media diet

Evaluating the Emotional Health of Your Media Diet

I spend an inordinate amount of time following current events. Part of that is my interest in policy, politics, and what’s happening in the world. Part of it is that being responsible for the life savings of my financial planning clients requires having a grasp of the current economic, political, and financial events that affect their financial wellbeing. 

It’s important that the data and news I consume in my media diet be as factual and accurate as possible. This matters, because where we get our information can have a huge impact on our financial and emotional wellbeing. Balanced news sources are few and far between in today’s polarized and media-flooded world. It is easy for us to engage in confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is where we obtain our information only from sources that underscore and confirm our already formed beliefs rather than offering information that might challenge those beliefs. This can often be because of vulnerable parts of ourselves that are really sensitive to and feel threatened by being wrong. So other protective manager parts try to search out sources to confirm that the vulnerable parts are right and keep them from experiencing the difficult feelings of potentially being wrong.

For example, imagine one person who only watches Fox News and another who only watches CNN—two of the most popular cable networks, which offer strongly contrasting viewpoints. These two people will find that their worldviews are about 180 degrees apart. It’s almost mind-numbing how they can reach totally opposite conclusions from data about the same events. 

If I am consuming news solely from one extreme or the other, it’s almost like eating a diet that’s all protein, all carbs, or all fat. The lack of balanced nutrition in such a diet will eventually result in serious damage to my health. Similarly, the lack of a balanced media diet will eventually cause serious damage to your financial and emotional wellbeing. It can destroy relationships. It greatly harms your ability to make evidence-based, reasoned, and informed financial decisions.

I’ve seen this repeatedly over my 40 years of advising clients on their financial wellbeing. I’ve seen people make extreme decisions, like either selling out of the stock market or going all in, solely on their political beliefs and biases. This is almost always a recipe for financial disaster; the consequences in terms of financial losses and chaos can be heartbreaking.

So I am quite serious in drawing a direct line between consuming a balanced media diet and your financial health. This is why I recommend evaluating your media diet. How can you know whether it is balanced? One source I have found useful is mediabiasfactcheck.com. It ranks each media source as being in the ideological categories of extreme left, left, left center, least biased (the middle), right center, right, or extreme right. It also rates the factual accuracy of each.

Your first question—and a good one—might be, “How biased is the bias checker?” Especially if you look up your media sources and they’re all rated extreme right or left with low probability of being factual, your immediate thought is likely to be that the website leans left or right and can’t be believed. This is further evidence of your confirmation bias in full bloom.

I did considerable research on this topic and on Media Bias Fact Check. While the site has some flaws and is not scientific, I’ve concluded that it is a reasonable source for judging the bias of various media sources. I also realized that assessing the bias of one’s media sources, even less than perfectly, can do a great deal to increase awareness of your own confirmation bias. It can help you be more open to contrasting viewpoints that will bring your media diet into a healthier balance. 

I’ve tried to follow this type of balanced media diet for many years, and I believe it is critical to physical, financial, and emotional wellbeing.

Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.

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