The term “false balance” is untranslatable (what does “false balance” mean?) and means that too much importance is given to a small, noisy group; that liars and muddleheads would be enhanced; that is why the media distorts reality and throws it off balance. I believe that three theses are true at the same time, which only appear to contradict each other:
1. False balance is not a problem but a challenge. We journalists should perceive and depict the diversity of society, and it is part of the task to separate true from false, to analyze what is depicted. It’s work, but doable.
2. False balance has become a buzzword, sometimes used to avoid debate; even the accusation “That’s false balance!” can lead to intolerance of contradiction and thus to stress-free uniform opinions.
3. False balance is a problem. The tobacco industry managed to plant supposed scientists in the media, who then cast doubt on the fact that smoking causes cancer; could be, but not proven, that was the method, and the goal was procrastination, were more decades of earning money.
The oil and coal industry is now doing the same: there is indeed global warming, but the causes are not absolutely clear … although these causes have long been proven. The result of “nonsense pairings”, as “Zeit” colleague Jochen Bittner translates “false balance”: murky water, uncertainty, weaker laws and delays, everything as usual.
In the American Congress these days it is about January 6, 2021, about the storming of the Capitol, about the attempt by Donald Trump and his hordes to abolish democracy, namely to declare Joe Biden’s election victory null and void and to keep Trump in office . It was like this. It was an attempted coup.
The hearings are a political drama, but the wrong one. Actually, the US should protect its democracy. They would have to debate how to prevent a putsch like the one on January 6 from succeeding in coming elections; and that an elected president cannot take office because a president who has been voted out is entrenched in the White House.
The Republican Party places people who carry Donald Trump’s narrative of voter fraud into positions where those people will certify or void future elections.
That Congress is looking backwards instead is because the counter-narrative – there was no storming of the Capitol, but wasn’t there voter fraud, mustn’t there have been, if so many people are talking about it? – is omnipresent and has caught on. False Balance is responsible for the fact that something needs to be clarified today that was clarified without a doubt yesterday and that there is therefore no argument today about what will be important tomorrow.
Two weeks ago I met the neuroscientist and media psychologist Maren Urner at the Mitteldeutsche Medientage. Science is based on knowledge, she said, and there can be no alternative position to facts. Maren Urner says that more specialist knowledge is needed in order to be able to separate right from wrong and then ignore wrong information: “As soon as wrong information is sent – the bigger it gets, the more attention it pays – it changes our brains, our world view, and with it our actions. The more we hear something, the more we store it.”
Incidentally, Maren Urner says that all media people need basic psychological knowledge.