"With a title like that, obviously I will be making a nitpicky technical point."
This all reminds me of this book I read years ago called How To Lie With Statistics. It was originally published in the 1950s and still holds up very well. And it really showed that the average American has no idea how to read and interpret data, especially with how percentages work. I believe that you can make the average American believe anything with mathematical sleights of hand, as long as it view their pre-existing worldview. That's why I now roll my eyes when I see "studies show" or "data says" because data doesn't mean anything in a vacuum.
Edit: Also, I got a notification saying that someone "liked" this comment. How is that possible?
Pravda rarely lied. It just didn’t tell the whole truth. Factory production was up in Minsk when the Ukraine starved but only one of those truths was written.
A simple web search reveals that in 2011 about 40% of pregnant women received the flu shot...
I was a reporter for the WSJ & Bloomberg News for almost two decades. Here's the dirty little secret: you, as a reporter, hate to lie, and almost never (almost never: I've seen, rarely, reporters lie in print) do it. But you outsource lies to experts. Big time media has a massive cottage industry built around itself, made up of think tank hustlers and various analysts that will take your calls and give you comment for free, on anything you want, in whichever direction you want, just in exchange for the exposure and publicity they get from being published in your media. Those guys ("instaquotes" or "instapundits") are sometimes on call, waiting for you to call them at, say, 2200 on a Sunday to give you comment on a regional election in Germany. And they know very well what they have to say, the line they must take, and in fact are very careful to never stray from what you expect from them. So, if you're the Times guy writing about the school vouchers, you KNOW which instaquote to call so you get exactly the lines you are dying for, be they gross lies or just mere obfuscations. These dudes are not real sources, but if you want your bosses happy and your readers content within their thought-bubble, they are almost as important for you as a reporter.
What about lying by omission? For example, don't report something even though it is clearly newsworthy, because it makes you or your news business or the politician / party you like, look bad?
All true. It's very, very difficult to report honestly on something you have strong partisan feelings about. Even if you try.
I'll add what anyone who's ever been quoted by a newspaper, or who has had the experience of reading a newspaper story about an event one witnessed firsthand knows - reporters just get things wrong. A lot. They misquote, paraphrase in a misleading or plain incorrect way. They report some facts, and omit other equally important facts. And omit critical context. They fall for plausible narratives from biased parties. All this, just via incompetence and ignorance, with absolutely no intent to deceive.
This happens all the time, to a far greater extent than those who haven't witnessed it imagine, even without any intent to report anything but the purest truth. This is just human fallibility.
When there are strong partisan feelings or moral outrage, so much the worse. Even when the reporter is genuinely trying to be fair (which I suspect isn't as often today as it used to be - journalists once felt a professional obligation to at least try to tell the truth; that has recently broken down).
There is no fix other than multiple voices with multiple viewpoints, and critical crosschecking of facts.
I love everything about this post except for the conclusion, because it's not at all clear to me that an unmoderated free-for-all would produce better results than what we're getting right now, and on priors I would expect it to perform worse. Just because there's no biased central authority in your system doesn't mean you don't end up with bias - but it does increase uncertainty about the direction and magnitude of that bias considerably.
"Different biases will cancel each other out and truth will prevail!" Not impossible, but again no reason to expect that on priors. The socially dominant strategies will generally win and have no binding commitment to the truth.
Again, the problem you're describing is real, but there's no argument for why the proposed solution would work. It's like when people say we just need to abolish capitalism. Yes, it would be great if we could solve all of our coordination problems and optimally harness all available resources for the betterment of everyone, but getting rid of the thing you're pointing at does nothing to further that goal, and in fact throws away a lot of very useful social infrastructure that could otherwise be used for exactly the goals you're aiming at.
The problems are real and complicated and will not be at all helped by getting rid of the giant central thing that makes any of it work at all.
This is great. I agree that the media rarely lies. I've been studying this space for the past year, and there are multiple levels to the way media influences their readers:
1. By and large, the topics that an outlet chooses to report on is the most important factor. (10 facts on the border vs 10 facts on climate change)
2. The next biggest is slant, focusing on a specific set of facts for a story, they will make the reader feel a certain way
3. The final is misinterpretation of the data, which you've expertly documented. Most stories don't have such quantitative data around it, but when it does come up, it can have drastic consequences, since the reader can point to the data as an established trust indicator.
I've been documenting this for the past year and publish a weekly newsletter on 1 & 2: https://topdown.substack.com/
It provides a map for seeing what the topical focal points are for each side (left, right, international, etc.) as well as detailing some of the slant for each topic
Many times, things are reported incorrectly because the reporters make a mistake, or because they don't really understand what they are reporting on. This is especially prevalent in issues where statistics are involved; since COVID started, the general public's misunderstanding of how to interpret raw data has become quite apparent.
In cases of genuine mistakes, honest disagreement can usually be sorted out if free debate is allowed. What angers me is not writers making mistakes--it is the ongoing attempt to intentionally mislead.
Did you miss out on the past couple years, when there was a ton of straight up lying? Lying about fraudulent votes? Straight up lies about the vaccine killing people? Straight up lies about covid being less dangerous than the flu?
Sure there are examples of misinformation lacking context. But there are also examples of straight up lies. And way too many examples of them over the past few years.
Edit: on reflection as to why I am so adamant about this, I remember all of the straight up lies that have been shared with me by friends over the past several years. They didn't get them from nowhere. They got them from right wing media. Sure, they also shared half truths with me, as have left wing friends of mine based on mainstream media. But there were a large number of straight up lies that have been shared with me over the past couple of years. Maybe you are lucky enough not to have friends who have been sucked in to that nonsense.
Agreed 100%, but none of this implies that censorship is net bad. You talk about the the negative side, but not the positive side :)
The question is how much damage is actually prevented or caused by real-life censors, say on twitter or Facebook. You can go "marketplace of ideas" all you want, but it won't be very convincing if people were routinely dying from preventable diseases due to "misleading" information about vaccines.
How many dead children are worth the free speech principles? I don't mean this as a gotcha, I mean this as an honest question. Suppose the (admittedly biased) censors ended up saving net 1000 children a year -- are they still net negative due to the value of free speech? And if it were 1 child a year, or a million? Is the answer to the question independent of the number of dead children, or is there a threshold?
Typos and other nitpicking:
1. "Before 2021, there were very few reasons for pregnant women to get vaccines, and maybe only a few thousand did each year." -- um, Tdap booster in the third trimester? To me it seems more plausible that many fewer people were aware of the existence of VAERS before it got heavily advertised with the Covid vaccines.
