The media is full of fallacies.
Media Hell aims to show how certain fallacies reinforce
each other to create worldviews. For example, fallacies
about "spiralling" dangers (crime, immigration,
WMD, etc) reinforce the belief that "our way of life
is threatened", which often creates a worldview supportive
of "tough" authoritarian government.
Why so many economic fallacies?
We identify many economic fallacies because they seem
central to the "Western establishment consensus"
worldview. A tangle of contradictions lies at the heart of
media portrayals of "free market democracy".
Media critics of the right argue that the media expresses
a "liberal" agenda of nanny-state interference in
the marketplace, whereas those on the left point to
the corporate ownership of most media. Underlying both views
are economic premises, which manifest as support or
opposition to the corporate-dominated economic landscape.
Media Hell's approach is to question basic
economic premises, of the media and of media criticism. This
results in an ongoing unravelling of many media fallacies.
More on this in the media model agnosticism
Media fallacies seem to come in hierarchies. Top-level
fallacies concern the nature of "authority", the
relationship between society and government, the "public
interest", etc. Mid-level fallacies generalise
on separate issues eg economics, foreign policy, etc.
Low-level fallacies distort matters of fact
and history, often by circular reinforcement (eg media editors
select factual content according to higher-level fallacies
see below for more on this).
Another type of fallacy is self-referential eg a media
fallacy about the media. We label these "meta-fallacies".
For example, a media outlet's claim that its content is "fair
and balanced" easy to refute in the case of Fox
News. (Another case: the BBC presenting itself
as "independent of government", when it relies on
government funding and is run by government appointees).
Basic hierarchy examples
A typical top-level media fallacy is that "official"
forms of authority are inherently trustworthy/benign. A mid-level
fallacy applies this to specific areas, eg economics, and
branches out to more detailed low-level fallacies.
Top level =
level = M-FALLACY,
Low level =
is trustworthy & benign"
theory is benign & correct"
"The market always
"Welfare is the
biggest economic drain"
is good for everyone"
are increasing for all"
gave us computers"
"We're living in
Another top-level fallacy is that society is becoming
more dangerous, due to (for example) "spiralling crime":
"Our society is becoming
M-FALLACY: "Crime is
out of control"
is a new threat"
"Society has become
soft on crime"
Media fallacies database project
One aim of Media Hell is to build a database of media
fallacies, and to structure it according to its hierarchical
features. We think this will provide an extremely useful resource.
We have large amounts of raw data that we're currently working
to incorporate into such a database. But we also need your
input. We want examples of low-level fallacies (preferably
with source details), and we'd also like to hear your opinions
on mid- and top-level fallacies. Please
Framing & circular reinforcement
Social psychology and cognitive science tell us that when
facts contradict a person's worldview (their conceptual "framing"
of various issues), the facts will probably be ignored
and the frames/worldview kept.
If a person's conceptual frames contain high-level fallacies,
only the facts that fit those fallacies will be acknowledged.
This leaves a partial, blinkered view of the low-level "facts"
which reinforces the high-level worldview. In extreme cases
(eg the widespread belief in the US that Saddam Hussein was
responsible for 9/11) the high-level beliefs are sustained
by ignoring or denying almost all the available corroborated
This way of "thinking" differs fundamentally from
the classical view of "reason" as applied empirically
(eg in scientific method) in which factual evidence
is allowed to challenge, refute and ultimately transform our
beliefs about the world.
The lesson from this, say some cognitive scientists, is that
publicising the facts about any issue may not be sufficient
to change people's minds.
It's easy to look down on those "ignorant fools"
who appear incapable of applying logic to evidence, but most
people (ourselves included) tend to favour consciously
or unconsciously information which supports (rather
than challenges) their existing worldviews. Media editors
and journalists are no different, despite their claims of
"impartiality" and "balance".
Media "model agnosticism"
Unlike many media (particularly the "official"
kind), we don't claim to know the "true" version
of any event/issue. (We also don't claim "balance"
or "neutrality" concepts more suited to gymnastics
or chemistry than media criticism). Identifying mainstream
fallacies doesn't necessarily bring you any closer to the
"truth". It can lead instead to a simple inversion
of the identified fallacy (eg "big business is benign",
flipped to "big business is malign").
This "reactive" approach to media criticism produces
false dichotomies and stereotyping (as each "side"
in the polarised debate stereotypes the overstatements of
the other). A different approach is model agnosticism
(a term borrowed from scientific philosophy). It means modelling
events/issues in various (potentially useful) ways, without
believing that the models present "truth". Model
agnosticism acts as a vaccination against "true believers"
of all faiths, right and left.
One can apply model agnosticism to the major economic right/left
dividing-line. Left-agnostics can catalogue disastrous effects
of big business without believing that "corporate"
implies "evil". Right-agnostics can catalogue productive
effects of big business without believing that "growth"
Problems arise in media criticism when agnosticism atrophies.
When a model becomes a rigid belief/dogma, fallacies multiply.
The orthodox economic belief that economic growth and profit
are necessarily virtuous has swamped the western world
with consequent fallacies. And the counter-orthodox economic
belief that everything "corporate" (including corporate-owned
media) is necessarily malign has given rise to counter-fallacies.
[Media Hell primarily scrutinises
the fallacies of the former, orthodox, belief-system, since
these are more entrenched in our culture than the latter
and more destructive, judging by the evidence].