dividing our country has never been so wide, with conservatives and liberals retreating to the comfort of their echo chambers where opposing voices are silenced. A country so divided cannot survive; nor can the light of truth shine through the shadow cast by our inherent bias unless we are confronted with facts, logic, and reason.
The answer is not, however, to dispose of bias—that cannot be done. Rather, bias, like our other appetites, must be harnessed. And in journalism—in both its production and its consumption—that means facts must govern equally the reporting and the reading of news.
Bias will still exist, which is why, after all, there is an Irish Rover—to counter the slant of the “official” university student newspaper, while reporting from the distinctive Catholic angle. And, again, here, remember that bias may conform to the truth.
But moving beyond the theological and moral spheres of right and wrong and the reporting that delves into those questions, truth and falsehood exist in areas that greatly impact the individual and, collectively, our country.
The last five years have revealed that the supposed standard-bearers of journalism—the New York Times, the Washington Post, and network news teams—no longer report the truth. The entire Russia-collusion hoax provides proof of that, and before the naysayers chime in, consider that the Washington Post, in an unheard of move, corrected or retracted several stories following the indictment of one of the sources for the Steele dossier.
But it is not merely that media outlets report falsehoods: It is that they present gossip as fact, craft narratives they know are untrue, declare matters “settled” that are not, ignore evidence disproving their reporting, and—in the case of social media companies—censor competing claims. When this occurs, the populace lacks the information necessary to reach the truth, which may or may not conform to the respective biases.
The problem extends beyond the media’s attempt to paint Trump as a Russian stooge. In nearly every area of reporting, the legacy media fails. That is a problem because our republic cannot thrive without a free press that acts like a free press.
While the media’s deficiencies are near universal, the failure of the press to investigate and report facts proves particularly devastating when it comes to election integrity.
Since Biden’s election, the legacy media has framed nearly all concerns over voting in the 2020 contest as conspiracy theories and attempts to steal the election. Ignored, however, are the facts which include whistleblower videos of Pennsylvania election officials admitting they violated election laws. Shrugged off is the evidence that elderly nursing homes residents in Wisconsin were pressured to vote against their wishes. Excused are violations of election law in Georgia. And when the real, provable issues with elections are ignored, the media gives oxygen to even the most outrageous theories floated.
While ignoring the evidence of widespread problems with the last election, many in the press have simultaneously proclaimed—again without facts—that state efforts to ensure election integrity represent an attack on voters of color. This twin approach to reporting—ignoring real problems with election integrity while inventing false one about ballot access—promises a populace in which no one will trust the results of our elections. And without confidence in our elections, our country cannot survive.
Our founding fathers recognized the importance of the press to a flourishing society, which is precisely why, with freedom of speech and religion, they placed freedom of the press as the first among our rights. The press, however, is abusing its freedom, and our country is the worst because of it.
And here, the problem is not the bias of the press, because everyone is biased. The problem is a mainstream press so blinded by its bias that it will pervert the truth. Americans need to recognize this reality and consume their news accordingly by reading a variety of outlets from competing perspectives while assuming that, when it comes to journalism at least, Dr. House is correct: Everyone lies.
Margot Cleveland is a faculty advisor for the Irish Rover and adjunct teaching professor of accounting in the Mendoza College of Business.
Featured art: “Scott Rotary Web Printing Press” from the Appletons’ cyclopaedia of applied mechanics, vol. 2, edited by Park Benjamin; New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1880