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Why Candidates and the Media Exploit Political Ignorance:

Widely respected columnist Stuart Taylor writes:

[O]ne reason that candidates get away with dishonest campaign ads and speeches may be that it is so hard for undecided voters like me to discern which charges are true, which are exaggerated, and which are false. Most people can't spend hours every day cross-checking diverse sources of information to verify the accuracy of slanted stories and broadcasts.

In other words, political candidates and media outlets often get away with deceptive campaign tactics and inaccurate charges because voters don't know the truth and don't have sufficient incentive to rectify that ignorance through investigation. Taylor goes on to blame the media for this state of affairs, suggesting that more accurate reporting would increase our knowledge. Here, I partly disagree with Taylor. The media is indeed flawed in many ways. But its failures are not the only, or even the principal, cause of widespread political ignorance. Surveys show that most citizens are ignorant of many very basic facts about politics - such as the very existence of major programs (e.g. - Bush's massive prescription drug benefit, the largest new government program since the 1960s, which 70% of the public was not aware of). These basic facts are widely and accurately reported in the media, yet most people still don't know them.

Moreover, the media are not completely autonomous; if they want to stay in business, they have to give viewers and readers what they want. If the public wanted unbiased and accurate coverage and was willing to reject outlets that turned out to be biased and inaccurate, the media would have strong incentives to comply. Newspapers and TV news stations that continued to be biased or inaccurate would lose market share.

In reality, of course, most people either don't follow political news at all, or prefer outlets that are biased in favor of their own preferred party or ideology. Thus, the demand for Fox News, the New York Times, and many other media outlets that are strongly biased towards one party or the other. Social science research going back to the 1940s shows that Republicans tend to prefer Republican-leaning media and Democrats the opposite.

Ultimately, the root of the problem is the insignificance of the individual vote to electoral outcomes. For people whose only motive for acquiring political information is to be a better voter, it turns out that there is little incentive to acquire political knowledge at all. They are "rationally ignorant." Some people, of course, seek out political knowledge for reasons unrelated to voting. For example, they find politics entertaining or they enjoy rooting for their preferred party or ideology - much as sports fans enjoy rooting for their favorite team, even though they know they have little chance of affecting the outcome of games. For this latter group, however, there is little incentive to analyze the information they acquire in an unbiased way or even to check up on its accuracy. To the contrary, listening to pundits and reporters who have the same biases as you do while heaping abuse on the opposition, is part of the fun of being a fan. Political fans often avoid opposing points of view for much the same reasons that most of my fellow Red Sox fans prefer to listen to pro-Red Sox sports radio rather than pro-Yankees shows. That's the main reason why left and right-leaning blogs usually have similarly inclined readers. People also tend to discount political information that goes against their prior views and overvalue anything that seems to reinforce them. Economist Bryan Caplan calls this phenomenon "rational irrationality."

I discuss both rational ignorance and rational irrationality in more detail in this article, as well as provide citations to some of the social science literature documenting the finding that most people evaluate political information in a highly biased way and prefer media outlets that favor their preexisting views.

Knowing that most of the public is rationally ignorant, highly biased in its evaluation of political information or both, candidates take these realities into account. They can see that lies, deception, and unfair charges will often increase their chances of winning, and act accordingly. Indeed, even an altruistic, public-spirited candidate might adopt such tactics, so long as he genuinely believes that his victory will benefit the nation. After all, abjuring them would likely ensure the victory of his more unscrupulous opponents whose policies - the principled candidate believes - would be worse for the country than his own. Media outlets face similar incentives. Those who don't cater to the prejudices of one or another side of the political spectrum are at a competitive disadvantage relative to their rivals. The same goes for those who emphasize in-depth news analysis at the expense of entertainment value.

It's easy to blame unscrupulous politicians and reporters for the flaws in our political discourse. But the root of the problem lies elsewhere - in the structural weaknesses of democracy itself.

mogden (mail):
OK, so is there anything we could do about that, or is it just the way life is?
9.19.2008 4:43pm
eyesay:
Ilya Somin wrote "Thus, the demand for Fox News, the New York Times, and many other media outlets that are strongly biased towards one party or the other."

Yeah, right, the New York Times is strongly biased towards one party or the other.

