This Is So Interesting (With False-Equivalence Implications)

I am simply piggy-backing here on a very popular item by Alexander Abad-Santos on The Atlantic Wire. But on the off chance that you have not seen it, this really is worth a look.

It's a comparison of results on a basic factual-knowledge test for consumers of different news organizations. The Wire item (understandably) contrasted the results for Fox viewers versus those who watched no news at all. To me an even more dramatic contrast is Fox-v-NPR*.

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To relate this to "false equivalence": during the Juan Williams inbroglio and passim, the Fox rationale has been that they are "balancing" a presumed bias from the rest of the media, notably NPR. Unt-uh! As I argued at the time, the more profound difference is that NPR aspires actually to be a news organization and to provide "information," versus fitting a stream of facts into the desired political narrative.

That contrast may lack surprise value at this point. Still, it's worth noting that anyone who attempts to equate, say, NPR and Fox, in the fashion of "they're all biased, you just pick your perspective," is once again not looking at the actual data.

Another illustration, which I'll plan to expand on tomorrow (if I can do it before the dawn flight to Shanghai): a very, very powerful illustration  of how strong the impulse toward false equivalence is, even among the most erudite and eminent. More soon.
* Routine disclosure: I have never been an NPR employee but have contributed to various programs over the years, most recently Weekend All Things Considered with Guy Raz.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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