Why Politicians Cannot be Trusted About Media Bias

Politics is an occupation unique in modern-day society. It does not function like other market based occupations such as businessmen or tradesmen. In a democracy, a politician is only able to obtain employment by collecting votes, and in order to collect votes he must inspire support from the public. Popularity contests are the model on which US politics is based. Therefore, just as a salesman stays employed due to his skill in selling, and a carpenter earns income through his skill in wood working, a politician earns his salary through his skill in becoming popular and staying popular. But not only does this skill earn a politician income, it also earns him power. The more popular he is, the higher the office he can gain, and the more power he can exercise. The most popular politicians become president of the United States, the country with the largest economy and most powerful military in the world.

It may seem strange that the most powerful positions in the country are reserved not for the most knowledgeable, intelligent or experienced people,  but for the most popular people. But this is the society we live in. “Democracy” is not “meritocracy.”

Knowing that in the US political power is equal to popularity, there are certain things we can predict with almost 100% accuracy about the country’s leaders. One of these things is that they will always portray themselves as being in the right. They will never willingly admit wrong-doing. This is simply because a politician does not get to his current position of power by being seen as in the wrong. Naturally, this often leads to lying when the truth threatens to damage his popularity. History is replete with examples of this behavior. Bill Clinton lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. John F. Kennedy hid the true nature of his deal with Soviets at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, because public opinion would have surely been against giving up ground in Turkey. Election campaigns are the epitome of this phenomenon. For example, during the 2016 election, both Trump and Clinton never admitted wrong-doing, despite numerous occasions when wrong-doing was clear (i.e. Clinton’s e-mail scandal, Trump’s numerous comments against minorities and women). Most recently, the Trump administration would not even admit they were wrong about the inauguration crowd sizes, when they were disproved by clear photographic evidence. If politicians do not admit wrong-doing even on simple occasions like this, it is safe to say that they cannot be trusted in the least to veer away from their main goal or preserving and growing their popularity. In this way, politicians are quite a predictable species. But if you are not aware of this fact, it is easy to be infected by undying loyalty towards one politician, because inspiring and mobilizing support is a politician’s primary skill.

Now compare the propensity (or rather the “occupational requirement”) for untruth among politicians with the necessity of accuracy in journalism and the media. Whereas politicians are rewarded for being biased, news agencies are punished for being biased. A news agency derives its value from its ability to transmit real information to its audience. If its information is found to be inaccurate or biased, they will lose their reputation and their audience. Naturally, one of the most interesting types of stories to sell to their audience is stories about the “true face” of politicians. Needless to say, there is a lot of material to be found on that topic by the hardworking journalist. Scrutiny of people holding political has always been the media’s job in a free-speech society. They are able to do this because they are under scrutiny from the public and fellow media agencies to be unbiased.

But what happens when the tables are turned and the politicians, who are by definition biased, attack the media for being biased, as is happening in the US now? The result is weakening social order and, in the most extreme case, a broken society. Politicians cannot be trusted to provide credible scrutiny of the media, because when they do, their judgement will always be self-serving. Their answer will always be some form of “I am right, they are wrong.” Can they be blamed for this position? No, this is the nature of their occupation, which is utterly in line with the expectations of a democracy. But when their followers (who are not aware of the nature of politicians) hear this, they will accept it blindly as truth and confidence in the media among a large constituency of people will be damaged. When confidence in the country’s information providers is damaged, the very basis of the country’s stability is eroded. Why is that? First of all, because people will increasingly turn to highly biased partisan media. When this happens political divisions will widen because each faction is receiving its own tailored information. Secondly, because too much confidence is being put in the executive branch of government to provide reliable information. As a political institution, the executive branch is one of the least likely places to receive unbiased information.

The conclusion we come to is that it is impossible to trust political leaders with scrutiny of the media agencies who are tasked with scrutinizing and investigating them. Scrutiny of the media can only be conducted by the public or by other media agencies themselves. If ever politicians are allowed to undermine trust in a country’s information providers, a pillar holding up order in society will have been broken.

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