September 28, 2019

Once There Lived a Flock of Sheep – An Allegory of the News Wars

Once upon a time, there lived a flock of sheep. The sheep had three news sources. We Watch Wolves (WWW) was generally broadcasting information about wolf sightings in the area and pushing for better security against wolves. Alert Against Bears (AAB) was much more focused on the risk of bears. Similarly, they would focus on bear sightings and advocating ways to avoid being harmed by bears. There was finally All Sheep News (ASN). ASN would broadcast attacks by either. ASN preferred though to broadcast information about the quality of the grass in various locations.

It was relatively common for Bears and Wolves to been seen or even attack the flock and there became an ongoing debate among the sheep about which was more dangerous. Those concerned about wolves would say that AAB was biased because it focused less on the wolf attacks. Similarly WWW and those who watched it would level complaints against AAB. The vast majority of the sheep viewed ASN as a relatively neutral source though and would often consult it if they wanted to know neutral facts like numbers of bear vs wolf attacks for the year.

One day everything changed. One wolf, after killing a sheep, tried an unusual tactic. He decided to dress up as the sheep and begin talking to the other sheep. He told them how helpful it would be to actually have a wolf as part of the flock to help defend against bears. AAB, and it’s watchers, immediately took up the cause of the wolf, arguing that bears had always been the higher risk anyway. While everyone knew that the wolf would periodically eat a sheep, AAB did their best to ignore this fact and would remind it’s viewers that the eaten sheep was generally one that was older or feeble and would have died at some point anyway…or maybe…been eaten by a bear were it not for the kind wolf protecting them.

To no one’s surprise, WWW went CRAZY. They were constantly broadcasting High Alerts and Code Red that not only were there wolves outside the flock, but there was literally a wolf masquerading as a sheep inside the flock, being seen daily, and hanging out with the sheep. Whenever the wolf would eat another sheep, WWW would report it in great detail.

ASN similarly began to broadcast regularly about the risks of having a wolf as part of the flock and about the daily casualties. As this continued, AAB began to accuse ASN of bias in the bears vs wolves debate. It had never occurred to any of the sheep that ASN might be biased, but suddenly the AAB watchers began to say this as well because ASN was now spending so much time broadcasting about the wolf. The ASN watchers had used to consult WWW for information about wolves in the area but now they said that WWW was “extreme” and so they’d refuse to ever pay attention to it.

After many years, and many eaten sheep, the wolf finally died, ASN went back to broadcasting about grass, AAB continued to broadcast the danger of bears and WWW went back to regular broadcasts about wolves.

One day some old sheep who had lived through the wolf years began talking about what had happened with the news during those years. “Remember how ASN became so biased?” one said. Another pointed out that both before and after the time that the wolf had lived among the flock, everyone regarded ASN as relatively unbiased. “Perhaps it wasn’t that ASN became more biased, maybe they were simply reporting on the greater risk because we had a wolf IN the flock.”

Have you noticed that over the past 3-4 years that you’ve begun to regard more and more news sources, that used to be considered relatively apolitical or slightly leaning, as being far left, ultra liberal, etc? Here’s a few examples: wikipedia, Snopes, AP, BBC, ABC, NPR, Politico. Perhaps it’s time you consider whether the new sources have changed or whether they are just reporting on the greater risk that we currently have as a result of having Donald J. Trump leading the flock.

For a helpful guide on the bias of various sources, check out this chart.  At the bottom, you can click on the name of your favorite news source and it’ll show just that source along with a collection of their articles that were rated:

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