Confirmation Bias and The Media

Dan Garner of the National Post wrote an article regarding the phenomenon known as “confirmation bias” – a subject of a mainstream journalist’s blog.

Confirmation bias is a phenomenon whereby an individual seeks out and places more weight to information that supports their own belief while rejecting information that questions or refutes their conclusions.

But Garner touched upon an additional aspect of confirmation bias the blogger did not address:  the role of the media. 

Garner lays a part of the blame for this bias at the feet of the mainstream media who sometimes do not seek evidence behind claims made by elected officials. 

In other words, they do not investigate the truth behind the spin.

In comparing media coverage of  Super Bowl XL, authors B Boucher, Marijke Taks and V Girginov in “The Outcomes of Coattail Marketing: The Case of Windsor, Ontario, and Super Bowl XL” write, “SBXL coverage by The Windsor Star was fully supportive of the official political line of the city.”

Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder write in “How to Detect Media Bias and Propaganda”, the news media share, “a view of the world with their target audience.”   But this view must be tempered by an understanding that news media, “are biased towards their country’s allies, and prejudiced against their enemies.”

When the  coverage of the municipal election – more specifically mainstream media blogs and other opinion pieces – are viewed through this lens, one can begin to deconstruct the message that is disseminated.

Take for example the CUPE issue – raised dozens of times in  Windsor Star columns over the last year – culminating in direct attacks against mayoral contender, Rick Limoges.

It doesn’t matter what Limoges says, because some local unions endorsed him, it must be fact he is under the control of local labour.  Therefore, Rick the bad guy, Eddie the unquestioned defender of taxpayers.

But consider the settlement reached by the council hardliners and the Mayor that gave away the farm costing taxpayers $160-million over 30 years.  

Post-retirement benefits cost $97-million over a similar amount of time; with elimination for new hires having no benefit for the next 30 years, according to Chief Financial Officer, Onorio Colucci.   

In other words, the settlement reached was at a greater cost than what the alleged union supporters offered over the same the period.

This fact was downplayed and subsequently ignored by the media which focused solely upon the issue of post-retirement benefits. 

Despite facts proving otherwise, because the public  believe or have been led to believe unions are responsible for the economic collapse,  the media has and continues to play upon this prejudice – which has become the veiled message of the incumbent mayor. 

More simply, the official political line is reinforced by the mainstream media.

Another striking example is the coverage of the bridge dispute.

Online polls conducted by the mainstream media – the same polls used to support the actions of the Mayor during the CUPE strike – have consistently demonstrated a vast majority of residents want the boarded up homes on Indian Road torn down; and a smaller majority believing the Ambassador Bridge Company ought to be allowed to construct their replacement span. 

However, this is not reflected in media stories that typically exclude opposing viewpoints and consistently rely upon sources that reinforce either the official political line or the mainstream media’s belief. 

In other instances, facts are manipulated as was seen in the Windsor Star’s coverage of the cost of the Ambassador Bridge redecking.  The Ambassador Bridge Company challenges the official political line, therefore, anything they do is suspect – despite evidence to the contrary.

Opposing viewpoints therefore,  must be rooted in an agenda of financial gain or influence exerted by the source of the differing viewpoint.  In plain english, they are vilified or worse, ignored.  Just ask Ward 10 candidate Jeff Gaudette who dares be employed by the Canadian Transit Company.  No Jeff, better to be unemployed and then seek a seat on council.  How dare you make a living!

So it is sadly amusing to read a mainstream media blogger criticize citizens who challenge the status quo or take legal action to rectify an alleged wrong.   In short, those who challenge the official political line – whether resident or councillor – suffer from “confirmation bias”  ignoring  that just perhaps the opposing claims have merit.

But elected officials spending millions upon millions of dollars to hire lawyers to “fight” the W.E. Parkway, only to subsequently disregard their serious environmental arguments  in exchange for cash, is acceptable and moreover, defended as the right thing to do. 

Unfortunately,  this is not unexpected as according to authors Paul and Elder, the media present  “facts that support our way of looking at this.” 

And Jim Venney claims the Star hasn’t endorsed any mayoral candidate as of yet.  Please, is this an episode of The Simpsons?

It is also telling when an email originating from the Windsor Star is sent to a colleague dismissing him as an “idiot,” all the while lamenting how elected officials are vilified for having a position differing from those claiming wrong doing. 

And this journalist criticizes candidates for allegedly creating divisions within the campaign?  And the same media types wonder why blogs and citizen journalists are multiplying?

We all fall victim to confirmation bias  – even our media blogger.

The difference is acknowledging this fact.

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4 Comments on "Confirmation Bias and The Media"

  1. Dingleballs | 21 October 2010 at 09:04 |

    Yeah and this site isn’t biased at all. LMAO

  2. Woo hoo, great article.

  3. Rose Citizen | 20 October 2010 at 14:34 |

    The Windsor Star hasn’t endorsed any mayoral candidate yet. Hilarious. You just can’t make this chit up.

    Okay, so I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Gord Henderson will be frothing at the mouth for his boy on Saturday. The level of nastiness will give us all an indication of how close this race really is.

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