Thursday, May 31

Selective Perception

I'm knee-deep in writing my masterwork, my dissection of charges that the media are biased: longer than the Bible, footnoted throughout, sure to sell at least five or six copies to not-so-leading academics.

But you don't have to wait to plunk down your $49.95 at Let me share with you one of my major conclusions: bias is in the eye of the beholder. You see what you expect to see. Your opinion is colored by--well, by your opinion! Anything that runs counter can be rationalized and explained away.

In the late seventies, at the annual convention of the Radio Television News Directors Association, Ted Koppel told this story to make the same point.

Guy gets home very late one night, very drunk, his wife is very upset. "Just where have you been?"

He says, "I've just been to the most fantashtic bar. It had a high blue ceiling with twinklin' lights like teeny-tiny stars. It had red velour on the walls. And in the bafroom it had a golden urinal."

His wife, disgusted, sent him to bed. But the next day, after he shame-facedly headed off to work, her curiosity got the better of her and she started calling around town looking for this "fantastic bar." No luck, until in the afternoon she got hold of a bartender.

"Excuse me, does your bar have a high blue ceiling with twinkling lights like little stars?"

"Yes, ma'am, yes we do."

"And do you have red velour on the walls?"

"Yes, ma'am, yes we do."

"This last question is a little embarrassing, but please bear with me: do you have a golden urinal?"

And the bartender covers the phone with his hand and shouts, "Hey, Ernie, I think I've got a lead on the guy who ruined your saxophone."

Selective perception: you see what you expect to see.