Considering the terribly complicated media landscape that we are in, with thousands of newspapers, magazines, websites — not to mention the blogosphere and social media — I am reminded of Mark Twain’s famous quote: "If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you are mis-informed."
Given that all media have some “bias,” for the lack of a better term, there are degrees of bias that one should tolerate. While examining media bias can turn into a totally philosophical argument about the nature of truth, for the sake of simplicity let us assume that any argument/news that is not true should be rejected, and that news is not opinion, heavily distorted reporting of fact, or (at times) propaganda.
Here are the top five media outlets that you shouldn't bother wasting your time on.
1. Fox News
Without a doubt, Fox News leads the pack with its lies, distortions and outright campaigns to be an echo chamber for conspiracy theories. Time and again, they have been corrected. Apparently, this doesn’t deter their viewers, who on average are known to be the least informed Americans, as this survey shows.
2. The Glenn Beck Program (part of Mercury Radio Arts)
Beck's ignorant hyper-conspiracy theories can fill up a lot of space, but let’s just look at one instance of his lunacy, which demonstrates that this man's show is more “entertainment” than actual facts or opinion. Above is Stephen Colbert’s take on Beck's “war room” scenario.
Nielsen has ranked Newsmax the #1 conservative site, and for good reason. Mixed in with the reported news are instances in which opinions (and often wrong and distorted ones) are passed off as facts. The relentless campaign against President Obama secretly being a Muslim is just one example.
4. The Rush Limbaugh Show
The “low information radio host” thrives on appealing to emotion and follows a rhetoric which feeds into that of the ideology that he pushes, like the others on this list.
5. CBN News
With its often polarizing rhetoric and mixing ideology with news and opinion, this is not your best bet for any credible news. From arguing that gay marriages cause natural disasters to gun shootings happen because there is no prayer in public schools, these views are mainstream for the network.
"So what? Isn’t a democracy healthy when there are competing views and ideas?" one might be tempted to ask. While it is true that there must be freedom of speech and space for individuals and organizations to voice their opinion, untruths and propaganda must not be tolerated. Propaganda makes us all dumb, and it forces us to make bad decisions based on incorrect facts. That is not good, especially in the public space.
Sociologists William Domhoff and Michael Mann have studied the power elite and the impact of institutions in creating centers of power closely. Domhoff’s work offers key insights into the ways that ideological, economic, military, and political networks are key to understanding power relations in a society. Anyone with rudimentary knowledge of how media works can clearly see that media organizations are key to creating and maintaining certain ideological orientations. Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model, which he proposed decades ago, still holds true when analyzing the media landscape that we are faced with today.
The key to all of this is that in this age of hyper-connectivity and social media tweets and Facebook posts, very few of us care to verify the facts. While we are happy to share “interesting,” news or opinions, we arely put them to the test. So, before you log onto a site or blog or pick your “source” of information — ensure it is factual, and not based on one person or group’s ideological beliefs.