EDIT: this point has also already been raised with flu vaccines.
2. "A few of the articles mentioned a different attempt at urine drug tests, which only a few recipients failed - but didn’t mention that they had the option of not taking the drug tests and that many people (probably including all the drug users) chose to take it." -- chose *not* to take it, I presume?
...imagine still believing in a marketplace of ideas, in CURRENT_YEAR
No but seriously, it seems very obvious to me (given the last 10 years or so) that true and/or good ideas don't have more memetic power than false and/or bad ones, and in fact often have less. I don't understand how anyone expects a "marketplace of ideas" to result in anything good.
I vote for aggressively adversarial anti-reporting. You can get a lot of mileage out of "left-wing mainstream media does <what you describe>!!" on right wing sites, but they then do the same thing themselves -but the skepticism of "mainstream media" wasn't always there, it was built. The goal is (similarly) to create a constituency of "unpartisan context skeptics" that have a social norm of not accepting "context-scarce" reporting that has obvious propaganda goals. Preferably with some way to actual prevent the click-traffic to the "bad" source.
So many things that are not true here for example, and WP is considered a very respectable source of information. https://twitter.com/evkontorovich/status/1605796225780879360?s=46&t=O0tVBH_8j0jctWkAEK1BXA
" many people (probably including all the drug users) chose to take it" Scott, I think you mean " many people (probably including all the drug users) chose NOT to take it"
What about the Russians running out of missiles and/or ammo - 4 different times now by my count?
Clearly at least 3 of these following links are lies... or are they out of context?
March 2022: https://www.reuters.com/world/russia-running-out-precision-munitions-ukraine-war-pentagon-official-2022-03-25/
May 2022: https://www.jpost.com/international/article-706826
September 2022: https://www.thedefensepost.com/2022/09/01/russia-missiles-running-out/
December 2022: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-12-15/russia-is-running-out-of-missiles-ukraine-security-chief-says
Ooh, I'll give you a subject where the media lies explicitly and consistently without censure; guns and gun laws. I can't think of another subject where they feel they can just make things up and not get called out by anyone who matters, even other clout chasing journalists, it's kinda weird even if you believe they're all just being partisan hacks on the topic.
Steve Sailer agrees: https://www.takimag.com/article/print-the-legend/
> I don’t see a huge difference in the level of deceptiveness here.
Do you see a difference in the *frequency* of deceptiveness?
It seems self evident to me, though not to Scott apparently, that while it's easy to find anecdotes of similar levels of deception from both the NYT and Infowars it is significantly less common in the former than the latter.
I would put forth that the NYT will explicitly attempt to put forth a neutral approach to the three types (misinterpretation, selection bias, ignoring context) of bias that Scott identifies. You can argue they aren't always successful, Scott points out some examples, but that's their goal and most of their articles are slim on bias. Whereas Infowars will predominantly choose to use some combination of these three types of bias in the majority of their articles
Brazil's Electoral Court created an interesting concept: "informational disorder", as in, saying true things that imply a lie (according to whoever asked for the injunction, of course).
Caveating that this links to the equivalent to Brazil's NYT, google translate does a good enough job, I think https://www1-folha-uol-com-br.translate.goog/poder/2022/10/tse-foca-combate-a-desordem-informacional-e-amplia-acao-contra-fake-news.shtml?_x_tr_sl=auto&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=wapp
“Lying” headlines are also a huge issue. an example “4 Million Expected to Die From Covid” in the article below they quote the source, “in the very unlikely event no changes in behavior occur.” But tons of people apparently only read the headlines.
That’s an issue between editors and reporters - reporters don’t want to lie and don’t. Editors want clicks so they push it to the limit and cleanse their conscience with, “it’s all the article.”
That said the number of people who make statements revealing they hardly ever read the article is shocking.
"Factual and truthful are not synonyms". Something I've been noticing more and more lately is that journalists and the pundits they mine for quotes are big fans of statements which are clearly intended to be interpreted in a way not supported by the literal definition of the words. Classic example being stating that a scandal affecting ones home team "has all the hallmarks of Russian disinformation", or similar. That on its face is a meaningless phrase; presumably a scandal cooked up by Russian intelligence would look pretty similar to a real scandal. But the intention is to create the impression in the minds of the audience that "Experts say these are Russkie lies" and the people saying it are fully aware that's how it will be taken, without having to stake their reputations on actually making that claim.
This book is outdated (it is much worse now) but funny. Get the audiobook if you can>
So there is obviously some (ethical, legal?) reason why they don't lie directly. This is good. But could it be expanded to some of these cases too?
Some of those cases are surely hard, but especially the example of "x% economists say so" while omitting the amount of the other options seemed obviously deliberate. So the only difference between that and a blatant lie must be that this omission is categorized to the (ethically/legally) acceptable category, while lying is not. Can this category boundary be moved?
I think one difference between conspiracy theorists and the media is that a lot of the time conspiracy theorists are just actually dumb, while the media is very calculated about how to phrase things so as to be technically correct but very misleading.
That's why I kinda get more annoyed at a super misleading CNN headline than at a vaccine-Satanism conspiracy theory some boomer is posting on facebook. One is just extremely dumb, and the other is very smart and competent at misleading me.
One thing I've noted while dabbling in politics is that people often are unable to read political statements exactly as they are written, even though often many aides pore over those statements in great detail to deliver exactly a certain message down to very forms of words.
To give some simple examples,
A politician says "At this point I don't see myself doing X..." and, a few months later, does X. They have not lied at any point; they indeed didn't do it at that point, but at a whole another point, after considering that the situation has changed enough.
A politician says "It is my belief that in a few months we'll be in a situation where it's safe enough to do Y...", but in a few months time, Y is not done. They have not lied at any point; they described a belief they had. A belief does not have to realize itself.
These are probably not particularly good examples of what I'm thinking about, but then again it's late here.
Why not censor stuff if a prediction market classifies it as misleading? I.e. if they read a randomly selected other article on this topic, theres an x% chance theyd change their minds. I could imagine that giving a high number in cases where theres a single fairly important piece of missing context like your vaccine example.
I'm trying to model your intended audience (my outgroup) and I don't think this fully addresses their concerns. I "think" they would view it as...prioritizing an abstract process of arriving at the truth at the expense of real life consequences
Using your example of the NYT/Infowars discussion on racial disparities in policing, while an abstract debate to arrive at the proper context for these facts might be ideal, in the reality they live in, racial disparities in policing result in many dead African Americans every year. As such, any discussion of abstract truth values must be weighed against the loss of life of African Americans and the reporting of any responsible journalist must weigh these tradeoffs.