On the editorial side, the New York Times was as gung-ho for the disastrous Cheney-Bush Republican war in Iraq, so strongly so that the paper ridiculed opponents thereof.

On the news side, the New York Times avoids the right-wing bias of Faux News and all the garbage on AM talk radio. To those with conservative bias, truth looks liberal.
9.19.2008 4:44pm
astrangerwithcandy (mail):

Yeah, right, the New York Times is strongly biased towards one party or the other.

On the editorial side, the New York Times was as gung-ho for the disastrous Cheney-Bush Republican war in Iraq, so strongly so that the paper ridiculed opponents thereof.

On the news side, the New York Times avoids the right-wing bias of Faux News and all the garbage on AM talk radio. To those with conservative bias, truth looks liberal.


*sigh*
9.19.2008 4:51pm
As a lawyer:
The media bias charge is always so laughable. It seems that whenever anyone actually looks at the objective evidence of bias, where there is bias, it's almost always skewed right not left. Claims of bias almost always originate the failure to state one side of the story as if that side of the story is worth repeating.

Take for example recent "fact checking" stories about the political ads. Most of the "false" or "mostly false" ads are coming from a single side. So the charge is that the media is unfairly targeting McCain. As if there were some equivalence between the truthiness of the Obama and McCain ads. There just isn't. McCain's are far worse.

In fact, the media's treatment of this particular issue is so painful this year, it only adds to the confusion. McCain's ads are so bad and the media's attempt to equate Obama's ads with McCain's, leaves the average person thinking that they're both equally wrong. Over and over again that's just not the case. But, until recently, this has meant that neither Palin nor McCain suffered any real consequences for out-and-out lying and lying repeatedly in the face of substantial evidence to the contrary.
9.19.2008 5:03pm
Simon P:
I wonder how, given your understanding of the perception of bias, it would be possible for any "unbiased" and "accurate" news outlet to gain market share. Wouldn't anyone accustomed to a "biased" take on the news necessarily view any "unbiased" news source as actually "biased," by hypothesis? In other words, even if news-consumer preferences were to shift so as to prefer "unbiased" news outlets, wouldn't that effect really be, for the consumers themselves, more like a preference for "counter-biased" news outlets? (And by "counter-biased," I mean bias opposed to one's own ideological preferences.)

Wouldn't a genuine market preference for "unbiased" news, in effect, really tend to result in a homogenized view of the news, not necessarily an unbiased one? I mean, how else do we understand media bias but by measuring a particular news outlet against others? How do I know that the VC is conservative and the Daily Kos is liberal save by the counter-comparisons I can draw between them? I'd guess that, given a market preference for "unbiased" and "accurate" news, what we'd see is the dominance of a single news-narrative that would be biased not towards the expected persuasions of its consumers but by the cost-based and advertising-based sources of media bias (which you do not seem to have acknowledged here). That would, I'd guess, generally be a pro-government, pro-business kind of view.

Anyway, I think more fundamentally the issue is tied to the centrality of our national elections. You are right in saying that it is not rational for me, as a single citizen with a single vote, to invest myself in building up the incredible amount of knowledge necessary to understand what's going on in Washington, all for the purpose of guiding my one measly vote to the "right" choice. But I think that, were government more localized, the issues more discrete and manageable, the rationality of ignorance in elections would tend to decrease. It would be easier not only to inform ourselves of the issues, it would be easier to discuss them with the other members of our electoral community, as well, which I think is also an important part of the process.

We're rationally ignorant, in other words, because our government is too big, and it is too national. We need not only less government, more at the local level, but also a radical reshaping of Congress's powers and prerogatives. Congress's powers need to be more limited and they need to have less preemptive effect—that is, if we want people to care about who they vote for.
9.19.2008 5:05pm
darelf:
Could you please review the account of the 1800 presidential campaign ( Thomas Jefferson vs. John Adams ) and then get back to me on whether we have improved or declined in our political discourse?
9.19.2008 5:12pm
Cornellian (mail):
Everyone should be required to read every issue of the Economist for six months before election day.
9.19.2008 5:35pm
Sigh:
It is nice that Ilya is still writing interesting, thought-provoking posts while many of the Conspirators offer little more than stale punditry.

