PHL101: Critical Thinking, Reports


Review and Overview

7 Hypotheses about Contemporary Reports
  1. Media consolidation exacerbates the effect of biases by limiting perspectives on contemporary issues. Over the last several decades the number of media corporations controlling most media has shrunk from dozens to six. At the very least, it appears statistically likely that 6 outlets will have fewer perspectives, and offer fewer alternative hypotheses about world events, than would more outlets.
  2. Consolidated corporate media is led by a small group of corporate executives with shared interests among large corporations. For example, the ten largest media corporations have 118 board members who also sit on boards of 288 large corporations; source: Thornton, Walton, and Rouse. Given that a very small number of people are holding leadership positions in both communities, it is plausible that they have shared interests which may influence reporting.
  3. Corporations have a significant and increasing control over content in the mass media through their advertising. Such control is becoming increasingly direct, including now some advertisers demanding the right to review articles about them and their products. (Example: BP's policy, which is describe in Advertising Age, as summarized here by PR Watch.) This is pluasibly a very powerful pressure against critical reporting on such advertisers.
  4. Channel and distribution consolidation limit and reduce the dissemination of alternative hypotheses about contemporary issues. Examples include the refusal of corporations to air advertising critical of their views, of war; Cumulus Media refusing to play Dixie Chicks; Walmart pulling Sheryl Crow records, etc. When few channels exist and they are willing to halt distribution of hypotheses and observations that they dislike, they have the power to limit access to alternative hypotheses.
  5. Media cost reductions exacerbate the effect of biases by limiting reporting. This increases demand for pre-packaged content (like PR press releases) and reduces the possibility of alternative hypotheses being investigated since these require more investigation.
  6. The demands on reporters to maintain access to sources and news makers causes more favorable reporting on subjects. If your job depends upon having access to famous or powerful people, and if you will lose that access if you offend those poeple, then you may be inclined not to offend them.
  7. The limitations of time in a debate reinforce commonly repeated claims and reduce the opportunity for significant alternative hypotheses. In a short amount of time, the only claims that can be made and which will appear reasonable are those which have the status of popular belief. Controversial claims by definition need a defense, but insufficient time is given to allow such a defense. The result is that time limitations on reporting create accepted opinions and then act as a very significant form of positive reinforcement for accepted opinions.