Your article feels like it takes as an assumption that seeking the truth is the highest value, which I'm not sure your intended audience/my outgroup would agree to. I model them as responding that they like truth but not at the cost of real human lives. Besides, I think they're confident they have the truth, they cannot imagine any circumstances under which anything from Infowars would ever convince them, and so they're not even trading off discovering the truth vs real human lives but trading off the approved process of discovering the truth vs real human lives.
And, while I don't agree with them because I obviously think my outgroup are deluded fools, I'm not sure this logic is wrong. There are certainly theoretical circumstances in which we would absolutely worry more about the practical consequences of doing something vs discovering the truth at any cost. And I can certainly model a NYT editor, within his own deluded mental model, legitimately struggling with this tradeoffs.
“What is contextually relevant” is a value judgement. Absent shared values, we can’t agree on what reality looks like even if we both claim to value seeing reality accurately, since we will disagree on which parts of reality are worth taking a closer look at.
"This doesn’t mean these establishment papers are exactly as bad as Infowars ; just that when they do err, it’s by committing a more venial version of the same sin Infowars commits.
No. It's worse. Infowars is known as a right-biased, partisan publication, and proud of it. Anyone who is not a magatard would be skeptical from the get go, if they ever went to the site. These people are convenient hobgoblin to the easily frightened -- but they have no levers of power. But the NYT and Scientific American still, (still!), insist on their objectivity and reasoned analysis, and their narratives drive debate among our oh-so-educated "elite". I find that much more a mortal, than venial, sin, when the implications of that are considered.
To be more specific, the EEG study is intended to lead to throwing even more money we don't have
into the bottomless maw of the "War on Poverty". And the disparity of women in STEM (or any other real or imagined disparity) can only lead to a lowering of standards or "talent", to use their quaint term. The people reading those publications can actually make that happen.
What's really scary is that both of those are ferociously scrubbing off any patina of respectability and objectivity they have left. Who are we supposed to be believe?
Besides you, of course.
Wow! It’s so refreshing to read a thoughtful, balanced commentary. Thank you.
I'm not sure I agree. I guess it partly depends on your definition of lying or your definition of "very rarely". Even if you don't consider lying by omission to be a form of lying, it seems to be that the media lies (as in intentionally says something they know to be false) pretty often. It's not something I have quantified, so I couldn't give you a figure such as "average number of false claims stated on the top 100 most read newspapers in the world per day". Anecdotally, I can say that I read/watch a decent amount of content related to media criticism and my recollection is that at least once a week I learn about a case of a major media outlet lying about something that I consider to be significant.
Applies more widely than the media. Those with power have things they don't like to say, and forms of words that are acceptable or unacceptable for reasons that are only tenuously connected to any form of morality. Magic spells are real - if you know the right incantations, you can access hidden knowledge, and gain power over others
Magic spells are also useless unless they are precisely correct, and they are gradually (and sometimes not so gradually) changing the whole time.
Some of the most profound and complex insights into modern society can be summarised as "the thing is, we're ruled by powerful wizards".
I worked on misinformation at Facebook and I can confirm that we pretty much never saw outright "unquestionably false" content, but instead just a huge ton of "deliberately misrepresenting things to push an agenda" content. Indeed pretty much all "politics" or "social issues" content that goes viral on social media is misleading in some way.
Ironically misinformation is itself something the media misrepresents.
Can we take this a step further and simply say that the data is meaningless without knowing *in detail* what it represents? The vast majority of stats in news reads like "Look at how big this number is! We won't bore you with what it actually means, but it's surprising and scary, so why don't you be a good little consumer and post about it to everyone you know?"
On a more constructive note, with how complex the world is, and how most people have lives to lead outside of sleuthing through the news, how would you signal boost sources which try to take a more neutral, informative view? Whatever people have been doing the last few decades doesn't seem to have produced very useful news sources.
Why doesn't the first example count as a completely false claim? If you say "vaccines cause miscarriages" and this is not correct, that seems like a "completely false thing" and not just lacking context. The NYT EEG article for example does not seem similar in this regard--it makes clear it's a finding from one study and not established fact.
“A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.”
I’d be willing to bet that on a wide variety of facts I care about and think should be widely known, NYT readers will know these facts in far greater proportion than infowars readers, and that this is because NYT is more capable of providing relevant context and information to its readers, so I’d also be willing to bet on causal interventions in this space showing NYT is better.
A much more blatant example of the media maligning is the repeated hypothesis that "immunity debt" is causing an upsurge in RSV, Influenza, Strep A and scarlet fever (in UK).
Immunity Debt was never a thing before COVID. They just latched onto this "idea" since it was a lot easier to continue the messaging that COVID is no longer worth worrying about.
What the science does seem to show is COVID causing immune system dysfunction (T cell dysfunction) for a significant percentage of people. If true, I suppose that's not very convenient.
I would argue that it is a lie when you are presenting yourself as a Real Media Source, and therefore as a source of Real Information, when you repeat something without fact-checking it, or when you say something and fail to consider any sort of alternative hypothesis or contradictory hypothesis.
This is, in fact, taught to journalists - you need to look for alternative narratives/all sides to a story - but they fail to apply it in practice, and oftentimes, when they DO apply it, they do a horrible job and just present it as a he said/she said without any additional or useful context.
So yeah, I'd say this actually does qualify as "lying", or at the very least as spreading misinformation, which I think most people would say constitutes "lying".
Sadly, I think the biggest problem with journalism is that journalism is a profession that people are trained in specifically. The problem is that journalism doesn't give you subject expertise, and as we know from the Dunning-Kruger effect, people who lack subject matter expertise cannot actually distinguish it in others.
I'd be careful saying "rarely lies". There is pressure to be minimally blatant while still conveying one's preferred narrative, and that means that "distortions" and "omissions of context" are more common, yes.
But that does not mean that people will not outright lie if they have to and if they feel like they can get away with it. The moment you think it's safe to rule out "outright lies" is the moment outright lying becomes a viable option.
Something can be factually and demonstrably untrue, and the moment enough people will allow the required amount of willful blindness to be seen as "normal", you will (and do) get outright lies.
I don't think I agree with the conclusion of this article.
If the outcome of posting an article is a more misinformed populace, I don't really care that there are technical semi-truths buried in the article. The headline and the narrative that emerges forth from that headline is **significantly** more relevant than the actual text of the article itself.
When thinking about why misinformation is so bad, I think about people I have met that tell me that 5G is killing birds, or think that microchips are in vaccines and Bill Gates is out to do nefarious things.
