I was listening to an interesting radio program not long ago, investigating the question of media bias, and the concept of a “peace bias” was mentioned. This intrigued me, because I tend to think of “peace” as neutral, not biased.
The radio program was NPR’s “On the Media,” and this particular show was an investigation of whether NPR itself has a liberal bias. During an interview with Tom Rosenstiel, founder and director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism at the Pew Research Center, Rosenstiel commented that bias can be unconscious. He gave the example of the Philadelphia Inquirer being attacked as biased by both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli members of the community. They had a study done by LSU to determine whether there was evidence of bias, and the finding was that they did have a bias: a pro-peace bias. What this meant was that they favored whichever side was favoring a cease-fire at any given moment.
Rosenstiel discussed this example further: ”The problem with that is that the people who are advocating violence at any given moment are doing so for a reason. They’re not crazy, necessarily. They might be wrong or they might be right.” He went on to explain that violence is a tactic, and if you just focus on violence itself being wrong, “you want to freeze the situation in a moment of balance that is disadvantageous to whoever is advocating the violence.” He added that advocating peace may seem benign and unbiased, but in fact there is a kind of bias that enters in, even though it shifts between favoring one side some of the time, and the other side other times.
I found this very interesting, and here are some of my thoughts in response:
- This helps explain why peacemakers are often regarded with suspicion or even outright disliked by both sides in a conflict!
- I do not doubt that many peacemakers engage in this kind of “shifting bias,” that favors whoever is less violent in any given moment.
- But, this is not really how “peace” should be understood! Those who are simply demonizing whoever engages in violence are not so much pro-peace as anti-violence. This suggests that “pro-peace” means something more than just being against violence.
In my view, being pro-peace really should be a neutral, unbiased stance: the quest for a true and lasting peace is a quest to address the needs of both/all sides in a conflict. Cease-fires alone are not enough if one side still feels disadvantaged. Just as violence is a tactic, so too are cease-fires and other methods of nonviolent action. Both violent and nonviolent tactics need to be distinguished from the final goal, which is the kind of stable and lasting peace that comes about when a truly just solution is found: a solution that adequately addresses the needs of everyone.