Following the Narrative

By | October 26, 2010

As we are getting close to finishing election season, I am noticing a very specific common experience.  The media is the number one victim of this.  They are “following the narrative”.  By this I mean that they have a hypothesis about the world and will do anything to support that idea.  Any new information that is the opposite of their expected outcome is ignored and conversely, any information that supports the narrative is pointed to as a smoking gun.

This is an awful way to go about the world.  If I had a nickel for every time the “truth” was the exact opposite of people’s predispositions, I would be a wealthy man.  Some people think TARP was 700 billion dollars and a terrible idea.  Turns out that most of it was paid back and it’s only 50 billion, plus it probably saved millions of jobs.  To take a more mundane topic, you may like a member of the opposite sex; but think they aren’t interested in you.  Every smile and frown will be viewed through the lens of your existing mental model.

Politicians play this narrative to the hilt (or get played by it).  If you control the narrative, then people will go along.  Once a politician is labeled “weak” then everything they do sounds weak.  Label them “corrupt” and everything they do has a bad smell about it.

If only our brains worked differently.  If only we could be more sensible and make decisions based on logic and facts.  If only…

6 thoughts on “Following the Narrative

  1. Kaj Kandler

    You are so right. Humans tend to filter all information in order to confirm their already formed believes. It takes a major disruption and often an emotional experience to change that.

    Reply
  2. Donald Ball

    It’s an especially pernicious problem when it plagues the media, unfortunately, because it should be their job, since they have the access, to critically examine the narratives propagated by the political think tanks and parties (and make no mistake, the narratives dominating the airwaves for at least the last two decades were bought and paid for). Instead, they go along with them because it’s cheap, easy, and yes, is reinforced by normal human cognition. More’s the pity.

    Reply
  3. Dan

    I agree. The “news” is not news, it is entertainment meant to make money or increase influence for the parent company. And these companies are monsters, the own the large media outlets and the small ones. They have so many that a straight news agency would just get lost in the crowd. I wish Congress would pass a law stating that any program that calls itself “news”, or any political ad, has to publish the source of their information online. You can’t say something unless you can prove it. And if you are criticizing another organization or person, they can add a factual rebuttal (with sources) directly onto that page.

    Where do we get our “news”
    ABC (owned by Disney, yearly revenue $36 Billion)
    NBC (owned by GE, yearly revenue $157 Billion)
    CBS (Owned by Viacom, yearly revenue $12 Billion)
    Fox (Owned by News Corp, yearly revenue $30 billion)
    CNN (Owned by Time Warner, yearly revenue $25 billion)
    New York Times (Owned by NYT Company, yearly revenue $2.5 billion)

    Reply
  4. Dan

    Comedy Central is owned by Viacom, who also owns NBC (and if John Stewart ever decided to leave the show, their might be pressure to find a new person who agrees with their political ideology (the show wasn’t a source of news when Stewart started). As for NPR, they just fired a right-leaning analyst for his comments on fox news. I think it is horrible that he was fired, he was just being honest and sharing his experience. NPR should be the fairest, but I seem them as clearly leaning left (and often ignoring the moderate right).

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  5. Kaj Kandler

    @ Donald
    I think if we are all honest it is not just in public things where we follow a narrative, but also personal and small group things. Hence it is not just the “news” that is biased, we are listening with a bias too.

    @Dan
    You make a good point about the mass media offering little variety (By the way, do you get C-SPAN, this is rather raw material, although everybody has their political point of view, but at least it is unfiltered) and mostly entertaining news content.

    I think you don’t get the reason correct, for why Juan Williams was fired. It was not about the nature or the leanings of his personal views/experiences, but about the fact that you can hardly be a news analyst if you voice your personal views/experiences. Your role is to analyze the news and not your personal views/experiences. If you want to do that be a blogger/pundit/commentator. Apparently NPR did not have an open position for that role.

    And it does not look like he is out of work, as he signed within the week a $2 Mio contract.

    Reply

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