Thank you.
9.19.2008 5:36pm
Ilya Somin:
I wonder how, given your understanding of the perception of bias, it would be possible for any "unbiased" and "accurate" news outlet to gain market share. Wouldn't anyone accustomed to a "biased" take on the news necessarily view any "unbiased" news source as actually "biased," by hypothesis?

This is a good point. However, a voter who had strong incentives to get at the truth would try hard to recognize and combat his own biases, and also perhaps to use media with opposing points of view as a check on them. Thus, an electorate that wasn't rationally ignorant and/or rational irrational might demand a media that is at least substantially less biased than what we have now.


We're rationally ignorant, in other words, because our government is too big, and it is too national. We need not only less government, more at the local level, but also a radical reshaping of Congress's powers and prerogatives.

I agree, to a large extent, and have made similar arguments in several articles, including the ones linked in this post.
9.19.2008 5:55pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
We're never going to resolve the bias issue.

But let it be said that the reason we never are going to resolve the bias issue is because conservatives either don't know or are deliberately obfuscating the difference between a paper with a lot of liberals on it which occasionally may get some things wrong as a result and a television network that is run by conservatives for the specific purpose of ensuring that conservative propaganda gets broadcast unfiltered to the public.
9.19.2008 5:57pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Everyone should be required to read every issue of the Economist for six months before election day.
I used to read the Economist for what I considered a more unbiased view of the U.S. than is typically available on this side of the pond. I still routinely read it, but am somewhat less convinced of its lack of bias in its reporting. It doesn't approach the NY Times by any means, or even the WaPo. Mostly that bias seemed to come out on its coverage of the war in Iraq, that it appears to have disliked.
9.19.2008 5:59pm
Splunge:
It's a good essay, Somin, and I especially like your point about the rational ignorance of the average voter. He really doesn't rationally have much motivation to spend time and energy learning in detail about the exact wording of candidate's past statements on Fannie Mae, instead of, say, figuring out the best college for his daughter, or how to satisfy that angry big customer, or how to tell Dad that the accident means he's got to stop driving now -- which is all stuff real people have to deal with. The subtleties of gotcha politics are life and death if you're in the business, a commentator whose salary depends on explaining it all engagingly. But for the rest of us, it's not very interesting or useful.

And frankly, why should it be? There is not a whole lot of daylight left between the major candidates. One claims he'll get us out of Iraq "on a timetable" but consult the generals, the other says he'll consult the generals first and then...uh, probably create a timetable, at least informally. One says he'll raise taxes a bit (but only on "the rich"), the other says he'll cut them a bit. Nothing here like the Reagan Revolution, whacking the top rate from 70% to 30%, or like New Deal wage and price freezes.

Neither proposes much of a change to entitlement programs. We can imagine the Democrats throwing more money down useless "alternative energy" or social program ratholes, but, really, the Republicans would have to, too, just perhaps 0.5% less. Whoopee.

I know we get all hysterical about what are, historically speaking, tiny slivers of difference, and present the election as if it's Abraham Lincoln versus Adolf Hitler, but it's not. This is not the election of 1932, or 1800, or 1824, still less the German elections of 1933, or an election that will determine whether we re-organize the Republic as a Directorate and choose a First Consul. The plain fact is, modern technology means the voice of the people is so well heard in Washington that both parties have converged pretty closely on the model that gets you maximum electoral support, again and again. It's like two professional football teams with top-notch coaches and lots of money: they both know very well how to train and win at the best possible level. Which wins or loses a particular game has more to do with luck, tiny unguessable random factors, and the occasional bizarre miracle.

This is in principle a good thing. Neither the election of Obama nor McCain is going to really change the Republic out of all recognition, partisan hysterics notwithstanding. That leaves them fighting about trivial issues of hypocrisy, who said what when, who's being nicer, personality and style. Not surprisingly, the busy voter decides he doesn't need to spend much time and effort vetting their picayune attacks carefully.

I would also take issue of the premise that there is something to rationally complain about, when you observe the two candidates "lying" (i.e. stretching the truth a bit) in a campaign, and flinging innuendo and appeals to prejudice at each other. You might as well complain that lawyers in the Courtroom do exactly the same thing in an effort to win the case for their client. Or that salesmen stretch when selling. This is what people are like. And in the absence of a magic 100% reliable Truth-O-Meter we can point at them, to find out whether they're lying or merely using an artful definition of words, or being honest as the day is long, we accept the fact that an open marketplace of ideas, a free-wheeling -- yeah "partisan," angry -- competition is the closest we can get to finding out the underlying objective truth about any of these matters.

