07 March 2016

News Media

Both Paul Krugman and Simon Wren-Lewis have a bit of a penchant for criticizing the media. In Wren-Lewis' case, 'mediamacro' -- decidedly non-mainstream economic 'theory' that seems to favor the Conservative Party -- is perpetuated by the British media and, according to Krugman, the American media is willing to give completely nonsense ideas (specifically nonsense ideas about economics and global warming) equally gratifying coverage to the correct (in the case of global warming) or the mainstream (in the case of economics) position for the sake of avoiding 'bias.'

These criticisms really call into question what the point of the media is -- it is the job of the media to be an advocate of 'facts' an/or mainstream academic positions, or should the media continue as it allegedly has been; acting as if every political debate has equally valid positions from each corner of the political spectrum? Of course, I think the world would certainly be a much better place if the media decided, e.g., to take a hard stance on global warming and to debunk any dissidents, or if the media decided that they wouldn't try to shout over Ph. D. economists, but I'm not sure if this is really the proper role of news organizations.

The media surely has an obligation to the truth, but this seems to be in conflict in the case of politics. It would be an error of omission to simply refuse to report on statements that people make, even if they are completely inconsistent with facts or consensus academic opinions. Conversely, simply allowing Donald Trump to talk on television unfettered would result in an inordinately large amount of people hearing various lies, generalizations, and complete failures to understand economics. Of course, it would perhaps be ideal for the media to show Donald Trump on television, but then promptly explain that he is wrong, and exactly why this is the case.

The question now becomes whether or not such a policy is even possible. If, as Krugman suggests (and, from recent experience, I am inclined to agree), the parties in the US are not symmetric -- with the GOP consistently peddling falsehood and bunk economics (although Bernie Sanders seems to be trying really hard to add the latter to the Democratic party as well) -- then the portion of the population on the side of the worse offenders would certainly find the fact that the media consistently points out their wrongness deeply disturbing and, considering these people are already convinced that the only non-biased media source is Fox News (the irony is hard to overcome, I know).

Alternatively, it may simply not be the role of the media to promote facts and consensus views. If this is truly not the case, then no one has any obligation to dismantle 'mediamacro' and, in the interest of representing every opinion, the media should provide coverage to climate change deniers -- no matter how crazy their views are. Honestly, I can see no reason why this should be the case, but it does seem more broadly consistent with what would be popular and what the media actually does (come to think of it, this is probably not a coincidence at all).

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