The Haves, Have Nots, and Don't Cares
I consider myself well informed. I read daily and weekly (local) newspapers, watch network television, watch cable news services (CNN and Fox), read internet news sites (Drudge, Free Republic), and devour blogs of all persuasions. Therefore, when I develop an opinion, I have a basis for that opinion. Not to say that any given opinion is necessarily correct, but many facts, arguments, and other opinions go into its formation. I am a Have.
My mother is also well informed. She reads a daily newspaper, and listens to news and commentary via radio. She also forms her opinions based on many facts, arguments, and other opinions. She is a Have Not
My son is also well informed. He reads newspapers (sometimes), listens to news and commentary via radio, and spends time on the internet (although I'm not completely sure of what he reads there). He also forms his opinions based on many facts, arguments, and other opinions. He is a Don't Care
Our opinions differ.
I have already posted thoughts on the opinions of my son. He thinks what he does because of the type of information he is exposed to on a daily basis. He does have the option, if he chooses, to incorporate opposing views into his opinion making process.
My mother, on the other hand, does not have this option. She is daily exposed only to the viewpoints expressed by the television network news and the daily paper she reads (and that a Left Coast paper). And I think that it is a given that all network and newspaper hard news coverage is driven by the editorial ideology of those organizations.
Most people I know personally fall into the same category as my mother. They just do not have or exercise the option of digging for the other side of the story. Therefore their formed opinions are heavily influenced by the bias of their input. Let me emphasize that... MOST people, as in a majority, either can not (like my mother... no cable, no internet) or do not (not aware, not concerned...) avail themselves of the FULL story. Their opinions reflect this fact. (Yes, it is my opinion that that is a fact!)
There are many people and organizations seeking to prove that the cliche 'perception is reality' in not true (Some examples: Here, here, and here), probably best said by Dean of Dean's World:
In the strictest, truthful sense of the phrase, he is correct. However, I maintain that an individual's perception of reality IS reality to that person, even if that perception is not in fact true. So how is that reality influenced?
Suppose that you, a nationally recognized married male, are asked by a reporter if you beat your wife, and you answer in the negative. Each week for a year you are asked this same question, and answer the same. This is all reported on national news. Now, if a news organization reports on this saying that there have been questions about whether or not you beat your wife, they are technically accurate. But the story itself creates a false perception.
If I am then asked about the subject, I would expect to know that the questions are malicious, and have no basis in fact, because I am well informed. I would expect my son to have the opportunity to be well informed, whether or not he took advantage of that opportunity. Either way, what he perceives as reality will form his opinions. I would expect my mother to only know that there had been questions raised about the subject, and that would be her reality.
Now you decide to run for public office. You are a fine, upstanding citizen in all respects, and well qualified for that office. How does the vote go? I vote for you, my son votes (undecided), and since my mother thinks that you might be wife-beating scum, she votes for your opponent. This result is due to honest reporting, because there were, after all, questions raised about your wife-beating.
Remember, most people in the U.S. fit into the same category as does my mother.
What happens in the above illustration if the reporting is NOT accurate? What if misleading headlines are used (via Little Green Footballs)? What if supporting documents are fabricated (remember CBS News and Rathergate)? What if interviews are creatively excerpted (Ace of Spades HQ, Rathergate.com, Power Line)? What about selection of subjects to conform to the bias of the reporting agencies (Primitivism, Jumping to Conclusions, Newsmax.com, Oh, THAT Liberal Media!?
The question is how to transform the Don't Cares and Have Nots into Haves.
I don't pretend to know the answer to this. I don't think that legislation is an option. Some grand scheme to provide EVERYONE with the tools needed to gain all possible information about any given subject would be foolish. Even if the tools were available, would everyone use them? I think not, and I don't think legislation requiring everyone to be informed is anywhere near viable.
UPDATE: I started writing this Friday night, and kind of overlooked the Newsweek incident, another fine example (thanks, Freepers)
CBS News, Journalism, Reporting, Liberal, Conservative, Media Bias, Newsweek