Tag: commentary

The Fallacy of False Equivalency

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.

Newsstand: What I wish it did

I’ve had a little over a week to look over the new iOS on my iPad.  Not surprisingly, I am using the Newsstand app more than any of the other new features (although we had a really fun time on Friday locating a colleague’s iPhone on the new iCloud – turns out, it was in her bag the whole time).  Newsstand is a feature that has been a long time coming, and as such, it was probably at least slightly over-hyped.

Since we’re working on a magazine project this quarter, I am a big fan of the background downloading.  Prior to the new OS, it would often take me 10 minutes or more to download each new issue of each magazine.  Now, they download as they become available, without needing to have the app open.  For anyone who was using magazine apps before the change, this feature seems intuitive and easy to use.  I do wish, however, that the Newsstand app had it’s own settings that over-rode the individual app settings.  That way, I wouldn’t have to opt-in to every app’s background download.

CNET’s Scott Stein agrees.  “Newsstand was one of the iOS 5 features that I’d been long awaiting, because I dreamed it would be a way of integrating books, periodicals, and all reading material into one destination. Alas, that’s not the case here.”

He argues that the ideal location for his Newsstand apps would be inside of the iBooks app, so that he could keep all of his reading together.

I was also hoping that Newsstand would make it easy to manage my subscriptions.  I have subscribed to a number of magazines on the iPad for which I do not have print subscriptions.  For some of these subscriptions, I chose a monthly fee, because I needed the magazine only for this quarter while I worked on the project, or because I wasn’t sure I would enjoy the magazine.  For some subscriptions, I chose the yearly subscription, knowing I would want to read the magazine long after the project.  Still other magazines are single issue downloads.  I was really hoping that the Newsstand would allow me to easily see this information, but I still have to log in to my iTunes account to figure this out.

Gizmodo, on the other hand, finds Newsstand “more awesome than it seems.”  The tech news site loved how the app allows them to see the covers of the issues instead of a generic app icon.  It is easier to know if new issues are available.

I wish that all of my magazine apps were supported in the Newsstand.  Currently, I have several other magazines in various groupings on multiple pages.  Before the new OS update, all of my magazines were grouped together, which I found exceedingly convenient, and I’ll have to wait until that can happen again before I can truly evaluate the system.