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Sunday, February 21, 2010

 

The Bias of "Un-biased" Reporting.

This morning, CBS' Sunday Morning show had a feature about "Everyone in the World Has a Story". A U.S. astronaut aboard the ISS spun an inflatable globe, stuck his finger on it at a random point, and the CBS reporter went there. Once at the city or town nearest the point, the reporter then selected someone at random from a phone directory, visited them, and reported a brief synopsis of their life. India, Latvia, and Oman. The reporter's conclusion: people around the world are very much alike, and very much like us (Americans).

That basic premise may have a little bit of substance. The CBS report, however, had a few glaring glitches:
All three interviewees lived in built-up areas. No countrified peasants that are hard to find.
All three interviewees had telephones. I daresay there are a great many people who don't.
All three interviewees were successful by the standards of their lands (goes back to having a phone).
The Indian man lived in a single home with his multi-generational extended family; with all the workers in the family pooling their earnings in one pot. I believe you'd be hard-pressed to find many American families living like that in the past 30 years.
In the Omani home, the only female seen on camera was child under the age of 5. Try that in an American home, or a European one, for that matter.

In sum: reportage is somewhat like statistics- pretty easy to skew toward your pre-conceived notions.

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