Media metaphor & “bias”
Oct 17, 2011 – The extent to which metaphor structures our experience is one of the more staggering findings in cognitive science. Metaphor isn’t just about language; it’s how we think. We constantly import inferential structure from one conceptual “domain” to another – without being aware of the process. Without this metaphorical mapping, our thinking on any given topic would be practically non-existent.
Media metaphors structure our experience of “the news” and “public mood”, etc. We’re not talking just about “spin” or “propaganda” here. Take today’s Times headline as an example: “Women desert Tories as economic pain hits home”. Regardless of whether its claims are factually accurate, we’re given a series of metaphors shaping our thoughts in non-trivial ways (the most basic of these, “hits”, is a primary metaphor for direct causation, which I’ve written about in an earlier entry). Without such metaphors, we couldn’t reason about complex social issues.
Conventional media criticism highlights the dangers of factual inaccuracy, distortion, misrepresentation, “spin”, “propaganda”, “bias”, etc. One might remove all these dangers, but still have a media which shapes thinking in a certain way. In fact, “balance” (or elimination of “bias”) often describes a single metaphorical frame – but with “balanced” coverage between one side asserting the frame, and another negating it, or simply inverting it. (George Lakoff warns that to negate a frame is to reinforce it).
More crucial than this “bias”/”balance” dichotomy (in framing terms, at least) is metaphorical pluralism – applying multiple metaphors (ie diverse inferential structures) to a given issue. As individuals, most of us would probably recognise this as the “healthy norm” – it gives our thinking richness, and helps to prevent dogmatism, intolerance, etc. Mass media (and also, it should be said, some “alternative” media) tend to work against this pluralism – through metaphorical narrowing and repetition (a good example is media framing of the “unemployed” – on both right and left).
• ‘WOMEN HIT TORIES’
• ‘TORIES HIT WOMEN’
• ‘TORIES HIT ECONOMY, DESERT WOMEN’