Friday, November 23, 2007

Being Well Informed

We were having dinner with some friends Wednesday night, just talking and laughing, the first time we had been with these four folks at the same time in over a month. One of them began making negative comments about President Bush and the overall horrible conditions in the United States currently, particularly the economy. The third man in the group said something like, "yeah, employment is up, inflation is moderate, the economy is pretty strong: you're right, things really are horrible." The first fellow retorted that he is very disappointed in George Bush; that he had voted for him twice, but thought he was doing a pretty poor job as President. I agreed that I was pretty unhappy with his performance in some areas, too, but that he was doing just fine in others. "Like what?" he asked.

I said that things in Iraq are improving, to which he said something about a quagmire, and it was the worst thing to have happened to the US in decades. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but I feel like opinions, to be truly worthy of one's holding them, ought to be based upon something concrete where possible, and the situation in Iraq is an example where there is concrete information available. I responded that even The New York Times recently reported the obvious improvements in Iraq, at which point he bailed out of the discussion with a joke: "Well, The Times is just a conservative rag."

The silliness of that comment aside, this incident pointed up to me how many people are uninformed, poorly informed or misinformed. And just to be clear, those three conditions are different from each other: Uninformed means people don't try to know what's going on; poorly informed means they haven't tried hard enough to know what's going on, they take what's easily available, or what suits their preconceptions; misinformed means that their sources of information are sloppy and inaccurate, or deliberately slant their reporting. And, yes, there is a possible/likely connection being poorly informed or misinformed.

This isn't intended to be a "the liberal media is shirking its responsibility, and millions of Americans suffer as a result" rant, however, it is difficult to objectively look at news reporting in the US and not believe that the liberal media is shirking its responsibility, and millions of Americans suffer as a result. Poorly informed and misinformed Americans are victims of media malpractice.

My friend probably is genuinely opposed to the Iraq war, and that's just fine. However, I just wonder to what degree that opposition has been colored by or created by the dishonesty of reporting the events in Iraq by the major American media? After all, if things are better in Iraq, as The Times says, did that happen over night, or has it been a more slow, steady improvement. The latter is likely, which begs the question, "Why are we just now hearing this from The Times?"

Stipulated: Iraq is far from a perfect situation; the economy has trouble spots; the average temperatures in the northern hemisphere are rising; and George Bush has his problems.

However, answer these questions:

1. What war followed a predictable plan and did not involve serious errors in planning and execution, and take longer than expected to run its course? Does the American Revolution come to mind?

2. Why don't we hear as much about low unemployment and low inflation and the increase in income among poorer Americans as we do about gasoline prices and problems in the housing industry?

3. If humans actually cause global warming, why is there such wide-spread disagreement about that among the scientific community, and why do the humans-cause-global-warming advocates have to lie and distort data to make their case?

4. Why is the coverage of George Bush more focused on his language than his reasons for doing things the way he does, and how he thinks about things?

I just wonder how the poll results on a wide range of issues might change if there was true balance and honesty among the media?

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