April 2, 2010

Bias and Rhetoric: An Inquiry

Here’s a question I asked in my chapter on bias in 21st Century Communications:

The problem with bias is not that it exists, nor is it that bias somehow pollutes an otherwise pure message. The problem with bias is that it may distort a message sold to an audience as “objective.” What happens when the form of the message persuades us that the information is truthful yet the bias of the speaker distorts the truth?

I assumed I was asking a rhetorical question — in two senses: 1) the standard sense of not requiring an answer because it is thought to be obvious, and 2) in the sense that I am making a particular claim about discourses such as journalism and academic essays. That claim is: The form of a message cannot be separated from the biases of the rhetor or — more importantly, in my opinion — the biases of the discourse form itself.  The latter was what I was getting at when I wrote “sold…as ‘objective.'”

I’m working on a book (proposal) now that I hope will deal with this question. It will cover the structural biases. But more, I hope it will situate these biases within some useful understanding of the rhetoric of journalism as it is (rapidly) evolving.

2 Responses

  1. Truth is universal. Bias adds a layer in front of it which misleads most readers. Maybe it is better that the message is received and new information is gathered by the reader, immaterial of the bias it carries.

    If the quest is to find ultimate truth and not let any bias creep, we would all be researchers. This is not always practical and feasible.

    I have seen newspaper articles where the journalist never quotes a personal opinion. He quoted opinions of the people he interviewed. He may have slacked off on the research by not gathering statistical data. So, in the place of one bias, the reader is subjected to multiple biases. I don’t know which one does more damage.

  2. acline 

    Hey Shek… Welcome to my other blog 🙂 Bias is an interesting topic I’ve been writing about for a long time here. Now it’s time to put some of it on paper.