During election coverage I saw a commercial for Microsoft’s search engine Bing touting a new feature that it hopes will set it apart from Google. Well, set it apart in a way other than lagging woefully behind. Yes, Bing will let you search for news based on your personal political bias:
In the upper right corner of the page, users can slide the bar to the left and all of the news results they’ll see are tailored to Democratic voters. If the slider if dragged to the right, the news is then re-sorted for Republican voters. The slider also lets users pick exactly in the middle or show results leaning slightly left or right.
Look I get the idea from a marketing perspective, I really do. For years the conservative movement has waged total warfare on the “mainstream media” accusing objective coverage as nothing less than a propaganda machine. After a sustained salvo against news coverage and “fact checking” as biased, conservatives don’t just want to consume mainstream media critically, but want to avoid mainstream media entirely. It’s as though conservatives heard the call to limit “fat intake” as “fact intake.” Walking around Kansas this actually seems like a plausible theory.
And while MSNBC is not nearly as ideologically slanted as Fox News, the rise of the “liberal” network was brilliant marketing — with a giant portion of the audience abandoning mainstream media for their personal brand of reality, why not take off the restrictor plates of “objective” journalism long practiced by the mainstream media. It’s not so much partisan as unwilling to give equal play to conservative spin.
And that’s why I place “objective” in quotes. Several decades of journalism redefined the word as presenting both sides of the political divide (“both” limited solely to the talking points du jour of Republicans and Democrats) as though these poles represented coequal and irresolvable truths. Why seek facts when you can blindly present quotes from partisan hacks? Poor CNN tries desperately to cling to this model, and it’s sad watching Wolf Blitzer have to declare everything a tie.
But after an election where we were introduced to “unskewed” polls, Dick Morris continued to predict a Romney landslide until after 10PM Eastern, and Fox News literally stopped in its tracks because its analysts refused to believe reality, we should be increasingly concerned about the impulse of the electorate to limit news to a particular political slant. What we learned on Election Day is that there is, in fact an objective (in the dictionary sense) reality, and “unskewed” media is only obscuring that by confusing philosophical opinion with fact.
Let me be clear, the problem is not slanted media. There is a place for the National Review and the Nation, but what Bing offers is a more insidious feature by allowing the public to not just consume alternative media but to literally filter it out entirely. That’s just begging for more gridlock.