To complain about the only known reliable process for maximizing public truth, and wish instead for some mythical superfascist and/or frankly religious solution instead -- where God, The Party, a blue ribbon bipartisan panel, the Supreme Court, a council of solons, the magic 8-ball, or some agency of similar purported omniscience and moral irreproachability -- enforces The Truth on all speakers, is politically, if not psychologically, immature.
9.19.2008 6:07pm
Dave N (mail):
Splunge,

Hear! Hear!
9.19.2008 6:44pm
Nunzio:
This seems like a non-problem. People who like more left, more hard-left, more right, and more hard-right news have plenty of options to choose from. There's always a lot of complaints about the "MSM," which means the national television and print media, but it's been mostly Republican Presidents (I'm including the 1996 Clinton in here, too) the last 30 years.

Either more people get their news from the MSM or aren't influenced by it.

And regardless of how distored Obama or McCain's ads are, Obama faces more of a problem here because he is still an unknown. So any McCain attack ad will be easier for people to believe because Obama has no national record to speak of.

And I'm sure 75% of the people who will vote for either candidate in November will not be able to answer either of these questions:

1. Which state does Obama represent in the U.S. Senate

2. Which state does McCain represent in the U.S. Senate
9.19.2008 7:03pm
Johnny Canuck (mail):
Bruce Hayden:

Everyone should be required to read every issue of the Economist for six months before election day.

I used to read the Economist for what I considered a more unbiased view of the U.S. than is typically available on this side of the pond. ..... Mostly that bias seemed to come out on its coverage of the war in Iraq, that it appears to have disliked.



The Economist was a cheerleader for the war in Iraq. I think they subsequently became disillusioned with the incompetent execution of the occupation.
9.19.2008 7:05pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
In the long run it doesn't matter which of the two canidates win. What matters in the long run is the fact that those two candidates were chosen and took the positions they did because those positions/candidates could plausibly have won.

In other words in the long run we could choose the actual president by flipping a coin as long as everyone believed the president would be chosen by election. As basic political science tells us both parties are incentivized to move towards the center and it is that effect which provides the important influence of the public on the government.
9.19.2008 7:18pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
because voters don't know the truth and don't have sufficient incentive to rectify that ignorance

How much ignorance does it take to not know that the financial services industry was more heavily regulated during the Bush Admin than the Clinton Admin, that government teachers are already overpaid (compared to teachers in private schools), that the Feds spent more last year than the year before and will spend more this year than last, that the Chicago political machine is not exactly the fount of good government and bipartisan harmony, or that the only promise a politician won't break is a promise to raise taxes.
9.19.2008 7:28pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Newspapers and TV news stations that continued to be biased or inaccurate would lose market share."

Isn't that what's happening?
9.19.2008 7:36pm
eyesay:
TruePath: "As basic political science tells us both parties are incentivized to move towards the center and it is that effect which provides the important influence of the public on the government."

This would be true if voter preferences were static. But voter preferences are not static. The Rs did well for awhile by moving away from the center and trumpeting their "values," which had the effect of moving the center toward themselves.

However, they managed incompetently (Iraq, environment, economy, tax cuts in times of war and deficit) overplayed their hand (Clinton Impeachment, Terri Schiavo) and turned out to be phony in having better moral values (Gingrich, Livingston, Hyde, Foley, DeLay, Cunningham, the dozens who worked with Abramoff, and all the apologists for torture) and now it's time for the Dems to stand on their values and move the center back toward liberal Democratic (American) moral values.
9.19.2008 7:37pm
Asher (mail):
Back in the day, from what I understand, network news didn't make any money (and cable news, of course, didn't exist). It was a sort of prestige loss leader. Same was true for many of the better papers. Today, the networks and cable news channels have wisened up, and so what we get is what the people want - really daft, obscenely biased, horserace coverage. A proposal I would make that's sure to upset the free marketeers on here is to publicly finance the entire TV news sector. In return, no advertising and more bloggingheads.tv- style commentary.
9.19.2008 7:46pm
Johnny Canuck (mail):

There is not a whole lot of daylight left between the major candidates.


each candidate is confronted with the same reality. But the issue is projecting forward, which one is likely to better handle the unknown unknown.

