Media Bias

I don’t usually watch network news in France. I get most of my news from the internet and, in case of the TV, the business news channels.

Being on vacation with my parents and grandparents, I watch the morning news shows with them.

This morning, two news items shocked me.

The first was on global population trends. World population will reach 7 billion this year, we’re told. And over the next decades, population in emerging countries, especially Africa, will grow a lot.

Cue concern on the stretch on natural resources, and more generally a dramatic spin with a strong Malthusian subtext.

It seems to me that population growth is very positive news for the world. Each new human is a world of richness and a wonderful thing to celebrate.

And from the point of view of economics, population growth is positive. As Mao once said, for every mouth to feed there are two arms to work. Each new person is a potential future lawyer, doctor, engineer, inventor or entrepreneur. I always worry that the nth child who is population-controlled away would have been the one to come up with the cure for cancer or the common cold.

Economists talk about the lump-of-labor fallacy, but it is equally true that there is an even more pernicious and destructive lump-of-resources fallacy.

It’s just not true, as we’re told, that the Earth’s resources are finite. Throughout history man has not just consumed resources, he has invented new ways to turn the existing world into resources. For most of our history, coal and uranium were worthless rock. Then we discovered how to harness them to produce energy. One day certainly we will figure out cost-effective ways to harness the near-infinite power of the sun, or wind (or the seas, or cold fusion, or God-knows-what). Unless, possibly, that is, we don’t make enough humans and thus reduce our odds to accomplish these breakthroughs.

Just like more workers create more labor, more humans create more inventive ways to harness the world’s resources and create ways to overcome our problems.

From Malthus to the Club of Rome, these guys have been wrong and dangerous, impeding progress for Medieval reasons. And yet the lump-of-resources fallacy proceeds, and is probably the most false-and-dangerous idea that is accepted in polite, erudite society.

The second report was even more shocking.

Right now is World Youth Day, a global gathering of young Catholics with the Pope, in Madrid. And the news report informed me that a bunch of hooligans and thugs had attacked the young Catholics.

But—and here’s the kicker—the report described these thugs as “defenders of secularism.”

The cognitive dissonance with video footage rioting hooligans throwing rocks on peaceful pilgrims and the narration describing these hoodlums as “defenders of secularism” was… something, I’ll tell you that. “Travesty” doesn’t quite capture it.

Since I should probably make a political point, this got me thinking about media bias. (Disclosure: I’m a member of The Media.)

It would be easy to call this liberal bias, and indeed Malthusianism and “aggressive” (ahem) secularism are coeval with the political left. But this is a more subtle ideological bias than you would find in, say, a positive story on rent control.

And it is bias in the proper sense, because I’m almost certainly convinced that the authors of these reports were not trying to advance a political point, overtly or covertly. It’s just that they live and breathe in a milieu where some things are taken for granted. And they probably operate under a system of tight deadlines where there isn’t much time for reflection on how utterly STUPID a phrase like “defenders of secularism” is in that context. But while news reports like that are probably more attributable to sloppiness than malice, it’s precisely that sloppiness that affords such a stark window on the worldview of the people who make (some of) our news.