Why I Hate Most Political Reporting
The following is based on a comment I made on Digg yesterday. I don't usually base blog posts so heavily on comments to social networking sites, but in this case I feel the comment on Digg captures my feelings on how many media outlets are damaging the public discourse and democratic process in the United States.
First some background. In a couple of segments on Fox News's Fox and Friends morning show the hosts attempted to establish Iman Rauf, the leader of the attempt to build the controversial Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, as a terrorist sympathizer by discussing the possible financing of the community center by Middle Eastern figures and groups. The Daily Show quickly took Fox News to task over this by pointing out the logical fallacies Fox and Friends employed in order to convey its message of distrust. I've embedded the Daily Show clips in case you haven't seen them, and they are also linked here: 8/19 segment and 8/23 segment.
This whole controversy centers on Fox News, and the comment below is in response to Fox News's reporting, but the same comment can apply to any number of liberal and conservative media outlets that attempt to promote a particular ideology instead of simply reporting the facts in an unbiased manner.
The issue isn't that Fox News is bashing their owner, or even that they are bashing a particular person. It's that they are making serious accusations and advocating an ostentatious opinion on very flimsy logic that they are touting as full proof. If you are going to claim that somebody is a terrorist you better damn well have solid evidence of such. Showing that a person may have received money from somebody with a funny sounding name is not solid evidence; it's an organization stretching to reach a conclusion based on the limited information they are willing to share. Stewart is bashing Fox for its poor logic and proving that logic's fallacy by showing how that logic leads to an unfavorable situation for Fox News.
The other logical fallacy that this ordeal highlights is Fox News's tendency to paint everything as only black or white, and to use very broad strokes. Fox's narrative for years has been that someone/thing is either good or evil and that these are mutually exclusive categories. For years Fox has also categorized most Muslims, and virtually all Arabs, as evil while categorizing conservative Americans as good. The problem with this logical framework is that no person, group, or organization is exclusively "good" or "evil." From the perspective of a given group (Fox News) some individual (Waleed bin Talal) is likely to perform actions that the group supports and that the group opposes. Within Fox's logic that makes the individual both good and evil, but due to the mutually exclusive nature of the categories an individual can not be both good and evil. It's a contradiction and it shows the fundamental flaw of trying to forever brand a person or group based on one action or political stance.
Furthermore, it shows the flaw of trying to paint things in such extreme lights. Very, very few people are truly good or evil. The vast majority of people are simply acting in self interest. Sometimes these interests conflict with other people. That doesn't mean one person is inherently good while the other is evil. It also doesn't mean that the two people have to hate each other or forever be in conflict. If the two people remain calm they can probably work out a mutually beneficial solution. But when the two people each have their own cheer squads making inflammatory statements, hatred results and solutions can't be created.