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The Difference Between Partisanship and Agreement

August 10, 2012 2 comments

Almost everyone advocating a particular political viewpoint will get labeled as a partisan at some point. I often take the progressive side of many arguments and so, of course, I’ve heard I am a partisan Democrat. Amusingly, in college I heard from time-to-time that I was a Republican hack because I supported free trade and opposed affirmative action.

These types of criticisms can be very frustrating, but in a world where so many people are partisan hacks I can understand the impulse. I’m not going to lay out an elaborate how-to guide on differentiating partisanship and genuine agreement, but a good way to distinguish the two is by determining the level of honesty and originality.

Is the argument purposefully deceitful? Is it just rehashed from a political source without criticism or context? Media that represents an honest ideological perspective is appropriate; partisan media that acts as propaganda is shameful. Rachel Maddow is an honest left-wing commentator. Al Sharpton, on the same network, as a policy refuses to criticize the president… he’s a partisan hack. The latest example comes from The Weekly Standard and Fox News. They both decided to post the same misleading graph (tweaked to make seem original) they got from the Republican Party:

(via The Monkey Cage)

Ok, so we have one side of the ledger: Our supposed watchdog media uncritically disseminating graphs from one of our major political parties. Yet to be true partisan hackery it needs to be dishonest too. Is it?

As I was researching this I realized that Media Matters is making a similar point to me and helpfully drew the graph to scale:

It’s bad enough when the press gives hacks a platform; it’s a whole new low when they are the hacks.

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Media Bias isn’t the Real Problem

December 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Media consumers on all political sides like complaining about bias. Conservatives deride liberal bias, while liberals are endlessly angered by the right-wing advocacy of Fox News. Straight-up dishonest propaganda is clearly harmful, but most viewers of MSNBC or Fox News know they’re getting a progressive or a conservative perspective and it’s up to them to search out other viewpoints.  We all suffer from some level of confirmation bias, but it’s easy enough if you try to check out different sources that challenge your beliefs. I know if I mostly read Krugman, Klein, and Yglesias I should spend some time reading Caplan, Sumner, and Mankiw.

But only major media outlets tend to get interviews with our political officials and hold them accountable directly. When you watch those interviews it becomes clear that that the trouble with journalism today isn’t bias, it’s deference. Conor Friedersdorf shows how 60 Minutes completely fail the public when interviewing the president.

What this interview represents — like so many broadcast news interviews with sitting politicians and high level bureaucrats — is the charade of asking tough questions to hold the president accountable. And the utter failure to ask any actually tough questions, to unearth any new facts of significance, to force any sort of reckoning before the television cameras on a matter of importance. If I were advising Obama, I’d make sure that Kroft got the next exclusive interview too.

Please read his whole piece – the questions Kroft asks… just go read it!

(Penguin begging for food – steven herteleer)

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Straight Lying

December 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Wow. I’ve dealt with how graphs and statistics can be used to mislead, but Fox News sinks to a new low by this blatantly inaccurate and dishonest visual. I’ve added a straight line so you know your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. They actually make 8.6% unemployment higher than 8.9 and 8.8%:

(h/t Dave)

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Covering Controversy

November 9, 2011 2 comments

Obviously the media likes to cover political controversy, but Greg Sargent and others argue that the inflated media coverage of judicial rulings against the Affordable Care Act distorts the public’s view of the law. Of course, it’s possible it just seems like rulings against the ACA are getting more coverage. Steve Benen checked.

In every instance, conservative rulings received more coverage, longer articles, and better placement.

I took the liberty of graphing Benen’s numbers. First by individual news source.

Now, total coverage by ruling.

Even though rulings uphold the ACA by 5 to 3, casual news consumers probably don’t have that impression.

 

[update 14 November]: The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the ACA.

A Clear Illustration of Cultural Blackmail

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Most people get upset that anyone would offend another group of people. Too few get upset at the asymmetrical response of the offended. Let’s not forget the 24/7 media circus surrounding the harmless actions of a bigot in Gainsville, Florida. I’ll predict now that no where near the coverage, if you hear of it at all on the major news shows, will focus on this appalling outcome of cultural blackmail designed to make the First Amendment only text on a page. The cartoonist, formerly Molly Norris, that thought up “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” (here, here) is now in hiding because of the death threats and fatwa against her life. I’m just wondering when President Obama will point out the right of people to offend others even if he doesn’t comment on the wisdom of it.

Media Reports On Burning Paper

September 9, 2010 3 comments

Most of us are aware of the religious crank that wants to burn some paper in Gainsville, Florida. I think “Democracy in America” has the perfect reaction to the controversy.

