Energion Roundtable Week 9 Responses

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

This week’s Energion Roundtable question concerned informed voters, and given our differing points of view over the course of this roundtable, it is surprising how much agreement there was on this topic in the responses from  Arthur Sido, Bob Cornwall,, Allan R. Bevere, Joel Watts and myself.

Here are a few comments.  Cornwall wrote that,  “Informed voting starts, in my mind, with having a good understanding of one’s own perspective on the world”  I could not agree more. I would add that it is important to distinguish what is “fact” and what is perspective in one’s own view, and this is not always easy.   I would argue that most disagreement here (and in most areas) do not occur at the level of “facts.”  This is why neither side is extremely upset by the alleged falsehoods of their candidate.  Their assumptions and their underlying philosophies are much more important.

This leads to a quibble I had with Sido.  Again, I pretty much agreed but paused at his statement that, “The old saying ‘How do you know when a politician is lying to you? His lips are moving’ has never been more true”.  While a common way to dismiss politicians, I do not think it is true, or at least that it is that simple. 

In my classes, and in my book Preserving Democracy, I use the example of a news story on the effects of the Bush tax cuts on the middle class vs. the rich, which was based on a CB0 study.  Democrats claimed the Bush tax cuts shifted the tax burden to the middle class, while Republicans claimed it shifted the tax burden to the rich.   The reason I use this example is that despite the contradictory nature of these claims, both sides are correct. 

Which conclusions you reach depends on a number of factors and assumptions.  In this case, when we use terms like taxes, middle class, rich, fair, tax burden, etc., what do these term actually mean? Thus the CBO study supports both conclusions depending on how you understand these terms.  But to get to the heart of the matter, requires much more analysis than most are willing to go into.  It also goes to the heart of “fact checking” for which definitions and assumptions one make about a statement will often have a major impact on whether or not it is true.  I would argue that this is not an isolated situation.   As such, it might be a minority position, but I do not believe that politicians lie anywhere near as much as is commonly believed.)

An issue I had with Bevere and Sido, was their equating of Fox News with MSNBC.  As Bevere, put it, “try to get campaign news from reputable and fair news sources. This excludes Fox News and MSNBC”   Now I do not watch Fox News (like Sido I don’t have Cable or Satellite), but when I have seen it, I have seen far more liberals interviewed on Fox than I have seen conservatives interviewed on MSNBC. 

More importantly, as I cite in my book, a study of the coverage of the last presidential election by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, showed that the coverage among the major news sources was clearly slanted in favor the Democrats; and more so than was the case in 2004, where it also favored the Democrats. The study showed that there were twice as many positive stories than negative stories for Obama, while almost 60% of the stories for McCain were negative and only 14 positive. Yet, as I write in my book,

The only network to have anything resembling balanced coverage was Fox News. While often criticized by the left as favoring Republicans, Fox News was equally critical with 40 percent of the stories being negative for both candidates. As for the positive stories, 25 percent of the stories about Obama fell into this category, compared with a slightly lower 21 percent for McCain.

So is it that Fox News is really so right wing, or is it that it just appears to be more right wing when compared to the rest of the Media which is so far to the Left?  

Watts mention a number of sources saying,  “First, look at foreign news sources, such as BBC and Spiegel. Canada may even contribute as well.”  Good advice, but I would add that just because they are foreign does not mean that they are not biased.  These sources, while good to consult are often just as bias as MSNBC in their own way.  So be sure to seek out foreign sources from both the left and right, or you will get a false sense of diversity.

Finally I would add one other suggestion to my list:  Seek out and engage in discussions with those who disagree. This is by far the best way to clean up the problems in your own thinking. This will not be easy for it can be difficult to find those on the opposite side of the spectrum who are both willing and able to discuss. I take it as one of the weaknesses of this roundtable, that, apart from mine, there have been very few responses, to the initial posts.  But I remain hopeful and there is still some time.

Oct 17th, 2012

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