Mainstreaming Bias

Among the most common complaints of those at the political edges – those on left or right who perceive themselves not to hold the reigns of institutional power – is that the mainstream media, along with other power centers, shapes our perceptions. It shapes and distorts our perception of reality in varied ways, including selection and emphasis.

Remarkably, these natural and even recursive tendencies toward bias are even more pronounced in political fringe representations of reality. Those on the fringe will not acknowledge this, however, or they will rationalize it by redefining bias. Institutional bias, for instance, which is a real and powerfully oppressive phenomenon, will be reordered as the distinguishing characteristic of bias, so that those in any kind of powerless and oppressed condition cannot be meaningfully distinguished themselves as biased.

Alternatively, biased selection and emphasis in reporting will be admitted, but rationalized as a tactically necessary corrective. The most renowned human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, who support principles of international justice against the bulwark and batterings of state power, currently confess to selective emphasis on the purported failings of democratic or other high-profile states, because the organizations believe this focus will garner more in supportive financial contributions and might actually achieve – in contrast to the likelihood with authoritarian regimes – some political results.

The problem with using “high profile” status to help determine the focus of attention is that it introduces that recursive element: it only makes the subject more high profile, justifying further selective attention and the consequent bias of prejudgment. Make such a process programmatic and you have the form of institutional bias. Institutions are not just defined by size and power. They are processes become programs, programs that rationalize and defend themselves against challenges to themselves. One need only consider how responsive are human rights organizations and other NGOs, as well as mainstream news media, to criticism of their work and product. They are not much, just like any national government or corporation.

History has abundantly demonstrated, too, that often when fringe political elements gain power, their corrective to institutional authority and bias is even more authoritarian and biased than the institutions they replace.

It has long been, and is increasingly so that Israel suffers under the burden of a peculiar but comprehensible alliance of fringe and mainstream bias. The fringe here is made up various ideologies, on left or right, defined in part by their reactions against the relatively powerful in favor of the comparatively powerless. The weighting of these variables is a contentless value and an ideology, the latter of which fills in the content. The mainstream and fringe media may be influenced by the ideology and echo the values. It also feeds the recursive process: a prime contributor to judgments of the newsworthy is what is already in the news.

Accordingly, you undoubtedly have read and heard about the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committee’s terror attack on Israeli civilians that killed eight, and Israel’s responses, which killed that group’s leaders and mistakenly killed three Egyptian policeman and thus threatened diplomatic relations, and any civilian deaths that Hamas will claim in Gaza from the Israeli counter attacks, and on and on, day after day, until its seems sure once again, as it has seemed for how many decades now, that the world’s moral center and future prospects hang in tomorrow morning’s balance.

Clearer thinking people have been pointing out for years the sites of political oppression, genocide, and other war crimes that have gone hugely comparatively underreported, even in a world of self-righteous pursuit of international justice.

It is, for instance, more doubtful, that you know of the attacks of the Turkish military on Kurdish rebels at about the same time.

Turkish warplanes bombed suspected Kurdish insurgent positions inside northern Iraq late Wednesday for the first time in a year, news services in Turkey reported, hours after an insurgent ambush on a military convoy in southeast Turkey left at least eight dead.

Or of the continuing toll.

Hundreds of Turkish airstrikes and artillery assaults over the last week have killed at least 100 Kurdish separatists and injured more than 80, an army statement said Tuesday.

In an excellent post at CiF Watch on Sunday the Turk-Kurd and Israeli-Palestinian comparison is well made, but never reported.

Since the Oslo agreements of 1993 the Palestinians have enjoyed a semi-autonomous political status. The Palestinians have their own government and parliament, their own judiciary, independent education and health systems (though many prefer to be treated in Israel – for free as it happens), and the Palestinian Authority manages most of the taxation regime. The Palestinians could also have a free press if only the PA would allow one. And ever since the Israelis withdrew from Gaza in 2005, there has even been an entirely free and independent Palestinian entity.

The Kurds in Turkey in contrast do not enjoy their own governmental or judicial organs, they are forbidden their own schools or universities. It is enormously dangerous to belong to any Kurdish political group but then, in Turkey, practically any form of political protest is a criminal offence. In a country with strict laws on “insulting Turkishness”, just refusing to be Turkish (or Muslim) can be considered an insult. Once banned altogether, the use of Kurdish language is strictly prohibited in official business, including mosques. Many Kurds feel that things are getting worse not better.


The Kurds have never been offered autonomy by the Turks. The Palestinians instead could have begun building their own state in 1947 and indeed have had several opportunities since, most recently in 2000 at the Camp David talks. The Kurds do not want to annihilate Turkey, just a little autonomous geographical space of their own. Hamas, among others, make no secret of their desire to destroy Israel politically and perhaps also genocidally.

Every day that we read about Israel and the Palestinians, day after day, month after month, year after year, yet read and hear little of the Kurds and their long struggle, in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran, and fail, then, in understanding both situations better, in part through the comparison, we see bias at work and mainstreamed. We see real injustice enacted.


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