Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Study indicates our tendency to ignore news that conflicts with our worldview.

Studies like this one underscore the necessity for reading or viewing a number of media sources instead of relying on one or two.

As we age, the danger of viewpoint ossification increases. We seek certainty. When a news story contradicts our particular worldview, then chances are good we'll minimize its value, criticize its source, or seek out other stories to offset the perceived threat to our cozy little worlds.

The Founding Fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson, were acutely aware of this natural tendency, despite having no name for it. Jefferson felt so strongly about the dangers of narrow-mindedness and simple-mindedness in the electorate that he donated all his books to start a library (University of Virginia). Along with the other founders, Jefferson noted that the dangers of a free press were far outweighed by having no press at all.

We find ourselves in an awkward situation today. Our media strives for profit. Profit motive fuels the tendency of the media to feed consumers what they want instead of what they need, viz., real news and conflicting stories.

My prescription: Read many sources, take them all with a grain of salt. Don't parrot some bozo who makes his or her money from maintaining an audience instead of actually adhering to a code of journalistic ethics.