December 26, 2011 by David K. Sutton
Balance Might Be Fair, But Does It Get Us To The Truth?
The Fox News slogan of Fair & Balanced is simultaneously ridiculed on the left and revered on the right. We are supposed to believe that Fox News does not give any greater value to arguments left or right. Many of us on the left find it humorous given the obvious tilt on Fox News towards pundits that were once Republican politicians or served with Republican administrations and campaigns. However, the right-leaning bias of Fox News is actually not the point of this article. There are people who watch Fox News and believe it is an unbiased source of news and I’m unlikely to change their minds. In fact, they are unlikely to be reading this article in the first place.
The purpose of this article is to explain something called “balance fallacy” or “false balance” in modern news media coverage. The Fox News slogan of Fair & Balanced serves as an example of simple and effective marketing based on balance fallacy. Let’s assume for a moment that Fox News does not exhibit bias and take them at their word with regard to the Fair & Balanced slogan.
It might be fair to the pundits to offer balanced coverage but does it do a disservice to the facts? In other words, do we always believe that the truth lies somewhere in the middle? I think we all know that is not the case.
Balance fallacy is when two sides of an argument are given equal value regardless of individual merits. Should we begin every debate giving both sides equal weight hoping that the truth will emerge? No, because it’s entirely possible that one side of an argument is false and the other side true. In this extreme case there is no point in having the debate in the first place if the merits of each side can be fact-checked and proven true or false. In other cases it might not be as clear, but to begin a debate by assuming both sides of an argument have equal value is very much a problem in modern news coverage.
You see it every day in news articles and news segments on TV. The author or anchor gives equal time to a Republican and Democrat or a conservative and liberal and then they state their opinions and then that is the end of the article or TV segment. There is no attempt to fact check the points made by either side to see which side’s argument deserves greater emphasis. Instead, both sides are given equal emphasis. The mainstream media is so fearful of being labeled biased that they refuse to do the hard journalism required to answer questions and solve debates with the facts.
Not all debates have clear winners and losers but to assume both sides of every debate deserve equal consideration is to live life by the Fox News slogan of Fair & Balanced.