Peter Chester Arnold
Peter Chester Arnold

Bias and truth: what to ‘believe’?

The loose use of the word ‘believe’ confuses debate about bias and truth. “I believe…” lies anywhere on a scale between the שְׁמַע and “I believe that the tomatoes are cheaper at the store down the road.” The latter meaning is: “Someone told me that the tomatoes are cheaper at the store down the road. It might or might not be true.”

I refrain from using that confusing word. I prefer to say, “I accept, as a fact, that…”.

Why is this relevant in this global Covid19 era, compounded by Chinese aggressive talk, Islamic resurgence after the fall of Afghanistan and potential world-wide Islamic terrorism, US-Russia relations, US race relations, an apparently weak US President and other headline-grabbing news on TV, in newspapers and on our iPhones?

This brings us to the question: Why do some people want to own a newspaper, a TV Channel or a ‘medium’, like Google or Facebook, if not that they want to influence the public in some way. Contrast this news outlet, The ToI, with Ha’Aretz.

Why did the owners of these (and other newspapers) decide to establish their own organ of communication? Should we think of Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer, or, for Anglophones, Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent, to find answers? Those owners did not hesitate to turn their interpretation of ‘news’ into political propaganda.

“We, the people” are fed the ‘news’ which the news-medium owner want us to see or hear. “All the news that’s fit to publish” boasted the New York Times, except that Arthur Hays Sulzberger did not see fit to publish news about the Holocaust. (When he did, it was in an eminently ‘missable’ paragraph lacking a heading, at the bottom of an inside page.)

How much of such bias is unwitting? So many media commentators are burdened with a bias instilled by family that they don’t realise that they have a bias. Their thinking is ‘normal’.

Social media are full of bias – especially now about Covid19.

Turning to ‘truth’, we skeptics have to ask how much the press actually know. I use the word ‘know’ to mean that they are aware of something factual, concrete and indisputable, such as “Bennett has been elected Prime Minister.”

How can the press know what Bennett said to Biden? They don’t. Bennett might tell the press a version of what he said, but is Bennett, a politician, free of bias in his reporting? This applies to all meetings of Heads of State. It is not unknown for their reports to the press to differ, especially when, like Putin and Abbas, they have a home audience to cater to (in another language).

The approach, I suggest, is to take ‘news’ with a pinch or more of salt. Ask Doctor Google two questions:

  1. What else has the author written?
  2. Where are his or her writings published?

And ask yourself one:

  1. What has been omitted?
About the Author
Retired medical practitioner, Dr Peter Chester Arnold OAM, fled 1960s apartheid South Africa for Australia. He has since graduated in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, and has been a professional editor for more than 30 years on politics, sociology, medicine, history and Holocaust studies.
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