If you think avoiding an unnecessary war is important, isn't Obama much more likely to oblige?

And if you think overruling your Joint chiefs of Staff and commander on the ground may be important, isn't McCain much more likely to oblige?
9.19.2008 7:50pm
Sagar:
Somin names Fox News and NYT as two examples of bias in the media and it didn't take long for at least two (progressive) people to assert NYT's nonpartisanship!

It must be a blissful place wherever you have your heads:)
9.19.2008 7:53pm
Sagar:
Asher,

I am not sure if NPR fits the bill per your description - but most people don't agree that it is unbiased either.

The solution may be in more information from more sources and the voters will process as much as they can from different sources. In the end it is the collective wisdom of millions of individuals ... sometimes wrong and hopefully more right!
9.19.2008 7:58pm
Asher (mail):
I am not sure if NPR fits the bill per your description - but most people don't agree that it is unbiased either.

NPR's not unbiased. The demographic for somewhat culturally elitist, high-toned news is going to tend to be a little left of center, so naturally when you only have one big public radio station and one big public tv channel, they're going to be a little liberal (although not screamingly partisan a la MSNBC). But, if we had more public radio stations and channels, you'd get more of a spectrum.
9.19.2008 8:06pm
eyesay:
Sagar: I do consider myself to have progressive values. What I said about the New York Times was more nuanced. I do think the New York Times does a fairly good job on the news side of being nonpartisan — certainly a better job than Fox News. On the editorial side, even though most of the major columnists (Krugman, Kristof, Herbert) are liberal, the New York Times was disastrously credulous of the Republican lies that got us into the Quagmire Mess-in-Potamia.
9.19.2008 8:08pm
Sk (mail):
One flaw:

"Moreover, the media are not completely autonomous; if they want to stay in business, they have to give viewers and readers what they want. If the public wanted unbiased and accurate coverage and was willing to reject outlets that turned out to be biased and inaccurate, the media would have strong incentives to comply."

This overlooks the whole point. The reader/public doesn't KNOW what is unbiased and accurate, so has no means of determining that the media outlet in question is or is not biased. We may all want unbiased and accurate reporting, but don't want to invest the time to evaluate each outlet to find the best-thus, 'biased inaccurate' media may very well continue to exist, even if the public, under ideal circumstances, wouldn't want it to.

Sk
9.19.2008 8:13pm
geokstr:
And, uh, what planet was that exactly that the author of the post and most of the commenters here are from? It certainly is not the one I live on.

One commenter claims that maybe there might be a news outlet somewhere that may have some liberals on it but it's always totally only because the backwoods hick conservatives can't understand real news that we would see bias where none exists. Another claims the NY Times (the NY Times for crissakes) is a right wing tool! Another says that all the lies come from the McCain ads. A fourth claims that all studies show a right wing bias in the media.

What the hell are you people smoking? I didn't even know Kool-Aid came in smokeable form.

EVERY, as in EVERY, reasonably honest survey of denizens of "journalism", including, reporters, anchors, editors, publishers, journalism professors and their students, etc, show that between 80% and 94% of them voted for the democratic candidate for president in EVERY election since the 1960's including McGovern. The same ratio applies to the ones registered democrat vs republican. It's no different for the dollars contributed to the two parties either. EVERY survey that asks these "professionals" to SELF-IDENTIFY their political leanings come to the same conclusion. But we are expected to believe that this doesn't affect the decisions as to what to report, who to consult as "experts", how to frame the headlines, let alone might cause any slant in the contents?

Nice try but no cigar. We ain't falling for that banana in the tailpipe no more.

Major media figures have sometimes even had the testicular fortitude to own up to the problem from time to time.

EVERY survey of the public shows they believe that the mainstream media are biased towards the left. Maybe that's because EVERY survey that asks the public to self-identify themselves shows 60%+ claim to be moderately to very conservative, which has not changed in decades, and not leftwingers as the commentors and author obviously are. (Perhaps it's because most of us don't make our living suckling off the public teat in one way or another. We have real jobs with yes, real responsibilities. But hey, that's just my opinion.)

