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IAMA dual-citizen of the United States and Israel. I've grown up processing a lot of news about Israel, both local (Israeli news outfits) and foreign (most journalism written in English). I've had more than one occasion to see an event unfold firsthand, and later read about it in the media.

There is no unbiased news. You must read between the lines, corroborate and reconcile different accounts, and generally think in order to piece together a picture of an event, even with reputable sources, because even reputable sources are really just a big organization that sent a reporter somewhere.

In fact, the reality is even worse: many topics of news have no singular "truth" to them. As soon as a reporter ceases to be strictly recollective, news becomes an editorial affair -- and that's ok, so long as people recognize it as such. The problem is that few people are equipped to make that distinction.

Most people never learn to take a piece of writing and tear it apart critically. It's a skill that requires time and practice to acquire. Without it, people conflate the hard news and the subjective bits. Quality journalism should include a mix of hard news and analysis, but the news market today sells to the lowest common denominator, who generally want a simple narrative in 500 words or less. This leaves little room for the ambiguity of the real world.

I constantly question what I read because of my experience with reporting about Israel, and I often think about how little I really know when reading about other places and stories that lack a neat narratives.

Exactly what I wanted to say. Maybe living in Israel teaches a lot about how good, and all too often bad, reporting is. Even the reporting considered the most "unbiased" in certain countries sounds, to me, like it's incredibly biased. Never mind which more accurate: it just goes to show that bias depends more on what you believe going into the new piece than what it contains.

After reading Seth Godin's "All Marketers are Liars", I've come to the realization that there is not truth, not in the sense people mean when they say "unbiased". Everything worth saying has a marketing spin. Everything people say to you goes through layers of previous beliefs. There is not such thing as "just the facts".

It's not even hard to "prove": take any reasonably controversial story that happened recently. The initial story already shows you what most people believe based on their first reactions. Any new piece of evidence that comes out doesn't have any effect on which side of the issue people are on: the "fact" is always somehow a proof that they are right. I've seen this happen very often, and yet people still seem to think that it's all facts.

The square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is the sum of the squares of the other sides.

Mathematics (and certain sciences) are one of the few fields where actual facts exist.

Most news, though, deals with with humans, humans' interactions, and so on. You can never know what other people are thinking or feeling when they do something, and oftentimes they themselves don't even know.

If you want to see how bad most reporting is, just see how bad it is in fields you understand. Most reporting about the computer industry is terrible. Just as one funny example of a "fact" by an expert (and ironic who I'm writing this to), pg's article on PR has a footnote about how the damages figure for the Morris worm was calculated.

Great read in any case, which sorta makes some of the same points: http://www.paulgraham.com/submarine.html.

pg's article on

I think it's awesome that usernames are so de-emphasized in HN that one can respond directly to a comment by the site's creator without realizing it (or perhaps you did realize, but deliberately chose to use the third person[1]). Though HN obviously has reputation built in with karma and well-known members with well-deserved notoriety, it's very easy to ignore names and evaluate posts solely on their merits. I believe this can be a useful tool when implementing the suggestion of others to consider aggregated information from multiple sources.

[1] Will grammarians one day create formal rules for forum posts?

... in Pythagoras's dreams. It ain't so in our universe.


Euclid fanboy!

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