I think an honest accounting of the last decade should yield a more bearish view on the efficacy of the marketplace of ideas.
We can and should have an interesting debate about whether misinformation should be censored. But it is mere pretending to act like our world is not steeped deep in a stew of outright lies and nonsense.
The press is broken. Is there anyway to fix it?
I really like the point you are making. However, you are giving too much credit to the media. For example, either Infowars is stupid (they don't understand what they did, in good but stupid faith), or they are lying, because they know that their headline states an untruth: all that the "factual" -and context free- data shows is that "... alarming number of stillbirths... " preceded by "COVID shot". You could not nit-pick that as mis-contextualized spread of incorrect and dangerous misinformation, but neither could they have written their designed to be alarmist article.
Same goes for NYT.
There is an important distinction between lying and deceptive/misleading statements. Lying occurs when someone says or writes something that they believe is not true. And indeed, I think I agree with Scott's claim that the media very rarely explicitly lies.
However, I think the media is often intentionally deceptive - i.e., presenting information in ways that they know will lead to misunderstandings of reality. When Colgate ran an add saying that 80% of dentists recommend their product, they knew that the average consumer would imagine that dentists PREFER Colgate over other brands... whereas, in reality, dentists were asked to name ALL toothpastes they recommend (https://bit.ly/3BS7zBt). So, while Colgate didn't lie, they were being deceptive. Similarly, when mainstream media present statistics or quote 'experts' that lead to wrongheaded conclusions (as in the examples that Scott presents), I think many of them know they are spreading biased information and misleading their readers. Or, at the least, it is 'bullshit' (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullshit), where the journalist doesn't care about whether what they're saying is correct... as long as it gets the intended reaction. Journalists (these days?) seem closer to lawyers than to scientists. Like lawyers, they use the facts at hand to make a very partial case for their side. Unlike the ideal scientists, they are not even-handed in presenting the evidence. When people claim that "the media lies", I think it is only because the average person isn't pedantic enough to distinguish between lying and deception.
“The facts are true, the news is false.”
I get what you’re doing but you need to be very clear about whether the following category of story is a “lie” or not:
“Anonymous source says X” where X is false and the reporter is perfectly aware that their source is using them to plant a lie that both the source and the media organization would like people to believe is true.
Technically, “a person familiar with the matter” or “an official in the agency Y” can be true characterizations of the source even when they expect that their source is planting misinformation with them.
In such a situation, what is the subjective probability with which the reporter believes the statement X is false that you would require to classify the story as “media lying”?
And we can easily figure out which direction the spin of the context goes by looking at the voting patterns of journalists. We did this across 17 Western countries. https://kirkegaard.substack.com/p/new-paper-out-the-left-liberal-skew-of-western-media
Just because there's no obvious bright-line division doesn't mean you can't draw any lines for the purposes of law or categorization.
Going 5 mph over the speed limit is the same sort of sin as going 50 mph over the speed limit, but beyond a certain point we call it "reckless driving" rather than "the thing every driver does when traffic is flowing smoothly." There's no obvious discontinuity - driving 19 mph over is only slightly less bad than 20 mph over - but the law has to draw a line *somewhere* to distinguish reckless driving from speeding, even if the exact border is somewhat arbitrary.
Similarly, there is a level of deceptiveness at which we can recognize a news source as "a tabloid rag" rather than "a respectable newspaper," and it seems useful for Twitter or other news-amplifying websites to draw a line *somewhere* when deciding what to amplify, even if the exact details of that line are somewhat arbitrary.
But of course I say that since it agrees with my suspicions that media like to simplify stories to the point their editors think is important. And how reliably objective can that be?
One power of the institutional press is that it has a huge amount of leeway in determining what is considered News. For example, the name "Emmett Till" appeared fairly frequently in the New York Times in the years immediately following the black youth's murder at the hands of whites in 1955. But by 1980, "Emmett Till" was only appearing about twice per year in the NYT. In this century, however, Emmett Till news has become omnipresent, with Emmett Till's name appearing in the NYT about once per week in recent years (e.g., 50 times so far this year).
A few people get the joke: that the there's so much demand and so little supply of news of whites violently oppressing blacks that the NYT can sell more subscriptions by finding absurd excuses to constantly obsess over a murder that happened 67 years ago. But a huge number of people take it instead at at face value: that America in 2022 is plagued by whites hunting down and murdering blacks as proved by how often you read about Emmett Till in the New York Times.
> But lots of people seem to think that Infowars deserves to be censored for asserting lots of things like their context-sparse vaccine data claim, but NYT doesn’t deserve to be censored for asserting lots of things like their context-sparse police shooting claim. I don’t see a huge difference in the level of deceptiveness here. Maybe you disagree and do think that one is worse than the other.
This is itself an instance of ignoring context. I don’t think Scott really thinks InfoWars and the NYT are equally non-credible, but by referencing two single instances out of many thousands from both sources one could certainly be lead to draw that inference.
I don’t necessarily disagree with the general point about censorship, but the argument just seems like a contrived Loki’s wager vis-a-vis misinformation and deceptive reporting.
One major form of lying by omission is simply deciding what stories to cover or not cover. I think most people believe that blacks are more often shot by the police than whites, because it is *way* more common for a questionable police shooting of a black guy to make the news than an equally questionable shooting of a white guy. And this isn't exactly unreasonable, since the white guy's shooting will almost never trigger a riot or weeks of protests, but the black guy's shooting sometimes will.
When there is a widespread ideological or financial or social incentive not to report certain kinds of story, you get a file-drawer-like effect, where media all over the country independently decide not to report this kind of story, and so the public perception is that this kind of story basically never happens.
Fallacy of gray
Wronger than wrong
> But I would argue this is honest disagreement - exactly the sort of disagreement that needs to be resolved by the marketplace of ideas
I get the point that all censorship is an assertion of values, but does "marketplace of ideas" necessarily follow? Like, how do you reconcile that with the Toxoplasma of Rage post? It seems fairly clear that the marketplace is selecting for inflammatory bits of information missing context. Inflammatory headlines are easy to retweet. Context is not.
The premise of this post is that there is some group of censors who seek to ban, in some general way, "misinformation", which they believe that can objectively distinguish from fact. But who is this?
InfoWars was banned from most social media in 2018--but the reason given was hate speech, not "lies" or "deceptiveness."
