Posts Tagged ‘Huffington Post’

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How to Stay Rational and Civil: Avoid Following Only One Mainstream News Outlet

08.27.10

Upon mentioning the absurdity of that whole “fair and balanced” slogan and declaring that Fox News Channel is clearly biased toward the political right, I’ve received the instant response of “Oh, and MSNBC isn’t?” more than once.

Obviously that is not a defense whatsoever. Deflecting the attention to another biased source doesn’t alleviate the bad editorialized journalism of the former.  That response effectively proves the argument that FNC is just a GOP propaganda machine.

Now, I’m not going to get into the differences between MSNBC and CNN versus Fox News.  I honestly don’t watch any cable news channel.  I don’t even watch cable TV in general as I haven’t has a subscription in over a year and a half.  I get my news from social media, so when I hear things about Fox News or MSNBC it’s usually with regard to specific news anchors.  O’Reilly said this.  Beck said that.  Maddow claimed this. Jon Stewart snarked that.

And while Fox News doesn’t shy away from the fact that it primarily endorses the Republican Party, the current divide in many Americans’ view of the press is that Fox News represents one side while every other outlet represents the other — that FNC is a necessary evil to battle back against the liberal elite.  Fine.  I don’t even have any interest in arguing with those people because it’s pointless.

The polarizing nature of our news networks does nothing to ease the increasingly extreme sides of the political divide.  It seems like a chicken or the egg situation when trying to discern whether or not the news has created this or if its merely reflecting the climate of our times.  It seems to me that the anger on both sides rose up from our economic crash and fear of things getting desperately worse and blaming the other side for the problems, which the pundits swooped up and ran with, which then incensed the sides further, which the pundits ran with… rinse and repeat.

My solution is to not solely follow any particular news network.  Don’t only read The Huffington Post and don’t always read The Drudge Report.  Don’t always watch Keith Olbermann and don’t always watch Sean Hannity.

Avoid the gut-check emotional response off the bat as much as possible.  It’s a lofty goal for which I strive but don’t always attain, I admit; but, it’s something that I’m working on.  In my last major blog post that was on Proposition 8, I ended up being engaged in a long discussion in the comments section with people with whom I vehemently disagreed and vice versa.  Throughout it all — surprisingly — it remained civil and without name-calling or offensive attacks.  We all had to agree to disagree (as is often the case), but at least the discourse didn’t digress into schoolyard bullying as is extremely common on blogs and in the news.  That’s not to say that I didn’t feel emotionally heated at times or frustrated to the point of exasperation.  But, one thing I’ve learned is to write out my response and then take a step away before hitting the Submit button.

I encourage everyone to take the same measures, on the Internet and in real life.  I will do my best.  I can’t say that my status updates and Tweets will always be rational beacons of logic, but I will try to always respond to criticism and commentary with respect and civility.  Our press might not always live up to these same standards, but there’s no reason that we can’t.

I included the image above because that’s what sparked this entire post even though I didn’t end up including it into the discussion.  The graph relates to the coverage of the story that former RNC chairman Ken Mehlman has come out as being gay. According to the image, Fox News has covered it all of zero times (at the time of the stats) while CNN and MSNBC ran over 30 stories.  Perhaps 30 stories is overkill, I really can’t say.  But zero seems strikingly low for a news channel.

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Political Blogging: The Power of the Premises

06.19.10

What’s more important to an argument — a solid set of premises leading up to a logical conclusion, or the conclusion itself?

The political blogosphere is mainly just opinion writing, most often by non-professionals — myself included.  People take a stance on a law, bill, event, political figure – anything at all, really – and have an opinion on the matter.  So they then write a blog post explaining why they feel that way and why that way is the right way to feel about the topic.  Opinion writing is argumentative writing.  And yes, we’re all entitled to our own opinions; but, when it comes to arguments, there are sound arguments and there are unsound arguments.

A recent comment from one of my older posts began a conversation about this very topic that I thought it was worthy of its own post.  This notion of arguments and logic is something that I find extremely interesting and will be exploring even more in-depth on a consistent basis with a new project of mine coming soon (shameless teaser, I know — but get ready for it).

Something I always try to do with this blog is present my opinions as thought-out arguments, not merely rhetoric spewed onto the page to either rile up those who already agree with me or to infuriate those who don’t see things quite the same way.  There’s enough of that out there already.  I’ve definitely had moments of weakness and failure in this aim, to be sure; and I’m sure that looking back through my archives, I’d find those moments happened more frequently when I began.  And while I know that I will write both solid and weak arguments going forward, they will all be written from the perspective and intention of providing logical rationale to support my conclusion.

Many people read blogs that already cater to their tastes.  If you’re liberal, you probably don’t read Andrew Breitbart.  If you’re conservative, doubtful you frequent the Huffington Post.  (Although, it’s become trendy for some to follow those with whom they disagree just so they can leave extreme comments announcing their disgust through name-calling and other pointless commentary.)  In fact, many with opposing viewpoints are not welcome in the comments section of some blogs — not always by the bloggers themselves, but as evident from the response by the fellow commenters.

Perhaps it’s this chasm between the liberal and conservative blogs and their readership that causes most bloggers to not feel the pressure of forming logical arguments for their opinions — they don’t need them because they have the power of their already-devoted followers to lend their support to any dissenters, should any happen by.  Regardless — we have enough of those blogs out there that merely mimic the thoughts of their political faction and treat dissent without any intellectual respect whatsoever.  I’d like to hold myself to a higher standard and think that we should all demand the same from those bloggers we follow.

It’s true that one can accidentally arrive at the right conclusion despite having a total mess of inaccuracy in the preceding premises.  But that doesn’t lend much confidence to the one behind that opinion.  The commenter on my previous post that got this whole thing started brought up the notion that if one’s conclusion was “2+2 = 4,” it wouldn’t matter what kind of nonsense made this person arrive at that answer because it’s a true statement.  For that I have two rebuttals:  one, the premises do matter, as I recall from my days in high school algebra.  If you happened upon the right answer but didn’t get their the correct way, you lost points.  It’s not always about the answer; it’s also about how you get there.  And secondly, political discourse lives in the gray area and doesn’t always have a right or wrong answer like arithmetic — which makes your supporting evidence that much more important.

I’d argue that the basis for your opinion is more important than your opinion itself.  Think about it.  When someone gives you their opinion, the first thing you most likely will ask is: “Why?”  This invites the person to explain the reasoning behind their opinion.  Unless you blindly follow someone else’s stance on everything without a second thought (and I strongly recommend not doing this), you’re going to want to hear more than a response of: “Just because.”

So, the lesson to be learned from all of this is that we should take care to note the argument’s premises – if there are any – the next time you’re reading an opinion blog rather than only focusing on the conclusion.   You might be surprised.  You might find that while you thought you agreed wholeheartedly with the opinion at first,  after seeing the support being mainly comprised of empty rhetoric and other meandering opinion instead of rational evidence, you’re not so sure after all.

It’s always nice to read something that completely validates how you’re feeling — but it’s even better when you can be sure that you have a factual leg to stand on when people question your opinion and you can respond with more than “just because.”