Media crimes against proportional equality
Imagine you have enough money to feed a donkey and an elephant. If you try to feed them with equal amounts of the food, either one animal is starved or one overfeed. I do not have to tell you this, but intuitively you know it, to provide the food in accordance with their size. Elephant gets bigger portion than the donkey. No food is wasted, nor any animal starved and all fed well. This is, according to Aristotle, called proportional equality. It is sensitive and just.
Equal opportunity — both animals need to be fed is necessary but not numerical equality — both needs to be fed by equal amounts.
However, when it comes to social, political or religious issues, somehow the word equality weighs too heavy and proportionality is lost. At least that’s how media treats it.
Consider the climate change. After decades of serious scientific studies, more than 98% of the scientists, engineers and other serious people are in agreement that the earth is warming up at a faster rate, which is primarily driven by human activity by pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The scientists who actually deny it on a scientific merit are in fact very few and some are even fraudulent.
But, that’s not how some media sees it. On April 22nd, Earth Day, CNN invited Bill Nye, the Science Guy, in the same panel along with a climate change skeptic. Bill Nye was not happy. “I will say, much as I love CNN, you’re doing a disservice by having one climate change skeptic, and not 97 or 98 scientists or engineers concerned about climate change,” Nye said during an appearance on CNN’s “New Day.” As far as CNN concerned, what they were doing is absolutely legitimate; giving both sides an equal opportunity to present their case. However, as Nye pointed it out, CNN had done a great disservice by providing airtime and legitimacy to a quack. CNN committed crimes against Proportional Equality.
The damage that’s being done by this kind of callous attitude by the journalists and media personalities have profound implications on the public perceptions of these issues. By pitching one against another, as if the whole issue is like a sport, the media gives a false perception that both sides have equally valid but opposing views on any given issue. Usually, they don’t. The problem is not restricted to a single but complex topic like climate change but extended to a host of other critical areas of public interests; vaccination, intelligent design, stem cell research and much more. The rise of this anti-science propaganda in the USA in part related to the media zeal to appear as though they are fair to all sides (false equality) and obsession with storytelling which triumphs over proportionality and evidence-based science.
In politics, the crimes against equality take shape in several forms. Most notably when representing hot-button issues, like abortion, affirmative action, gun rights, voter fraud, taxes etc. In most of these cases, especially media, depending on its patrician tilt, try to skew the discussion. The mechanism that they adopt is really simple; they tend to maintain a facade of an appearance of equally weighing on both sides of a topic but in reality deliberately favoring one over the other. A host, for example, invites two guests; one is clearly an expert and in sync with the host and other one is a kind of nobody or even better a caricature of the other side. Again, the intention of the host or the network is clear. At least on its face value, they should appear as though both sides were equally represented but still push their agenda. Here the crime is against the proportional quality of the experts. This is most often is a favorite game plan for cable networks especially for patrician networks like Fox News Channel (FNC) etc.
Even the cherished New York Times, is not immune to this overtures. This is usually reflected when reporting on foreign news. Every time, reporting on India and Pakistan, it has to be reminded that the two countries fought three wars or reporting on the current Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi always comes with barrage of clichés; his right-wing connections, 2002 riots, his religious beliefs and more have to be recapped again and again so as to set the tone. This is called balanced reporting and to remind the audience about the history of a foreign country but in fact, it’s more of a patrician, biased and with an agenda. The celebrated linguist and activist Noam Chomsky observed that NYT, supposed to be the “paper of record”, was, in fact, doing a bidding for the US government wars from Laos to the Middle East.
Why? Why this charade? This is partly because most of the viewers like it that way. Most of them do not want to deliberately show their shameful biases openly for the fear of being labeled. They need a cover. A cover, as superfluous as it may seem, is needed to appear unbiased. The motto of FNC, fair and balanced is a mockery. And everyone knows it. No matter. The network needed it to maintain that false facade.
These are some of the crimes committed by media, politicians and other public figures on a regular basis. We all should be vigilant about this kind of public disservice by people who try to control us all.