If I go to e.g. YouTube community guidelines, they prohibit hate speech and misinformation about COVID, elections or the census. But they do not have any general policy against lying. The goal is to police a few specific areas of false claims that are seen as particularly harmful, not to provide a general solution to deceptiveness. Everyone more or less accepts that most false or misleading claims will have to be dealt with through normal discourse. Vaccine misinformation is restricted because it is seen as especially dangerous, not especially wrong. So I'm not sure what it adds to point out that there's a lot of bad information out there, in general, and censorship cannot be the solution--the censors themselves already agree.
Good essay, making a powerful and important point. Well done!
Strangely, though, it doesn't feel as polished as some of your other work. It almost feels like your heart isn't *entirely* in it. That would not be surprising: I think very few of us are 100% free speech absolutists, in the sense that there can never be *any* social constraint on *any* speech at all. Most of us can think of at least a few situations where we would want social forces to suppress certain extremely malignant or dangerous speech -- whether by ostracism or even government power.
So probably the really interesting and difficult part of this, indeed the debate that has probably been going on for 40,000 years and will continue forever, is figuring out how we can determine where to draw that final bright line. You can say all kinds of weird and strange and hurtful and dangerous shit, up to this line, and no further. It would not be surprising if uncertainty over that difficult process seeped into the essay.
But if the point to be made here is that people are today flirting foolishly and dangerously with moving that line much further from really outrageous things -- "foolishly" in no small part because they are idiotically assuming the demons summned thereby will never come for *them* -- then I would entirely agree, and it's valuable to point it out in the way you have.
I think the interesting question here is why do even sources like Infowars rarely outright lie?
You might think it is because of the risk of lawsuit - and maybe that plays some role. However, defamation law is broad enough to capture comments that would reasonably lead someone to believe a defamatory claim. I mean consider the litigation against fox et al by the voting machine company.
So is the answer that it's because very few people are willing to actually lie for a non-astronomical salary? If they report true things and then twist them a bit in response to editor feedback maybe that feels ok?
Or is it because it makes it harder to convince readers they are lying? I dunno but it's an interesting question.
"Hands up don't shoot" is an obvious lie repeated by every "reputable" news org in the country and , and it wasn't some minor unimportant detail.
Why isn't there a website that basically aggregates context checking for all these newspapers so it's possible to at least get a sense of the big things left out?
The claim that Infowars isn't really different than the NYT is undermined by the fact that Jones choose to accept a directed verdict rather than allow discovery. Almost certainly that's because there were a bunch of emay showing he and his staff knew claims were substantially false (eg they knew the person quotes was lying even if they did say it) but published anyway.
I think the stronger point to make here is that there isn't any easy rule which let's you distinguish misinformation from generic failure to provide context and that any attempt to apply such a rule would be intensely marred by partisan bias.
Indeed, this argument is so strong exactly because even with Infowars it's hard to point to what exactly they do that's different. However, I don't think that means we should believe that they aren't really any different than the NYT.
Yes, they both have stories to tell and views they want you to reach but my sense is that (and it's a difference in degree) the NYT for the most part doesn't try to decieve you but is simply often lazy or lets the reporters bias seep through while Infowars is pushing things it knows to be false.
Great post! I remember a while ago when your survey came out and one of the results were that many readers agreed your posts' quality had recently decreased.
In my opinion, these last few months have had multiple great posts, the kind of insight porn I keep coming back to ACX for. So I just wanted to mention it.
I really don't care if infowars lies or not.
The NYT is the harvard of newspapers. It is the absolute authority in US media. It has more power than almost any institution in the US, and a *majority* of people on the left believe that is a reputable source that prints not only things that are true, but accurately captures all true, relevant things that happen. If some unimportant college in rural west virginia has a racially discriminatory admissions policiy, it shouldn't be talked about next to Columbia explicitly stating that they discriminate against asian applicants due to them having privilege. If you're a tagged authority in American society, then you should be held to an incomparably higher standard.
So... to put it in abstract terms, in the presence of enough noise, a filter becomes a signal generator?
Am I missing something? That very first infographics _is_ an outright lie - the deaths are _not _ "attributed to" vaccines, that a blatant falsehood and a misrepresentation of the facts. They _could_ have decided to be merely weasely and say "associated with", but they didn't.
So it's a really weird illustration about "not lying"?
It isn't just about misrepresenting facts of a story in itself. A media outlet, or anyone for that matter, can also mislead by deliberate omission, simply not reporting a story that doesn't fit their agenda.
An outlet can also attempt to downplay the prominence of a story, by tucking it away unobtrusively in some subsection instead of on the main or front page. For web sites, an outlet can also vary the time, if at all, that the story is prominent.
In the UK, for example, the BBC are often blatantly guilty of all these tricks, especially in their reporting or non-reporting of crimes committed by minorities, and I'm sure it works the same in other countries.
Regarding Covid specifically, I can never understand all the hoo-hah over jabs. If someone (over 60 say) has a one in 3000 chance of dying if they catch Covid and one in 3000000 of dying from adverse effects of a vaccine, then it seems a no-brainer on the balance of probabilities to chance having the vaccine, especially as Covid can have long-term effects in someone even if it does not kill them, whereas I'm not aware that is so with vaccines.
That said, I would agree the probabilities shift in opposite directions the younger someone is, perhaps to the extent that a 20 year old would be better advised to skip the vaccine and take their chances with Covid instead!
The 'half-truth' - understood through means of the kinds of examples this article cites, where omission (strategic or incidental) is far more widespread than outright mendacity - is a much better heuristic for the average newsreader trying to remain informed while retaining a healthy epistemological scepticism, than are canards, old or new, about 'fake news' or the supposed tendency of one side of the political aisle to lie or dissemble more than the other.
That's because those canards make a lot of points of contention in news discourse seem like differences of interpretation, where they can often be traced to basic technical errors/defects in the reporting itself.
This is not a "nitpicky technical point", in my opinion. 15 years ago, your conclusion was the point that should have ended further discussion. And I would still have agreed strongly as recently as just two or three years ago. Today, however, this is exactly where the line gets blurry, and we need to put in some extra effort to draw new lines and solve difficult problems.
There has always been a legitimate discussion to be had on where the limits of free press / free speech should be drawn. We already agree that defamation and outright fraud are out of bounds. Importantly, however, the government wasn't supposed to censor anything prior to publication. They typically just trust publications to use their best judgment, and expect them to face the consequences if they cross the line.
In other areas, no one would bat an eye at prior constraint (whether it was strictly constitutional or not). Promoting child abuse or disseminating highly sensitive information about nuclear installations are pretty clear-cut cases where everyone would be upset if there were *not* some kind of prior constraint. Not to say that people agree on what that means in the real world (as illustrated by discussions about "groomers" and Snowden), but there are cases where the damage done by producing or publishing the information is irreversible and so significant as to justify prior constraint on publishing.