What do you make of all the surveys and polls in the last couple months that show the public by 5 to 1 or more think that the media is in the tank for Obama, want him to win, and are deliberately trying to hurt Palin? Even the democrats in those polls recognize this.

The article claims that if the people actually wanted objective news, they would force the media to change or they would go out of business. That is about to be proven in the next decade, because until 10-15 years ago, we had NO CHOICE because the only thing out there was leftist slant.

Now that we have the first center-right cable station, Fox, and a whole new medium where the leftists are utter failures, talk radio, the ratings, stock values and circulations of the old time media are down the tubes.

Too damn bad. Now that we actually have a choice, we are voting with our dollars, the only real power individuals have in this country.

But of course you lefties aren't going to sit still for this. If Obama gets in, we expect to see an immediate push to re-enact the "Fairness Doctrine", a name right out of the novel "1984", which is specifically aimed at shutting down talk radio. It won't cover the networks, the newspapers, or the taxpayer-extorted NPR or PBS though. What a coincidence, you hypocritical creeps.

I and quite a bit of the public are fed up with this fantasy you push that the mainline media are somehow objective. It boggles the mind that some of you claim that they are actually pushing a right wing agenda. Are you blind, or just stupid, or both?

I will give you the benefit of the doubt that maybe you are all Ivy league grads, sipping white wine and munching your brie, living in insulated little leftwing communities on the right or left coasts, reinforcing each others leftist opinions. From there it must look like we rubes know nothing and that the media are objective. After all, they nearly always agree with you, don't they? How could they be biased?

If I didn't give you that benefit of the doubt, I would have to suspect that your purposes in writing the things you do is out of something MUCH more malevolent than just ignorance.

Consider this - our nation is in times of dire economic uncertainty, with the republicans tossed out in disgrace just two years ago (and rightly so), a republican president whose ratings are only higher then the congress', there is widespread unhappiness over the war in Iraq, and oil prices are through the roof. The news promulgated by your buds in the media has been relentlessly negative and have blamed it all on Bush. You have the entire academic and teaching communities at all levels churning out new little leftists for you every day and the entire entertainment industry spewing out slanted propaganda called movies and TV shows. And you even have "The One" who has deigned to descend from Mt Olympus to redeem us, and who is the best self promoter since PT Barnum.

Yet an old fogie and a hockey mom are still neck and neck with your Saviour. Shouldn't Obama be ahead by like 40 points? Why do you think that is? Because the media is in the tank for McCain, you twits?

Maybe, just maybe, it is because we uneducated, unsophisticated people who live in fly-over country finally have sources of news and ways to communicate with each other and learn the damned truth that ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, NPR, PBS, C-Span, CNN, nearly every major newspaper and every damned "news" magazine is unwilling to let us hear.

Go.to.hell.
9.19.2008 9:26pm
AlanDownunder (mail):
The NYT is as left wing as Fox is right wing. Like George Clooney is as female as Chuck Norris is male.

Hello. The spiralling descent of a one-winged eagle just collapsed the world financial system.
9.20.2008 2:58am
neurodoc:
But the root of the problem lies elsewhere...
I expected that sentence to end, "...in ourselves," and I'm doubtful about the answer given, "...in the structural weaknesses of democracy itself."

If the Professor Somin's answer were true and mine ("in ourselves") false, then shouldn't there be examples of non-democratic political systems in which "political ignorance" has been notably less among the populace? What would those examples be? If there are none, then isn't the logical conclusion that is "ourselves," the common element across time and place and various political systems?
9.20.2008 4:38am
neurodoc:
BTW, could someone point to anything asserted in those "dishonest campaign ads and speeches" that would take so much time and/or effort on the part of Stuart Taylor or any of us to learn whether they were "true" or "false"? Opinions can be stupid, uninformed, biased, or whatever you will, but they can't be "true" or "false," can they, only purported "facts" can be. So that should leave only the possibility of "exaggerated" to deal with, and even the well-informed may differ in whether they see it or not.

If I were asked to cite a big whopper in this election cycle, I think Sarah Palin's "Bridge to Nowhere" claim(s) would be the first to come to mind. Have others been more impressed by the outrageousness/preposterousness of other "factual" assertions by any of the candidates? Can they be pronounced "false" more quickly or with more certainty than Palin's whopper?
9.20.2008 4:53am
Dan Goodman (mail) (www):
My solution: Make betting on elections as legal and as easy as buying lottery tickets. More people will then know that they have a financial stake in the elections, and make more of an effort to get the real news.
9.20.2008 10:36am
p. rich (mail) (www):
neurodoc

Information processing isn't your strong point, I see.

