false equivalencies


I was listening to the radio program, “On The Media,” in bed this morning. The first report pointed out something I continue to notice, the idea that both sides of current partisan debate are equally responsible for bad government (or practically no governing at all).

I have noticed the falsity of this stance. For example on the current ridiculous manufactured crisis of the “sequestering” that will begin in earnest next Friday, the two sides in congress are offering two different solutions. One, the Democrats and Obama, leans toward some sort of combined increasing of revenues via taxes and cuts of expenditures in the budget. The other, the Republicans, are opposed to any revenue increases at all and want only cuts.

These are two fundamentally different approaches. Polls I have read have indicated that most Americans would prefer some sort of mix of revenue increase and budgetary responsibility via cuts.

In the report on this morning radio show, one reporter pointed out that the media is applying an old style understanding of itself as refereeing between two sides that fundamentally even have overlap and some areas of agreement. In reality this situation no longer exists. As the report points out the most conservative Democrat in Congress is far to the left of the most Liberal Republicans. Also the Senate is broken when routine cabinet appointments are now subject to holds placed by Senators.

The result is that the reporting tends toward false equivalency of attempting to present two sides of an argument. Deborah Tannis pointed this out years ago in her book, The Argument Culture.

The example in the radio report was the Obama birth certificate silliness. It tended to be reported with corroborating evidence on one side and Trump’s doubts on the other.

It is easy to generalize about the reporting of media. The fact is that many consumers of news have not thought about their own bias and how they get their information and what sources are what.

The best example of this is the little web site literallyunbelievable.org. My son-in-law Jeremy has expressed the idea that this is now his preferred way to read the Onion. This is the current top of this web site:



When looking at a link, all one has to do is notice the URL to begin thinking about the source of the information. This doesn’t seem to be the way many approach online information. Like the media itself, many consumers are stuck in the idea that if it is in print or on their screen (or being broadcast to them) it is de facto true, especially if it happens to fall in line with their own predisposition.

In other words, we are all in our own little echo chambers, the trick is to try to notice this and factor that in.

Here are some links around this issue (and possibly the inspiration for the report on On The Media).


False-Equivalence Watch: WaPo Edition, Chapter 3,219 – James Fallows – The Atlantic

Beltway Brain Fever: Sequester Edition — Daily Intelligencer



On another note.

Eileen has been very unhappy with the fact that we are paying TMobile for cell phone  usage and have such lousy reception with our phones, often being unable to make calls. So we finally traipsed over to Verizon with the idea of switching. Originally we thought that one of us (Eileen) should have a smart phone. We looked at very economic ways to do this (pay as you go). But in the end we decided to go with monthly plan.

As we were doing it, I heard the woman say that by using a smart phone (for Eileen) and a dumb phone (for me) we were saving $10 a month. That seemed silly, so we decided we should both get smart phones.

The cool thing is that when we were ringing it up, my Hope College I.D. gave us a discount of 15% on our basic monthly fee of $60 which almost absorbed the difference in my having a smart phone as well.

I will have more to say about learning the phone culture but in the mean time here is a picture I took with my smart phone as Eileen signs up for hers.



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