Today we're in an era of instant worldwide reach, deep fakes, smart bots, algorithmic manipulation, etc. … These are all force multipliers that may put a lot of information into the category of "significant and irreversible damage". At the very least, it makes misinformation a much bigger deal than it used to be. And so, more of it should be part of a discussion of whether censorship is called for, and if so, when and which kind.
Add to that, enforcement is increasingly privatized and democratized. Decisions are no longer taken by a few powerful editors and judges and top-level government bureaucrats with some idealistic telos, but are outsourced to mid-level managers with blunt tools and tech executives who are mostly in it for the money, not the principles. The new gatekeepers aren't bound by constitutional rules about what the state can do, or by the rules of editorial conduct that newspapers and network TV had to abide by, but are making up their own rules as they go.
So, I no longer think we can just point to our old rule of thumb, that all censorship is necessarily arbitrary and subjective, and therefore undemocratic and ominous. We need new rules, and we probably need to do a lot of talking and changing of minds to come up with good ones.
Personally, I think and hope much of the answer lies in better technology and better regulation of it, and as little as possible lies in censoring outlets, stories or individuals. But reasonable people will disagree. And that, of course, is the most important thing, that we need to preserve.
Police shootings/killings have been politicized and practically nothing can be trusted. Roland Fryer has debunked some, but your statistic keeps popping up - there are 5 times as many whites!! Where do most shootings happen? Urban areas. Are urban area demographics fairly represented by the US average? No. That is important context.
In the machine learning and AI era, when the public is starting to understand the power of data, it is frustrating to see the increasing number of (deliberate) misinterpretations of statistics. As it becomes mainstream, something should be done about the general public understanding of statistics and how surveys/studies are done.
Here's a wonderful example. New Yorker music critic completely misleads about a cancel culture case -- a professor's tenure is threatened, there's a petition to discipline him and to shut down the magazine he edits. And the New Yorker is like "wow, why do people think this is *cancel culture* -- it's just Outgroup hysteria." But in a crucial sentence, they insert a semi-colon so that they technically avoid a lie! It's an amazing performance... (and one thinks, if people will lie about something so small...)
I feel like the issue we're skirting round is something like "How can we the the epistemically-virtuous-elites-who-are-correct-about-everything transmit our correct views to the epistemically-un-virtuous-masses, when Joe Rogan and Fox News are filling their heads with nonsense and ruining democracy?"
And, even assuming we really are the epistemically-virtuous-elites-who-are-correct-about-everything and not the NYT or the anarcho-primitivist or whoever, I don't see how that's ever going to be possible given that being epistemically un-virtuous means you can't distinguish correct things from incorrect ones, so they won't be able to tell a reliable source of information from an unreliable one.
Maybe you can tinker around the edges, but fundamentally the only way to help people believe more correct things and fewer incorrect one is to improve them epistmeically, or have someone who is more epistemically virtuous dictate what they should think.
And as I always (and repeatedly say) ask when topics like censorship come up: “would you want this power in the hands of your enemies?”
"It said that only 36% of economists on a survey supported school vouchers - and if even economists don’t support a free market policy, surely that policy must be very stupid indeed. Not mentioned in the article: only 19% of economists in the same survey opposed school vouchers. The majority described themselves as uncertain"
Do the pro and con groups include some uncertains? Otherwise seems like only 45% were uncertain—a plurality, but not a majority.
Pregnant women regularly get both the flu shot and TDaP, one can only hope in greater numbers than those for new vaccines that still haven't reported any data from their own pregnancy exposure databases, despite many claims of safety from governmental agencies. TDaP is given relatively late in pregnancy and would probably only be associated with stillbirths, but the flu shot is given when it comes out, so that could be at any point in pregnancy and could be associated with either miscarriages or stillbirths.
Your analysis of InfoWars is itself lacking a key piece of context: you are reading its web site after it has declared bankruptcy following a $965 million verdict for defamation for claiming that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax and the bereaved parents were all professional actors. (Alex Jones, who runs InfoWars, also recently declared bankruptcy after a separate $473M verdict against himself personally.)
It's entirely reasonable that InfoWars completely revamped its approach to lying after those chickens came home to roost. I suspect that repeating the experiment with archived versions of the InfoWars front page on randomly selected dates in 2016-2021 would yield more examples of outright lies (not just about Sandy Hook), from before the site was deterred by defamation law.
I've written the complete explanation of the Sadly Porn book. I've got a letter, but I don't know how to send it to Scott. Can you help me ?
This was a great article. Very well-written.
I never got the impression that the argument 'at least we can all agree that we don't want people to spread blatant misinformation, right? so can we at least censor THAT?' was good-faith - it's just a rhetorical move to sell the idea that 'there are instances where it's socially beneficial to censor 'bad information'', as a way of getting the inquisitor's boot in the door.
The difference in VAERS reports is due to a much broader reporting regime. Most vaccines have a set of well-known complications and specific reporting requirements based on those events and their known time frames. For covid, any severe event after vaccination is reportable, even if there’s no reason to believe the vaccine was the cause.
This is good policy and moves towards more robust medical data practice, but it means VAERS statistics for covid vaccines are not comparable with those of other vaccines.
Data Scientist here. This happens also happens all the time within tech organizations. People see data and make false conclusions. Even with a decent stats understanding, the logic supporting a certain dataset could obtuse / could include important assumptions that meaningful shift the take away.
The system is complex and requires expertise to unravel! This is where data scientists provide huge value in a company. In a company these Data Scientists have been and are scrutinized by other Data Scientist. This helps keep rigor high.
Given the world / system will always grows in complexity, how can we provide better understanding for a lay person? The answer should be good journalism / data science! Ideally journalists should be working hand in hand with data scientists. Obviously data science can also be subverted :/
This is true, but out of context and not actually informative: I am constantly surprised that "Alex Jones" of Infowars looks like a Russian/Ukranian Propaganda Minister reporting on ethnic cleansing. Because for years I assumed he actually looked like Alexi Lalas, who was the visibile face of US Men's Soccer for a decade or more. And who, in turn, looked like a guy at my first job, a great coder who loved weed and hackey-sack and vegan co-ops in the East Bay.
So yes, the media lies.
I wrote this a few years ago ... related, and perhaps a little more trusting in the media than I would be now.
