News! In our minds… independent and unbiased?

By Milan Vodicka, Ph.D

News is all around us. We live the news, we are the news. Is it something that can be independent and unbiased? Let us examine that.

What is the news cycle, how is news created? At the beginning there is an event sometime, somewhere. This event is observed and evaluated, directly or indirectly, by news reporters or other news creators. I say “evaluated” because not all events are deemed “newsworthy.” Newsworthy, by what standards?

The next step involves creating a message (news) and communicating it to us, news consumers, via some communication means (newspapers, other publications, radio, television, internet…) or directly (via meetings, town halls, campaign rallies…)

The third step consists of our minds understanding, partially understanding, or not understanding the received message. By what standards? Interpreting it by our subjective “understanding,” as we have it.

In summary, the news cycle is a chain: observing the event – communicating the observation (if selected) – observing the communicated message (news) – interpreting it according to subjective criteria. Note the two links in this chain of something to be observed and observers of it. Namely, the event and news creators and the news and consumers of it – you or me.

Enter physics, in particular quantum physics. There is no such entity as the uninvolved observer! This principle is universal, applicable to news as well as any other observation of anything. The famous British theoretical physicist David Bohm stated it like this: “Relativity and quantum theory have shown that it has no meaning to divide the observing apparatus from what is observed.”

Light is a phenomenon in physics that vividly demonstrates the principle. Is light a wave or a particle? If light is observed as a wave, it manifests itself as a wave. If light is observed as a particle (these particles are called “photons,” postulated in 1905 by Albert Einstein), it manifests itself as a particle. Hence, it is both and neither; the logic of exclusivity just cannot cover it.

Let us bring it back to news. If you observe the news as “real,” does it manifest itself as real? If you observe it as “fake,” does it manifest itself as fake? Based on my (also involved) observations, answers to both questions is “yes.” Why is that?

Aaah, the life! The awareness of basically everything arises from what we pay attention to. The news has an uncanny ability to direct our attention. Its writers have at their disposal not only choices of innumerable topics, but also headlines, language, timing, and many other attention getting tools. We have a choice of interpretations.

One of those tools is language. Language makes a tremendous difference. Language is a mirror of the culture from which it arises. Let us look at two of the recent examples.

Our culture is deeply rooted in ego based and militaristic traditions. Just about everything has to be a “war” (global war on terrorism, war on drugs, war on crime, war on hunger and poverty… you name it) or “fight” (politicians want to have power in order “to fight for you,” every election or disagreement is a “fight”). Subsequently, just about any action is an” attack.”
I am not making this up. This is NBC news, one day after the Democrats’ debate – reporting “Final attack count. 60 total attacks. Biden was the most attacked candidate, Sanders delivered most attacks, Trump was attacked 28 times, McConnell 2 times, Wall Street and corporations 11 times, the ‘ultra-rich’ 3 times.” Is this the important lesson? If you think, “democrats are attacking each other and fighting a lot among themselves,” it is exactly the message you are – consciously or subconsciously – choosing from this “news” delivery. We do not know whether this kind of news delivery is intentional or not. Yet, we know this is how it works. Hello, advertising is the same thing.

Another one, from the NPR news: “…(Biden) took a couple of shots at her (Warren).” Then we wonder where the derangement about firearms in some young people minds or demeaning women comes from! Contrast this with “other candidates respectfully expressed their disagreement between their own position and that of Mr. Biden.” Or something to that effect.

The conclusion? News is not and indeed cannot be independent and unbiased. This does not mean it is necessarily “fake.” It will direct attention. It will lead to feelings and emotions. This is our own “observer” part. We should not abdicate our responsibility in that regard. The press and media people should honor it, too.

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