Do you watch the news? Sure you do. It usually goes something like this:
DICK: Welcome back to Cable News, where we give you balanced coverage of controversial issues. I’m Dick Host. This hour, our guests will attempt to answer the age-old, hotly debated question once and for all: Which color is the best color? With me in the studio now are Scarlet Face and Blue Windbag. Scarlett, why don’t you go first.
SCARLETT: Thanks, Dick. Red is the best color.
DICK: Bold choice! Mr. Windbag?
BLUE: With all due respect to Scarlett, the best color is actually green.
DICK: Sorry, did you say green?
SCARLETT: Green is the color of mold. You’re a moldy liberal.
BLUE: You know who else thought red was the best color? The Nazis.
DICK: Yes, we all have strong opinions, but I think most of our viewers will agree that red and green are extreme positions. The best color is probably somewhere in between. So, something closer to brown.
SCARLETT, BLUE (together): Shut up, Dick. Everyone hates you.
DICK: We’ll be back after this completely neutral announcement from our parent company!
“Balanced” is a strange way to describe what you see on the news — it calls to mind a see-saw or an old-timey scale with equal weight on both sides. But reality is a complicated place, and there are usually more than two ways to think about public policy, religion, the economy, and all the other stuff they argue about on the news.
Red and green are not the only two colors in the world, so putting one on each side of a scale isn’t going to bring you any closer to an informed opinion about colors. And much like brown isn’t necessarily the best color just because it’s half red and half green, the truth does not necessarily fall anywhere between the two “sides” of the story you hear.