It's not just how they talk about things; it's also what they choose to talk about

I recorded a podcast interview last week with an Australia-based group that deals with critical thinking. I was asked several questions about logical fallacies, given my book on the subject, and was asked which ones were the most widespread today, and which were the hardest to detect. I chose examples that crop up in public debate, guessing that this is what would command interest.

I made the point that as well as critically analyzing what people are saying, it is important to ask why they are saying it. When an historian is confronted by a document, for example, they should immediately ask how it came to be in front of them: Who wrote it and why? How did it come to survive where similar ones did not? Did this purport to be a factual account, or was it written as one-sided propaganda?

Similarly, when someone is making a case on television or radio, it is helpful to ask how they came to appear on the programme to present it. Did the producer deliberately choose extreme views in order to set up a straw man to be attacked or ridiculed, or did they choose someone who reflected their corporate outlook? Even more importantly, why was that subject chosen in the first place? The content of a news bulletin often reflects the bias of the producers, in that the items included usually represent those the producer thinks are important or significant. The very selection of what to cover can be just as much a source of bias as the decision of how to cover it.

UK television news bulletins seem to feature a high content of Trump stories and Brexit stories (both hostile), coupled with stories about alleged gender inequality. Obviously, these items are those the producers think should be given priority over other stories they might be covering, such as foreign wars, shark attacks, natural disasters, or local initiatives to mitigate social problems. The fact that they prioritize their chosen items reflects a bias, maybe even an unconscious one, as does the slant they choose to put upon them.

There is almost an infinite amount of news that could be covered, so bias creeps in to the choice of what to include in a short bulletin. It is possible that the producers' selection corresponds with what their viewers and listeners think important, but I doubt it. Their bias does not reflect my preferences for news, and I often find myself tuning into foreign stations to hear about stories that are of more interest to me than the diet served daily in the UK.