This page is the Fallacies Menu

The media is full of fallacies. Media Hell aims to show how certain fallacies reinforce each other to create worldviews. For example, fallacies about "spiralling" dangers (crime, immigration, WMD, etc) reinforce the belief that "our way of life is threatened", which often creates a worldview supportive of "tough" authoritarian government.

General commentary on media fallacies:
• Why so many economic fallacies? >
• Fallacy hierarchies >
• Basic hierarchy examples >
• Media fallacies database project >
• Framing & circular reinforcement >
• Media "model agnosticism" >
• Media Distortion: Case Studies >
• Subversive stats >

A few examples of media fallacies:
• "The media is balanced" >
• "The market knows best" >
• "We're doomed" >
• "Capitalism is the only alternative to Socialism" >
• "Terrorism risk increased after 9/11" >
• "Welfare is a luxury we can't afford" >
• "Crime is spiralling" >
• "Violence is spiralling" >
• "Dissenters are out of touch" >
• "Britain has a flexible labour market" >
• "Living standards are increasing for all" >
• "Business leaders are visionaries" >
• "Sick-note culture harms the economy" >

Why so many economic fallacies?

We identify many economic fallacies because they seem central to the "Western establishment consensus" worldview. A tangle of contradictions lies at the heart of media portrayals of "free market democracy".

Media critics of the right argue that the media expresses a "liberal" agenda of nanny-state interference in the marketplace, whereas those on the left point to the corporate ownership of most media. Underlying both views are economic premises, which manifest as support or opposition to the corporate-dominated economic landscape.

Media Hell's approach is to question basic economic premises, of the media and of media criticism. This results in an ongoing unravelling of many media fallacies. More on this in the media model agnosticism section, below.

A few examples of the media's economic fallacies:
• "This is a free market economy" >
• "Jobs give people respect" >
• "Britain has lower unemployment than Germany" (1997) >
• "Sweden's soft social-welfare economy was doomed to fail" >
• "People enjoy their jobs" >
• "Hard work never harmed anyone" >
• "Lowest unemployment in 30 years" >
• "Britain is doing better than Europe" >
• "We have increased leisure time" >
• "The New Deal has been a success" >
• Fallacies about jobs and poverty >
• Other economic contradictions in the media >

Fallacy hierarchies

Media fallacies seem to come in hierarchies. Top-level fallacies concern the nature of "authority", the relationship between society and government, the "public interest", etc. Mid-level fallacies generalise on separate issues – eg economics, foreign policy, etc. Low-level fallacies distort matters of fact and history, often by circular reinforcement (eg media editors select factual content according to higher-level fallacies – see below for more on this).

Another type of fallacy is self-referential – eg a media fallacy about the media. We label these "meta-fallacies". For example, a media outlet's claim that its content is "fair and balanced" – easy to refute in the case of Fox News. (Another case: the BBC presenting itself as "independent of government", when it relies on government funding and is run by government appointees).

Basic hierarchy examples

A typical top-level media fallacy is that "official" forms of authority are inherently trustworthy/benign. A mid-level fallacy applies this to specific areas, eg economics, and branches out to more detailed low-level fallacies. For example:

Top level = T-FALLACY, Mid level = M-FALLACY, Low level = L-FALLACY

T-FALLACY: "Official authority is trustworthy & benign"
M-FALLACY: "Official economic theory is benign & correct"
  L-FALLACY: "The market always knows best"
  L-FALLACY: "Welfare is the biggest economic drain"
  L-FALLACY: "Flexible labour is good for everyone"
  L-FALLACY: "Living standards are increasing for all"
  L-FALLACY: "Private enterprise gave us computers"
  L-FALLACY: "We're living in a meritocracy"

Another top-level fallacy is that society is becoming more dangerous, due to (for example) "spiralling crime":

T-FALLACY: "Our society is becoming more dangerous"
 M-FALLACY: "Crime is out of control"
 L-FALLACY: "Antisocial behaviour is a new threat"
   L-FALLACY: "Violent crime is spiralling"
   L-FALLACY: "Society has become soft on crime"

Media fallacies database project

One aim of Media Hell is to build a database of media fallacies, and to structure it according to its hierarchical features. We think this will provide an extremely useful resource. We have large amounts of raw data that we're currently working to incorporate into such a database. But we also need your input. We want examples of low-level fallacies (preferably with source details), and we'd also like to hear your opinions on mid- and top-level fallacies. Please contact us.

