Friday, May 25, 2007

fire now, not next time

Thanks to my friend the fire next time, I now understand the purpose of fair and balanced reporting. Thanks, fire!

I used to think that it had to do with being nice - in the "share the Legos" or "don't eat the last bite of cake" sense of nice. The sense of nice you can't exactly articulate but you can certainly cock your head back and glare when someone violates it. And when they say "What?" you can bulge your eyes at them and huff.

This principle is also not intended to promote "understanding."Of course, my attempts to provide this version of fair and balanced in the reporting of the events of my own life have caused me no end of grief, as in:

I think he cheated on me because he was rejecting himself. Poor him.


She doesn't have anything nice to say about me because she doesn't love herself. Poor her.

No, friends, fair and balanced reporting is also not a euphemism for masochism. It doesn't mean you stand aside and let people abuse you or your cause because you're supposed to have compassion for defectives.

The point of fair and balance reporting is simply to keep the discussion going until the majority of the public has finally made up its mind. And we can't have a discussion if we only hear one side of the story.

"Why do we need a discussion about this?" you ask. "That's fucked. The answer is obvious."

I agree.

Unfortunately, not everybody does. According to estimates by political scientists, regarding any given issue of public concern, while about 20% of the population has strong feelings about it, 15% couldn't give a flying fuck and 65% are disengaged but could become actively involved if they felt they could make a difference.

That's right. For any position about which you feel strongly, 6.5 out of every 10 people you encounter might actively support your cause if somebody would spend time explaining to them in a calm and reasonable manner why you're right and the other guy is wrong.

Whereas if you take the two out of ten people who feel strongly about an issue and pit them against each other, those other 6.5 people might watch the screeching from a distance but more than likely they'll just bow out. It is one of the reasons voter turnout is so low; when you're preaching to the choir or railing against the idiots, you're not engaging the people who aren't sure what to think.

That's why we need a discussion. The Disengaged.

Please don't misunderstand me. I do not expect everybody to become expert canvassers for their causes. Most of us, when we encounter an opposing viewpoint, clamp our jaws shut, turn red, briefly consider violent retribution, and then walk away from the offender. Or we shout, turn red, throw a brick, and then walk away.
That's fine. We're human beings, not automatons. Or debate nerds.

But, surely, considering the large pool (65%!!!) of potential supporters for your cause, you can understand the need to engage the public at large in some kind of judicious consideration of the issues.

We can't rely on television for this service since it relies on violence, sensationalism, and horserace coverage of poll results instead of sober discussion of issues. When pundits actually discuss issues, they tend to focus on a particular candidate or organization's strategy and character rather than their actual platform. Radio is mostly the same. We can't turn to the internet because if we do, we're likely to go the sites with which we already agree. Or to news sites like CNN that, in a desperate bid for clicks, focus most of their efforts on writing ridiculous headlines ("Mom wants husband, microwaved baby back at home") .

We certainly can't turn to political figures themselves since they've made a habit of mudslinging and labelling issues in a manipulative manner to squelch debate.

Barring any radical transformation in the way this society conducts public discourse, the semi-objective "news story" is the only real venue for bringing out both sides of any argument. Granted, the reporter ought to fully disclose each source's qualifications, or lack thereof, to the reader, but the reader also has the obligation to understand that reporting some person or group's opinion is not the same as supporting it.

In fact, we should be glad when a reporter quotes someone we disagree with because it gives us a starting point for refuting that person's arguments.

Ok, so you might already be completely familiar with your opponents' arguments and don't need to hear them again. But the Disengaged I mentioned earlier are not. By bringing those opinions into the public sphere you have a chance to show everybody why they are wrong.

And by "you" I mean you the blogger. You the guy in the pizza parlor. You at the gym. You in the office. You talking in public about the issues you feel strongly about and about the people who disagree with you.

But if one side or other is kept out of the media, the more public (pizza parlor, gym, office) discussion never gets started. Those ideas never get refuted so if any of the Disengaged stumbles across them, they don't have any ammunition to reject them.

You know what? Fuck it.

I've written all this stuff about being reasonable and calm and shit and that's all fine and dandy for some people. In fact, I hope that every cause has their reasonable and calm representatives to deal with the Disengaged. But I'm also glad for the ranter and the fist shaker, the red faced quaker, the shouter, the railer, the impaler (OK not the impaler), the holier-than-thou-er. All these people are part of the conversation.

It is the silent ones and the ones who want to silence people I object to. If they win the day, discussion becomes impossible.


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