There’s an old tale of a newsroom editor educating a copy boy thus: “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.” Another, pithier version runs as follows: “You never read about a plane that didn’t crash.”
The average reader of modern news would be stunned to realize just how rare it is that planes actually do crash, or that the world is about to end, or even that people get killed by rogue policemen. That last is actually quite a remarkable statistic: The odds of someone’s cause of death being “police” is three ten thousandths of one percent. You’d never know that from today’s headlines, or that white people are more likely than black (per capita or per arrest) to get shot by cops.
We never read about all the people who don’t get shot, the plagues that never spread, the terror attacks that get prevented, and so on. This leaves the population in a continual state of panic, politicians perpetually reacting to events, and so on — and 24-hour infotainment (CNN) always has both high viewership and top ad revenue.
This is not conducive to an informed voting public making judicious and considered decisions every election. Instead, the present media environment fosters a mindset quite opposite to contemplation. Every decision we make is from an emergency mentality, which reduces our decision-making ability. Just as importantly, we’re also operating with incomplete information — less than half, by some estimates.
This is because there really is news in planes that don’t crash. Cops who retire after a long career of public service without so much as a single blot on their records should be celebrated for their example. Politicians who aren’t venal, bankers who give back to the community, insurance agents who cut prices for the poor — these are worth writing about. But nobody does, and when they do nobody cares. The story doesn’t get picked up by the national syndicates unless they’re sensational. Blood sells; weeping widows and traumatized children get the front page. Good news goes below the fold even on a slow news day; most days it gets shoved in after the jump page and you’ll never see it.
It’s to counteract this tendency that our editorial guidelines here at The Not Fake News were designed. We avoid the story of the day on the theory that other people are probably covering it from every reasonable angle already, so you don’t need us there. If we talk about it, it’s because we were forced there because major media is only covering the popular angles, and the whole truth includes something very different.
When there’s nothing new to report, we don’t feel compelled to talk about it. We don’t inflate something minor to earth-shattering importance. When we do discuss obscure events, we try to include enough context so you can judge for yourself whether it’s worthy of attention beyond idle curiosity.
We’re only human. Part of this includes bias in most of what we write, and even in what we don’t. If we think it’s unimportant, we won’t bother to include it, and sometimes we’ll be wrong. Right now there’s an ongoing border skirmish between India and China; I’m personally convinced that it’s not worthy of our attention. It’s certainly of great interest to anyone on the border, but not many people live there. The soldiers are in danger, but that’s the job of the soldier. This won’t turn into nuclear holocaust; it’s undisciplined military posturing by two arrogant and militant nations who are both using the opportunity to demonstrate their resolve to anyone else who might interfere.
Is it newsworthy? Perhaps. It’s possible there’d be some interest in a piece on why India’s Kashmir policy hinges on the occasional bit of border violence, or China’s actions with respect to trade, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and expansion in the South China Sea require that they keep expending lives over a high mountain pass. Readers might well be interested to note the relationship between this and North Korea’s sudden pugnacity, Japan’s nuclear research, Iran’s gasoline exports, or refugees returning to Venezuela from Colombia.
But really, do we need to know all that? It’s plenty for most of us to be aware of the bare facts, and whether or not something might be worthy of panic. Here’s a hint: Very few things are worthy of panic.
That’s why we’re here, wading through all the nastiest news stories to write up our periodic Digests and opinion pieces: So you don’t have to if you don’t want to.
TANSTAAFL: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.
There’s a reason your news is biased. It’s because you want it to be. The reason I can tell is, people still read the Times and the Post even though they need to pay for the privilege but the number of people willing to even buy one coffee on this site is pretty small. The number that share links to these posts is even smaller. We get what we pay for.
If you don’t like the CoffeeLink below, you might consider PayPal instead, perhaps setting up an automatic monthly subscription. I’m told there’s a checkbox. If enough people subscribe, we’ll take on some stringers and maybe another columnist.