I feel the problem with this premise is it is using the narrowest possible definition of lie. One that means you can intentionally publish lies that you know are lies with the intention of deceiving without "lying." So if I track down a janitor at the FBI who says Jews eat babies and I write a story headlined "Sources at FBI warn Jews are Baby Eaters," then I haven't technically lied. Even if I know it's untrue, and that the janitor is insane, and I'm writing the article because I believe it will be popular. Even though I don't even believe Jews eat babies, I still haven't actually lied.
There are a lot of ways to lie without lying. Tucker Carlson has made a career out of lying by making wild accusations in the form of a question. "Are Jews eating babies? And if they are, why aren't Democrats trying to stop it? Is it because Democrats have made a deal so Jews only eat Republican babies? And isn't it suspicious how many people don't want me to ask these questions?"
So if you work on a binary "lie/not lie," then neither the Times or Alex Jones lies. But what happens if we define lie as "intentionally promoting falsehoods"?
I also feel when talking about the reliability of sources, picking out one piece of misinformation by the Times and one piece of misinformation by Jones and saying, "look, they did the same thing" is problematic. Does the Times slant stories in a misleading way? Absolutely. Do they do it to the same degree with the frequency and cynicism of Alex Jones? Well, I don't have any stats on that, nor do I actually know how much of Jones' actions are fueled by greed and cynicism and how much is he is genuinely insane, but it would certainly be helpful to know.
This binary approach to lies simply ignores the way humans find non-binary ways to do things like lie without lying. In the end, "The Media Rarely Lies" is a statement that is both technically true and completely useless.
Scott recently made a post "If The Media Reported On Other Things Like It Does Effective Altruism". Doesn't this post contradict that post, since it establishes that the media *does* report on other things like it reports on effective altruism?
I have to wonder if there's a temporal selection bias in the Infowars articles. They did just get sued into oblivion for defamation, so they might be a bit hesitant currently to publish as usual.
The difference between those who follow the news media and those who do not, is not a difference between the informed and the uninformed. It is a difference between the disinformed and the uninformed. (Old social science saying)
It seems similar to asking why do dictatorships like Syria, USSR and North Korea hold elections.
If you are going to be totally dishonest why bother having some kind of process and principals.
I have no idea what the answer is.
Every experienced liar agrees with Flashman that 'suppressio veri is a useful servant but suggestio falsi is a perilous master'. Doesn't mean the media rarely lies. Lies of omission and lies of commission are both lies. That's why courts tell witnesses to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
When I was a kid in the 1970's the media was biased but gave facts. Now it's mostly gibberish whipping up moral panics. Why the collapse? Well, the old Venona transcript lefties had already done the whole 'gibberish whipping up moral panics for the Party' thing for the Soviets and developed a useful cynicism about the D party line. They aged and died, and their successors are dumb and inexperienced. And there's still no real right-wing media beyond 'look how bad the D party line is'.
> Censorship - even the “safe” kind of censorship that just blocks “fake news” - will always involve a judgment call by a person in power enforcing their values.
In an ideal world where the censorship is actually executed by saints that have absolutely no other interests than to ensure every information packet passing through them is providing proper context. In the real world, in the meantime, anything that the censor deems serving their goals (which, as always, is the greater good of humanity itself) for be declared "good information", and anything that opposes them would be declared "misinformation", and the squabbling over context will be left to bloggers - at least those who aren't deplatformed yet.
There are two different ways of undercutting MLMs and some other scams, one requiring mathematical intuition and the other not.
The mathematical way is to realize that you're going to run out of people to recruit.
The non-mathematical way is to realize that if this is actually a way to get rich, why is the person trying to sell it to you working so hard at selling it when there are more pleasant things to do if you're rich.
The latter is probably easier to teach than math.
Your first example (i.e. Infowars and their use of VAERS reports) lets them off the hook much too easily. A better inference is their article's willful naivete or ignorance of how VAERS works and is meant to be used is incredibly sloppy. If you go to VAERS site (https://vaers.hhs.gov/index.html) and check the links to "About" and "Guide to Interpreting Data" sections you will see that these reports can be made by anyone and are unfiltered, raw, and unverified. Some relevant parts: "Anyone can report an adverse event to VAERS.," "VAERS is not designed to determine if a vaccine caused a health problem, . . . VAERS can provide CDC and FDA with valuable information that additional work and evaluation is necessary to further assess a possible safety concern." , "VAERS is a passive reporting system, meaning that reports about adverse events are not automatically collected, but require a report to be filed to VAERS. "VAERS reports can be submitted voluntarily by anyone, including healthcare providers, patients, or family members. Reports vary in quality and completeness. They often lack details and sometimes can have information that contains errors." Better, more curated systems are the Vaccine Safety Datalink and Clinical Immunization Safety Assesment Project, both on the CDC site.
One thing I wonder is what’s the way around this issue? If we put together a newspaper we thought was really awesome about being honest and being contextually fair and accurate, couldn’t critics still find things to make us look bad? A creative person can always find fair-sounding criticism of something
I had hoped that OpenAI Chat would be a good tool for examining public data and policy, but the developers have crippled it by forcing it to murmur cant responses if you ask any question about population groups.
Of all the national-level mainstream news organizations I've ever read regularly (which is a lot of them, because I grew up with that as a daily practice and am old enough to remember when "60 Minutes" was a new TV show), the best by far on the dimensions discussed in this post is the Economist. Since someone gifted me a subscription 18 years ago all others have steadily fallen away from my personal habits.
I'm an American who thinks they cover my own country better -- smarter, frankly -- than any American national news outfit. And I've come to enjoy being better informed about news and events around the world too. Also they do some of the best generalist coverage of science and tech that you can find these days. I've even become a fan of that painfully-dry English wit that pops through here and there.
Of course they aren't perfect, nothing written and edited by human beings ever will be. But sooo many times over the years I have wished that the United States had its own national news publication even half as good.
Can you clarify for me where your figure of 0.01% testing positive came from? Reading the articles I see 0.2% quotes, not 0.01%. I thought perhaps you made a typo but I see you repeating the number. Or are you making a subtle point about bad journalism?
You made a very good and important point.
I wonder if our discussions could be made more useful by adding some categories and probabilities. My personal estimates (which I'm not confident in) would be as follows:
TOTAL UNTRUTHFUL PIECES (50%): In the average piece of consumed news media (among a global population), ~50% have something 'deeply untruthful' with the reporting, such that fully believing the media would lead to misguided feelings/actions.
PREVENTABLE UNTRUTHS (25%): When reporting a 'deeply untruthful' piece, the journalist(s) creating the news could have prevented the flaw if they were incentivised to ~50% of the time - i.e., the relevant knowledge exists and they have the epistemological skills to figure out the truth. These preventable truths are attributable to either self-deception, other-deception, or bullshitting ( with BS defined as making a claim without caring whether or not it is true).