Framing & circular reinforcement

Social psychology and cognitive science tell us that when facts contradict a person's worldview (their conceptual "framing" of various issues), the facts will probably be ignored and the frames/worldview kept.

If a person's conceptual frames contain high-level fallacies, only the facts that fit those fallacies will be acknowledged. This leaves a partial, blinkered view of the low-level "facts" which reinforces the high-level worldview. In extreme cases (eg the widespread belief in the US that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11) the high-level beliefs are sustained by ignoring or denying almost all the available corroborated low-level facts.

This way of "thinking" differs fundamentally from the classical view of "reason" as applied empirically (eg in scientific method) – in which factual evidence is allowed to challenge, refute and ultimately transform our beliefs about the world.

The lesson from this, say some cognitive scientists, is that publicising the facts about any issue may not be sufficient to change people's minds.

It's easy to look down on those "ignorant fools" who appear incapable of applying logic to evidence, but most people (ourselves included) tend to favour – consciously or unconsciously – information which supports (rather than challenges) their existing worldviews. Media editors and journalists are no different, despite their claims of "impartiality" and "balance".

Media "model agnosticism"

Unlike many media (particularly the "official" kind), we don't claim to know the "true" version of any event/issue. (We also don't claim "balance" or "neutrality" – concepts more suited to gymnastics or chemistry than media criticism). Identifying mainstream fallacies doesn't necessarily bring you any closer to the "truth". It can lead instead to a simple inversion of the identified fallacy (eg "big business is benign", flipped to "big business is malign").

This "reactive" approach to media criticism produces false dichotomies and stereotyping (as each "side" in the polarised debate stereotypes the overstatements of the other). A different approach is model agnosticism (a term borrowed from scientific philosophy and applied more widely by Robert Anton Wilson*). It means modelling events/issues in various (potentially useful) ways, without believing that the models present "truth". Model agnosticism acts as a vaccination against "true believers" of all faiths, right and left.

One can apply model agnosticism to the major economic right/left dividing-line. Left-agnostics can catalogue disastrous effects of big business without believing that "corporate" implies "evil". Right-agnostics can catalogue productive effects of big business without believing that "growth" implies "virtue".

Problems arise in media criticism when agnosticism atrophies. When a model becomes a rigid belief/dogma, fallacies multiply. The orthodox economic belief that economic growth and profit are necessarily virtuous has swamped the western world with consequent fallacies. And the counter-orthodox economic belief that everything "corporate" (including corporate-owned media) is necessarily malign has given rise to counter-fallacies. [Media Hell primarily scrutinises the fallacies of the former, orthodox, belief-system, since these are more entrenched in our culture than the latter – and more destructive, judging by the evidence].

*Robert Anton Wilson explains (in his 1986 preface to Cosmic Trigger): 'My attitude is identical to that of Dr. Gribbin and the majority of physicists today, and is known in physics as "the Copenhagen Interpretation," because it was formulated in Copenhagen by Dr. Niels Bohr and his co-workers c. 1926-28. The Copenhagen Interpretation is sometimes called "model agnosticism" and holds that any grid we use to organize our experience of the world is a model of the world and should not be confused with the world itself. Alfred Korzybski, the semanticist, tried to popularize this outside physics with the slogan, "The map is not the territory." Alan Watts, a talented exegete of Oriental philosophy, restated it more vividly as "The menu is not the meal".'