Media Bias, The Election, and Trying to Live in the Real World

I like/hate to listen to Nashville’s conservative talk-radio station, because it’s like peering into an alternate, bizarro world. One of the hosts still pushes birther nonsense and Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim narratives. These radio personalities are, in my view, very weird people. Oh, and their callers are even more conspiratorial and incoherent. It’s always fun to hear someone call in with a theory so strange that even the guy who thinks the president is a Muslim feels compelled to shoot it down.

It is unclear why I do this to myself.

But I’ve got at least a couple of theories. It’s possible that listening to 99.7 FM is the ideological equivalent of watching a trainwreck happen in slow motion. You want to look away, but you can’t. So it’s entertaining in a grim, vicarious way, maybe. Plus sometimes it can bolster my own sense of intelligence and righteousness to listen to these weird people air their grievances against THE LEFT. For those of you who don’t know, THE LEFT is basically a coalition of racist minorities, gay people hell-bent on kidnapping your babies, and tyrannical environmentalist who would love nothing more than to compost your Hummer. They all get together whenever George Soros decides to convene a meeting.

And then sometimes I’m more self-aware. I remember that I’ve never met anyone who’s goal in life was to be stupid or evil. It comes to mind, occasionally, that I am after all perfectly knowledgeable as relates to the major insights of post-modernism. What with everyone having their own center of reality and all.

Then I start to wonder how I can know whether or not my own picture of reality has anything at all to do with the actual real world. Am I not just like the 99.7 FM listeners–seeking out the information that’s emotionally satisfying and discarding the rest? I like to think that I’m clever enough to sort out the good news from the bad, but I read something a while back that pretty well dashed that hope. Psychologists call the tendency to accept information that supports your position and reject information that challenges it Confirmation Bias. What’s interesting/terrifying is that–in many cases–intelligent people are actually more prone to use confirmation bias than their less-bright counterparts. Why? Because they use their superior intelligence to explain away the contradicting information. AGH!

Trying to connect the world we piece together from our media intake to some approximation of actual reality is in most cases impossible.

We still try, though, and occasionally we can put our pet cosmologies through reality checks. Tomorrow’s presidential election should be–besides an event that determines the course of American politics for the next 4 years–an opportunity to vindicate your biases. Pundits and news outlets are making fairly precise predictions about the outcome of tomorrow’s Bronco Bamma vs. Mittens match-up. They are, in most cases, pretty straighforward about the factors that influence their positions–analysis of polling, “momentum,” gut feeling, whatever.

My media intake leads me to believe that Nate Silver is someone to trust, and that critics of his statistical analysis are blowhards. Silver is, in other words, not a witch.

If Silver ends up being way off the mark, then I’ll probably need to rethink whether or not my media intake has some sort of connection to reality. I’d encourage everyone–regardless of their political persuasion–to take the predictions of their preferred media outlets to market as well.

Real-word outcomes are the only cure for ideological bullshit.


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