DECEPTIVE PREVENTABLE UNTRUTHS (5%): When reporting preventable untruths, ~20% are the result of intentional deception - i.e., the journalist(s) involved know that what they are reporting is deeply untruthful. The rest of the time, the journalists are either self-deceptive or bullshitting.
LIES (1%): When reporting deceptive preventable untruths, ~20% involve explicit lies (of commission). The other ~80% result from intentionally omitting critical context or posting lies by 'experts'.
Thus, I basically agree with Scott's claim that the media very rarely lies, but also think it is important to consider all the ways that the media is misleading and deceptive.
Moreover, fundamentally, the audience bears most of the proximal blame. Truthful media cannot survive unless is pays economically. If most audience members were willing and able to pay for truthful media, then the vast majority of media would be truthful. But a lack of epistemological education and widespread cognitive biases (e.g. confirmation bias) mean that truthful media does not dominate.
I like your analysis, but would add important context that might alter the conclusion that the NYT and infowars are equally lacking context in their reporting.
Your piece omits any mention of the fact that Infowars is run by Alex Jones, a malicious liar and conspiracy theorist. It’s likely that their editorial decision-making reflects the deliberate lies that he advances. I can’t think of an equivalent on the Sulzberger or NYT Editorial board side of things.
I cannot imagine the NYT ever publishing a magazine like this:
Here is an example of Infowars outright lying: https://archives.infowars.com/new-obama-birth-certificate-is-a-forgery/
The reason for stillborn deaths and covid was really a reach. Needs to do better in future explanations.
When nearly all the providers have converging interests the message is massaged and not even an eye wink is needed, just a subtle head nod. Its easy to move a mountain when everyone is pushing at the same time even if they dont know why.
I wish they did lie, it would be less insidious than the shit they do and more easily remedied.
In order to claim "rarely lies," you have to exclude two things:
1. Connotation and
2. English uses structure to convey information.
The latter is NPRs favorite (ok, maybe second or third) way to lie. They'll say "Senator X claims A, however Organization Y has determined B,"
In this case, "claimed" and "determined" both have connotative truth value which should NOT be overlooked, and the "however" indicates that B refutes A. If you construct a statemen in which B has nothing whatsoever to do with A, you have in fact lied, even if there are no lies in either A or B. This almost always happens when the reporter shifts from absolute to relative measurements in the middle of a statement.
A comparison of prebunking and debunking interventions for implied versus explicit misinformation
This is one of the most reasonable, measured takes on censorship that I have found. Thank you.
I remember the whole thing about Trump and the bleach comment so specifically because when it was reported seriously, I just thought, Am I the only person in the world that could tell he was being facetious? Not that I'm defending him as a person, just that I've watched as other politicians say some things that are also facetious or sarcastic and are defended in that way. Another thing my son taught me is to learn how to read research conclusions, but that takes practice and patience, and is super boring. The people reporting know the majority of the populace will not do this. It's why you really can't trust any of them. They all have an agenda.
Do people read alternative news these days? Cant believe how far right messed up with millions of brains. We r quite fallible creatures
Studies to this effect were covered in my journalism classes. Perceptions of inaccuracy in the media are almost always based in a belief that different context or facts should have been given equal presentation, not that the facts presented are themselves inaccurate.
This matches my experience of the media reporting on my company (so I have inside knowledge of what’s being reported on). If they lie, it’s only by omission.
I am in full agreement with the conclusion, censorship requires that someone be trusted with the value judgement and there is no certainty that the "someone" will yield results that don't look like tyranny to a substantial portion of the population. But the set up uses a Clintonesque definition of "lie" - defining lies for this purpose as fabricating facts. But the textbook definition of "lie" includes the intent to deceive - particularly for personal gain or loss avoidance. I would suggest that the modern day media outlets (of all flavors) slant their stories for gain - i.e. advertising revenue and are therefore lying.
> But that means there isn’t a bright-line distinction between “misinformation” (stories that don’t include enough context) and “good information” (stories that do include enough context).
...duh? Aren't you the guy who put 'motte and bailey' into wide circulation to describe this phenomenon? The vague term 'misinformation' is politically useful precisely because it is vague. I don't claim it is kept vague through sinister intention, but rather that it is an evolutionary process. I don't know what it would take to stop the political-evolutionary pressures which drive this phenomenon. The extinction of humanity _might_ do the trick. Even mitigating it somewhat would take a lot of work.
Incidentally, it is also possible to mislead by adding too much context to facts, making them appear unique rather than typical and thus preventing readers from forming undesirable generalizations. It is not limited to media either. People are prone to doing it to themselves, through the fundamental attribution error with regards to their and others' actions, and through overcontextualizing their own problems in order to be able to perceive them as pleasingly unique rather than boringly and degradingly typical. Again I do not claim that this is done with open, conscious intent - in fact usually the reverse seems to be the case - but then I think that "open, conscious intent" has been very overrated lately as a criterion for judgment of actions. Notably, the traditional legal concept of mens rea does not require it. I do not know the reasoning which led to the formation of this concept, but I suspect that people used to be more aware of how prone we are to self-delusion, compartmentalization and other behaviors of this kind.
You're right. I don't think the media lies as much as people think.
But one of their very common practices is even worse than lying - in my opinion. And that is suppressing actual news. They simply don't report something unless it supports their narrative.
This gives them a perceived moral high ground because they can say "we didn't lie." Maybe so, but you deceived your readers.
Suppressing evidence like this is typically illegal in courts of law. But like many things in modern society, the court of public opinion trumps everything. Today, the credibility and trust in the media are at all time lows - and getter lower each day. Journalists and media employees are getting laid off in droves because they provide little to no value to the public.
Personally, I can't even remember when I watched media or even read a newspaper. I personally don't trust them - both sides of the aisles are unreliable.
“Safe and effective”
Topical discussion of fake news https://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/The-San-Francisco-Inquirer-looks-like-local-news-17732331.php
Late to the party here, but the Fox News Dominion Lawsuit seems to show that Fox News specifically does lie to its viewers and its presenters do this intentionally. How does that change how you feel?
Interestingly, pregnant women who were unvaccinated and caught Covid had an anomalous number of stillbirths.
Infowars publishes a blatantly made-up report: https://www.infowars.com/posts/exclusive-biden-admin-preparing-to-bring-back-full-covid-restrictions-rollout-to-begin-mid-september/