Post-Truth, False Balance and Virtuous Gatekeeping

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review


    The claim that we live in a post-truth era has led to a significant body of work across different disciplines exploring the phenomenon. Many have sought to investigate the role of fake news in bringing about widespread devaluation of truth. While this work is important, the narrow focus on this issue runs the risk of giving the impression that it is mainly new forms of media that are to blame for the post-truth phenomenon. In this chapter, we call attention to the ways in which journalistic practices in traditional forms of media also play an important role in contributing to a post-truth environment. We will do so by focusing on one particular practice common in news journalism. False balance involves presenting two sides of a debate as more equal than is justified by the evidence. We will argue that although false balance does not constitute fake news, it does contribute to an environment in which facts and expertise are devalued. By obscuring what counts as evidence and who qualifies as an authority, false balance legitimizes post-truth attitudes. We finish by outlining the virtues that journalists should develop in order to guard against false balance. While fake news results from journalists possess the vices of dishonesty, prejudice, or corruption, we argue that focusing too much on guarding against these vices may actually make false balance more likely. In order to be responsible gatekeepers and to avoid false balance, journalists must also develop the virtues of wisdom, vigilance, courage, care, and justice.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationVirtues, Democracy, and Online Media
    Subtitle of host publicationEthical and Epistemic Issues
    EditorsNancy E. Snow, Maria Silvia Vaccarezza
    ISBN (Electronic)9781003083108
    ISBN (Print)9780367521806
    Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2021


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