Today, I hiked. I woke up to a beautiful, warm, Western North Carolina morning (the first one we’ve had on a weekend I’ve been in town all year) and I decided to put aside work (yes, work on a Sunday… blurg…) and head for the trails.
I chose a challenging trail in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest just outside of town. The guide book said the trails can be quite muddy after a rainy week like we had, so I laced up my trusty hiking boots and headed out. It was hard, it was long, and it was amazingly fun. Several times while hiking, I thought to myself, “this is the reason I moved here.”
About one mile to go on an eight mile hike, I felt like something was dragging on my left foot. I looked back and saw that the sole of my boot had almost completely detached from the shoe. I flipped and flopped out to the trail and thought about all the good times I had in those boots, which I’ve owned for about 10 years. They were sturdy but comfortable (and bought on sale!) so I just never saw the need to replace them.
But sometimes you have to replace things that are old, outdated, broken, or just plain falling apart. In business and in life, you have to think about the tools you’ve “always used” and decide if they are still the right tools for the job. Just because I build sites in WordPress and use Dreamweaver, Coda, and Filezilla every single day, doesn’t mean those will always be the right tools to use. Part of succeeding in life is knowing when it’s time to retire some of those things.
And so this week, I’m boot shopping.
The Fallacy of False Equivalency
Posted by Megan Jonas On June 1, 2012
Gather ’round children, and I’ll tell you a tale.
Once upon a time, journalists got it into their heads that every story had (at least) two sides. And that was good. A reporter would interview one person, he would say something about someone else, and then the reporter would go ask that person or someone who knew them about it. For really complicated stories, this often involved asking many, many people about their perspective and their grasp of the facts at hand. Barring video evidence, this was the best way to get an idea of the scene, event, story, or whatever.
This took time, lots of time. Reporters, especially good investigative reporters, would work a story for days, weeks, even months. The same story. Just one.
For many years this went on, until a series (or confluence, really) of events took place that changed the paradigm for reporters everywhere.
1. Newsrooms got smaller
2. Right wing activists got organized
3. The Internet got invented (you know, by Al Gore, or Rush Limbaugh, or some government and defense scientists)
When these three things happened, Journalists found themselves with a lot less time, a lot more competition and a lot more vocal partisan chatter.
And thus was born the fallacy of false equivalency.
Reporters, struggling against deadlines and decimated newsroom staffs, still strove to tell both sides of a story. But instead of a well-researched, well-reporting accounting of the facts, journalists were forced to get action-reaction stories and crank them out at high volume. An industry developed around providing those reactions and suddenly a “consultant” or “analyst” was just a phone call or email away.
When reporters tried to analyze information and provide an account of the facts instead of this action-reaction (he said-she said) story, the organized right wing (and to a much, much lesser extent a few on the left) charged the media with “bias,” it being well-known at this point that all journalists are commie pinkos who seek socialized everything (or something), and the reporters were forced back into the “Republicans say this and Democrats say that” format.
It became common practice to treat each side like their position and information was equally valid. And not just in politics, but in science, medicine, education, and other seemingly fact-based disciplines.
Jay Rosen of NYU has taken an active role pointing out these false equivalencies, as has the Atlantic.
Treating Republicans and Democrats as equal players in the “truth” game may not seem like a big deal. In fact it may seem like the right thing to do. So what’s the big problem.
The big problem is this: Journalists treating climate change deniers like they are equal in number and quality of proof to the hundreds of thousands of scientists in the mainstream makes news viewing and reading citizens think there is actually a debate going on. Treating everything a politician says as fact, even when it’s fiction, does a disservice to democracy and the intelligence of the public. And it’s not really journalism at all.