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Posts Tagged ‘cable news’

On Politicizing… Everything

September 12, 2012 Leave a comment

I like to write with reason and evidence and facts as often as I can, but on rare occasions I’m just angry. Today is one of those occasions. As you have probably read, there were attacks on embassies in Egypt and Lybia over the past 24 hours with 3 Americans killed, including the Ambassador, J. Christopher Stephens, in Lybia. (Sean Smith is another victim; two others have not been named as of this writing.) This, in and of itself, is worthy of both sadness and anger.

But if you want to be even more upset, turn on the news and listen for a bit. The Romney camp criticized the Obama camp for its perceived response. The Obama camp then criticized the Romney camp for playing politics. Of course, as soon as you suggest that the opposite side is playing politics, you necessarily are also playing politics by even bringing it up. I’m beginning to think that if 9/11 had occurred during an election, it would have been as divisive an issue as it was unifying in a non-election year. Is there nothing that rises above the cause of political gain!?

This whole campaign has been a disgrace to America. The media coverage of campaigns is a disgrace; satisfied to cover the horse race instead of the horses; satisfied to stoop to the level of common discourse rather than attempt to raise the bar. I’m tired of the whole process. Do me two favors, handful of readers:

First, take a look at your local ballots. Find anyone on it without a D or an R next to their name. Google that person and check to see if they have real-world qualifications that would prepare them for an important job. If they do, vote for them.

Second, turn off cable news. All channels. I’ll do my best to do it, too. Maybe even boycott their advertisers or something. But do SOMETHING. The two political parties and the preeminence of cable news are horrible for this country. I’d like to do more, but this is all I can think of and accomplish right now.

On Straw Men Turning Pinocchio

August 3, 2012 Leave a comment

One of the most annoying things about the polarized back-and-forth banter that dominates our civil discourse is the incredibly common use of “straw man” arguments. Analysts from both sides build up a fabricated opposition position and rip it down while few, if any, of their opponents actually prescribe to the extreme version of the debate that has just been defeated. This is fairly commonplace on both sides of most issues, but the right wing news (such as Fox News and the talk radio networks) is exceptionally good at this, which is one of the reasons that I often find myself getting so frustrated while watching or listening to those stations.

However, what I find far more annoying is when those straw men make like Pinocchio and turn real because people in leadership or prominent positions stand up and fit themselves into those seemingly ridiculous straw man arguments. More and more lately, I have found that happening, giving phony straw positions the shred of credibility that they need to survive. Usually in these cases, the straw man argument still holds little water. Usually, those who stand up to fill the voice of the straw man arguments represent the fringes, not the norm. But even a little bit of substantiating information, even from the vast minority, can make a ridiculous or misleading argument seem more real.

When being trained in Psychological Operations with the Army, we were told repeatedly that credibility is your most valuable asset in information dissemination. If you get caught lying to a population, then your credibility is shot for the future. Similarly, the converse can ring true: if you can demonstrate a lack of credibility in the opposing point of view or its source, then the entire argument or sometimes even its associated ideology will begin to ring hollow.

I first decided to write this blog because I was reading a somewhat scathing report about Mitt Romney’s tax plan by the Brookings Institution and the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Reading the methods of the report, I found that the numbers would probably stand up to close scrutiny, yet an assumption or two (particularly the assumed goal of revenue neutrality) might be debatable by the Romney campaign, if forced to address them.

However, the response from the Romney team did not address the substance of the report at all. It simply counted it among a number of “liberal studies calling for more tax hikes and more government spending” by Obama. It sounds like dismissing an independent report without addressing the merits as simply being a “liberal study” would be part of common straw man arguments about liberal intellectuals or tax and spend Democrats. But then you read that one of the three authors of the report used to work for President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors. And suddenly, dismissing the entire report out of hand might make sense, no matter how credible the numbers within may be. The credibility of the report itself has been compromised, predictably.

