In a piece published recently in The Intercept, professor and author Robert Wright details how American media outlets, and “more reliable” groups like think tanks, often ignore a key value known as cognitive empathy in their foreign policy reporting.
Cognitive empathy, as Wright explains, “doesn’t involve feeling people’s pain or even caring about their welfare,” but rather, “is a matter of seeing someone’s point of view: understanding how they’re processing information, how the world looks to them.”
New York Times Botched Reporting on Hussein
Wright points to the example of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
While most Western leaders advanced the idea that Hussein was trying to hide secret weapons of mass destruction, he was actually trying to maintain power in Iraq. In Hussein’s case, Wright points out, The New York Times and other sources contributed to the weapons of mass destruction narrative, while rarely exploring alternatives.
Is Times Repeating Past Mistakes With Iran Reporting?
Wright also cites today’s focus on Iran.
He explains that, in their reporting, The New York Times and other sources refer most often to experts from groups like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Institute for the Study of War, which tend to exhibit bias, particularly on topics concerning the Middle East.
In fact, Wright points out that the FDD’s original mission was “to provide education to enhance Israel’s image in North America and the public’s understanding of issues affecting Israeli-Arab relations.”
By choosing to cite these scholars, journalists are not necessarily biasing their stories. However, by choosing to cite only those scholars and none with a bias favoring Iranian interests, the bias of the article emerges.
One-Sided Reporting Can Lead to War
Ultimately, Wright illustrates, the consistent yet subtle spin of news along these lines helps contribute to the beating of the war drums.
If the content we read and watch fails to provide us with cognitive empathy, it is more likely that we, and our leaders, will fall into the same trap of ignoring other possibilities.
To read Wright’s in-depth analysis of this ongoing phenomenon, click here: HOW THE NEW YORK TIMES IS MAKING WAR WITH IRAN MORE LIKELY