False balance

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This article is about the media term. For the informal fallacy, see Argument to moderation. For the fallacy of inconsistency, see False equivalence.

False balance is a real or perceived media bias, where journalists present an issue as being more balanced between opposing viewpoints than the evidence actually supports. Journalists may present evidence and arguments out of proportion to the actual evidence for each side, or may censor information which would establish one side's claims as baseless.

For example, "objective coverage" of lynching in the 1890s by US journalists failed "to recognize a truth, that African-Americans were being terrorized across the nation."[1] False balance is often found in political reports,[2][3][4] company press releases, and general information from entities with special interest groups in promoting their respective agendas.

Other examples of false balance in reporting on science issues include the topics of man-made vs. natural climate change, the relation between Thiomersal and autism[5] and evolution vs. intelligent design.[6] For instance, although the scientific community attributes a component of climate change of the last 50–100 years, particularly global warming, to the effects of the industrial revolution,[7][8][9][10] there are a small number of scientists who dispute this conclusion.[11][12][13] Giving equal voice to scientists on both sides makes it seem like there is a serious disagreement within the scientific community, when in fact there is an overwhelming scientific consensus favoring anthropogenic global warming.

False balance can sometimes originate from similar motives as sensationalism, where producers and editors may feel that a story portrayed as a contentious debate will be more commercially successful than a more accurate account of the issue. However, unlike most other media biases, false balance may actually stem from an attempt to avoid bias; producers and editors may confuse treating competing views fairly—i.e., in proportion to their actual merits and significance—with treating them equally, giving them equal time to present their views even when those views may be known beforehand to be based on false information.[14]

See also


  1. Mindich, David T. Z (1998). Just the Facts: How "objectivity" Came to Define American Journalism. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-5613-1. 
  2. Montopoli, Brian (2004-10-14). "Falling Over Backward Seeking Balance : Columbia Journalism Review". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 2011-03-02. 
  3. "Post-debate fact checks struck false "balance" for the fourth time". Media Matters for America. 2004-10-14. Retrieved 2011-03-02. 
  4. Rendall, Steve (November 2003). "An Aggressive Conservative vs. a "Liberal to be Determined" : The false balance of Hannity & Colmes". FAIR—Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Retrieved 2011-03-02. 
  5. Gross L (2009). "A broken trust: lessons from the vaccine--autism wars". PLoS Biol. 7 (5): 756–9. PMC 2682483Freely accessible. PMID 19478850. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000114. 
  6. Committee on Revising Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (2008). Science, Evolution, and Creationism. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. ISBN 0-309-10586-2. 
  7. Joint science academies’ statement: Global response to climate change (PDF), 2005 
  8. America's Climate Choices: Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change; National Research Council (2010). Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. ISBN 0-309-14588-0. 
  9. Unger, Nadine; Tami C. Bond; James S. Wang; Dorothy M. Koch; Surabi Menon; Drew T. Shindell; Susanne Bauer (2010-02-23). "Attribution of climate forcing to economic sectors". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 107 (8): 3382–3387. Bibcode:2010PNAS..107.3382U. doi:10.1073/pnas.0906548107. Retrieved 2011-02-25. 
  10. Committee on Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years, National Research Council (2006). Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. ISBN 0-309-10225-1. 
  11. Anderegg, William R. L.; James W. Prall; Jacob Harold; Stephen H. Schneider (2010-07-06). "Expert credibility in climate change". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107 (27): 12107–12109. Bibcode:2010PNAS..10712107A. PMC 2901439Freely accessible. PMID 20566872. doi:10.1073/pnas.1003187107. Retrieved 2011-02-23. 
  12. Oreskes, Naomi (2004-12-03). "The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change". Science. 306 (5702): 1686. PMID 15576594. doi:10.1126/science.1103618. Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  13. Peter T. Doran; Maggie Kendall Zimmerman (2009-01-20). "Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change" (PDF). Eos. 90 (3): 22–23. Bibcode:2009EOSTr..90...22D. doi:10.1029/2009EO030002. 
  14. Krugman, Paul (January 30, 2006). "A False Balance". New York Times.