On the Bias

I have been accused of reading political material or watching news programs that are biased. Of course, those who make the accusations will defend their own sources as being “unbiased.”

I picked up a book of interviews with historian Howard Zinn, The Future of History, by David Marsamian. My husband and I read Zinn’s history of America as we drove around the southwest. Some would say Zinn is biased. He absolutely is and he would be the first to admit it. Zinn speaks about recorded history when he responds to Marsamian’s question about who is in control of history. “We writers are real thieves,” he said. “We see something good and use it, and then if we’re nice we say where we got it. Sometimes we don’t. Orwell (observed) that if you can control history, what people know about it, if you can decide what ‘s in people’s history and what’s left out, you can order their thinking. You can order their values. You can in effect organize their brains by controlling their knowledge. The people who can do that, who can control the past, are people who can control the present.”

Interviewer Marsamian: “You’ve said that objectivity and scholarship in the media and elsewhere is not only ‘harmful and  misleading, it’s not desirable’.”

“I’ve said two things about it,” Zinn said. “One, that it is not possible. Two, it’s not desirable…It’s not possible because all history is a selection out of an infinite number of facts. As soon as you begin to select, you select according to what you think is important. Therefore it is already not objective. It’s already biased in the direction of whatever you, as the selector of this information, think people should know. So it’s really not possible…The worst thing people can claim is to be objective.” Zinn suggests that historians should let people know what their values are so they would understand the slant being presented.

“(Objectivity) is not desirable (either).” We should have history that enhances human values, values of brotherhood, sisterhood, peace, justice and equality. The closest I can get to it is the values enunciated in the Declaration of Independence.” This is Zinn’s bias. I am not sure anyone would own up to the fact that their bias goes in the opposite direction of these values, but in reality, some presentations of history or any media presentation may, indeed, do so. I think that Zinn is suggesting that if you acknowledge your own bias, you can then be more selective and intentional about reporting of facts. One just has to be careful about crossing the line into fiction.

I have a definite bias in all of my writing. The title of this blog states my bias. I hope that I am able to influence the minds and hearts of those who read what I write, moving them more toward tolerance, honesty and peace.

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