What a great way to report objectionable or violent publicity stunts, right? What could be more frustrating for a publicity-seeking extremist than to have the media refuse to report their cause? “Men set off bomb to publicise their message.” “Youths insult people to publicise their message.” Or, more recently, “Group will burn texts to seek media hype.”

There is no need to put a spotlight on a guy like this. But we also need to step back and notice a few of things. First, we can’t hope to prevent every individual from doing stupid things. Second, his right to burn paper is protected by the First Amendment. Third, we shouldn’t be excusing religious overreaction to an individual burning paper that he doesn’t believe is sacred. PZ Myers, noted desecrator, makes the case.

The lesson of that incident wasn’t that you can find some jerk somewhere who will disrespect what some group finds holy — that was trivial and uninteresting, and I actually had to ignore many of the elaborate suggestions for cracker disposal sent my way to emphasize the absolute triviality of tossing a cracker/piece of Jesus in the trash. No, the real lesson was that mobs of people will react with irrational freakish hysteria to the idea that other people don’t believe as they do.

The problem isn’t the desecrators. The problem is the people who have an unwarranted sense of privilege, that their beliefs wil not be questioned or criticized, ever, by anyone. What I was saying was that it was crazy to believe a cracker turns into Jesus, and what all the outraged Catholics were doing is confirming to an awesome degree just how mad their beliefs were, with their prolonged and excessive outrage.

So I’m looking at this recent episode with Terry Jones — a fellow I don’t like at all, and I think he’s a fanatical goofball — and I see that the serious problem here isn’t Jones at all…it’s all the lunatics who are insisting that burning the Koran is a major international catastrophe. (my emphasis)

I fully concede that actions like burning holy books might inspire violence against our troops. But that just suggests that we shouldn’t be publicizing the actions of a stupid man. I appreciate all the people trying to persuade (not including public officials) this pastor to not hold this event, but where is all the energy at trying to persuade fanatics from carrying out horrific acts of violence because some other fanatic decides to burn a freaking book? What does it suggest that people keep worrying that “peaceful” people will react with spectacular violence if they feel the slightest sense of offense? Also, I thought people weren’t supposed to judge the actions of an individual as representing the whole (I guess that was a one-way street). Of course this all ties into the whole New York Mosque controversy. Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic hits all the right points. Read the whole thing.

If the standpoint of broadly collective responsibility was the wrong way to explain the atrocities, so too was the standpoint of purely individual responsibility. There were currents of culture behind the killers. Their ideas were not only their own. I am reminded of those complications when I hear that Islam is a religion of peace. I have no quarrel with the construction of Cordoba House, but not because Islam is a religion of peace. It is not. Like Christianity and like Judaism, Islam is a religion of peace and a religion of war. All the religions have all the tendencies within them, and in varying historical circumstances varying beliefs and practices have come to the fore. It is absurd to describe the perpetrators of September 11 as “murderers calling themselves Muslims,” as Karen Hughes recently did. They did not call themselves Muslims. They were Muslims. America was not attacked by Islam, but it was also not attacked by Jainism. Mohammed Atta and his band (as well as the growing number of “homegrown” Islamist killers and plotters) represent a real and burgeoning development within Islam, an actualization of one of Islam’s possibilities, an indigenous transnational movement of apocalyptic violence that has brought misery to Muslim societies, and to us. It is not Islamophobic to say so. Quite the contrary: it is to side with Muslims who are struggling against the same poison as we are. Apologetic definitions of Islam will not avail anybody in this struggle.

The more we give into cultural blackmail which demands that we respect beliefs we don’t hold, that we yield to the sensitivities of Christians and Muslims, or that we embrace American conservatives’ convenient willingness to tout “the moral superiority of victimhood” the tougher our task will be to break the stranglehold these forces have on liberty, reason, and uncontrived peace. Real harmony will not be won through a cultural version of M.A.D. Be tolerant or else. Don’t criticize or else. Close your eyes to hypocrisy or else. Excuse away our immorality or else. 

Science: Not A Strength Of The Religious Or Of Science Reporters

Back in 2009 I posted a piece poking fun at scientific versus faith-based thinking analogizing it with the classic Chicken vs. Egg dilemma. 

Science and religion approach humanity’s puzzles differently. Take the classic chicken or the egg dilemma. Science answers the egg; religion presupposes chicken.

Now PZ Myers blasts a science reporter at MSNBC (along with the scientist that is “partly responsible”) who claims science has discovered that the chicken came before the egg.

You simply can’t make the conclusion the reporter was making here. The species ancestral to Gallus gallus laid eggs, the last common ancestor of all birds laid eggs, the reptiles that preceded the birds laid eggs…the appearance of egg laying was not coincident with the evolution of ovocleidin. The first chicken that acquired the protein we call ovocleidin now by mutation of a prior protein also hatched from an egg.

(photo from UC Davis

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