Another example of this is in the Chick-fil-A debate. I’ve already given extensive attention to the issue, but the way that it has been presented through the media deserves its own mention. Many outlets viewed this as a freedom of speech issue in that the CEO should be able to think and say whatever he so wishes. However, as many pointed out, freedom of speech is about governmental action. People have every right to protest, boycott, or otherwise raise hell (legally) based on what someone says. This should never be about freedom of speech. To mask this as an issue of persecution or a lack of freedom of speech seemed like a straw man argument, right? How easy is it to simply defend a CEO’s right to their opinion rather than defend the objectives of the organizations to which the corporation made donations or the importance of exercising choice in capitalism through boycotts?

Well, then mayors in a number of major cities (Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh among them*) have made statements either vaguely or directly alluding to the idea that they would try to block Chick-fil-A from operating within their cities. Suddenly, the government was in fact attempting to restrict someone’s rights based on their beliefs. Suddenly, this actually was a First Amendment issue. That should have remained a straw man, but alas it received enough credibility to transform the issue in many circles.

* (I did not include Washington D.C. here because the mayor’s remarks in full clearly stated that despite his disagreement, there is nothing he can do to restrict/bar the business)

And finally, as I am writing this, reports are breaking that the Justice Department is giving just a sliver of credibility to the old straw man argument that Democrats do not support or appreciate our troops by suing the state of Ohio over military voting laws. Granted, the lawsuit does not aim to restrict voting rights for the military in any way. Granted the Fox News coverage is misleading and unfair. However, the lawsuit targets a law that grants special voting allowances specifically to military members by stating that those allowances should be made for everyone. The lawsuit claims that the distinction between military voters and civilian voters is “arbitrary.” And so the statement that Democrats are unsympathetic to the military is now backed by a lawsuit filed to by the administration arguing (in different terms) that our troops aren’t special. And Pinocchio turns real.

On Cable News and Big Government

It seems that no matter who is in charge–Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Liberals–the size and reach of the national government has continued to expand. Some people think this is fine, while others find it problematic or even an affront to the Constitution. For the sake of this post, I’m not going to worry about whether or not that is a good thing, and focus instead on one theory to help explain the “why.” Of course we could talk all day about personal, selfish reasons for this expansion as people in power wish to expand that power. But my theory gets to the public as a whole, and why people would allow and even clamor for the expansion of national government, even when cursing the trend out of the other side of their mouths. The answer? Cable News.

I remember the moment when this occurred to me. I was watching Fox News and there was some mild outrage (isn’t there always) about something that was being done by a local school system in Montana. It was something to do with sex education for extremely young children. As I watched, I began to consider where I stood on the issue. How do I feel about kindergarteners in Montana starting to learn about sex organs and second graders in Montana starting to learn about different types of family structures? And it occurred to me that not only don’t I care, but I shouldn’t care.

The key words here are “in Montana.” Education has always been somewhat of a bastion local government. In fact, the school district in question is not even a state level, but a single municipality within that state. Thirty years ago, I couldn’t imagine that the sex education program of a single Montana municipality would make national headlines. It certainly would not have appeared on the nightly local news shows around the rest of the country.

But local forms of news are slowly being pushed aside. Nightly news ratings have fallen; newspaper circulations have dropped. People are getting their news from more universal sources: cable news and the internet. In this setting, every story is a national story, and thus every problem requires a national solution. If you were upset about Vermont legalizing same-sex marriage, you stood up to support the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Local issue: federal solution.

I’m using conservative examples here not because this trend is only true of Fox News and of conservative people, but because it is conservatives who vehemently demand smaller government. And yet, with each passing fire set by Fox News over a local issue, even conservatives begin to seek national water to douse the flames. Some states are legalizing gay marriage? Many conservatives want a Constitutional Amendment to stop it. And the scope and the range and the power of the government grows.

Cable news is by no means the only reason that the national government continues to expand. Of course increased spending due to entitlement programs plays a part. Of course the egos and the desire for power among lawmakers and/or presidents play a part. Of course the national security situation and the expanded powers of the executive play a part. Of course lobbying plays a part. But as long as we are getting our news from national sources, rather than local, the logical next step will  be to seek national solutions.