Ilya

Those who don't cater to the prejudices of one or another side of the political spectrum are at a competitive disadvantage relative to their rivals.

How could you possibly know this to be a factual statement?

It's easy to blame unscrupulous politicians and reporters for the flaws in our political discourse. But the root of the problem lies elsewhere - in the structural weaknesses of democracy itself.

I disagree. The root of the problem is our school systems. Fix that, produce broadly-educated people with a deep knowledge and appreciation of US history, who have developed a facility for critical thinking and an appreciation of the value of making decisions based on facts, and your "structural weakness" becomes a strength. The Left understands this, and as in every leftist society in history has made a concerted effort to control education (and media) and relentlessly condition "the masses" to a particular political viewpoint. It's been happening in the US for many decades. Our country endures in spite of this assault.
9.20.2008 12:05pm
neurodoc:
p. rich, if you want to take a shot, feel free to do so. How about making it not so cryptic, though, that only you know what it is you are trying to say.
9.20.2008 12:40pm
Mark Field (mail):

p. rich, if you want to take a shot, feel free to do so. How about making it not so cryptic, though, that only you know what it is you are trying to say.


My father once said of a colleague at work that "three-fourths of what he says is wrong and the other fourth is unintelligible." I often think of this line when I read the threads.
9.20.2008 12:46pm
neurodoc:
Dan Goodman, your suggestion that we make betting on elections easy so as to promote interest, and hence knowledge is an interesting one. Hasn't Arizona tried to encourage voter turnout by entering everyone who votes in a lottery with something like a $1M prize, or was that only an idea they were playing with? But might not promoting betting on elections have some undesirable consequences? For example, people not betting for whoever they thought was the best choice, but the candidate they had bet on? And would it encourage people to become informed about the candidate and the issues, which is what voting should be about, or just to focus on the horse race aspects, that is polling data and projections of how external developments might affect the outcome?
9.20.2008 12:48pm
juris_imprudent (mail):
I do think the New York Times does a fairly good job on the news side of being nonpartisan

I don't read the NYT on a regular basis, but every article I've ever seen by Fox Butterworth on guns has been spectacularly biased and generally wrong on the facts. He is on the news side, not the editorial page.

Getting back to the original point, Stuart Taylor would find life much simpler in vetting politicians statements if he just first assumes they are lying or pandering. You do have to apply that to ALL politicians though, not just the those from one party.
9.20.2008 3:46pm
NickM (mail) (www):
neurodoc - without democracy or a republic, there's little politics for a person to be ignorant of.

BTW, Obama's repeated assertions that others were lying about his votes on "born alive" bills in IL (notably SB 1082, in 2003) are far huger whoppers than Palin on the Bridge to Nowhere. Palin is giving only part of the story, and the rest of the story changes the impression. Obama spent months lying about the language of the bill, and accusing others of lying who were accurately representing it.

If you just want something where the proof was obvious, Obama's claim in Israel that the Senate Banking Committee is his committee, while taking credit for Iran sanctions legislation that had just passed the committee, was really bad. Looking up the committee roster is very simple.

Nick
9.20.2008 9:41pm
tonynoboloney (mail):
Thank you geokstr for articulating so well what I believe to be the truth. The only other comment I would have made is that as American citizens "we deserve better".
9.21.2008 11:43am
Jack Ten:
I think geokstr touches on this, but doesn't go far enough. In reality, all American Media is essentially American media. It rarely deviates from its moderate path, and if it does so it is more likely to shock and entertain rather than for any substantial reason. I find it funny sometimes the amount of energy expended in analysis and then meta-analysis of media bias. I mean, it was only in March when the the "Angry Youth" of China declared that the entire Western Media establishment suffered from unscrupulous collective bias, if not outright slandering. If anyone followed this they would be familiar with the statement,

"Don't be too CNN."

And to me that pretty much encapsulates how much a difference between CNN, Fox News, BBC, or any Western Media outlet matters in the end.
9.21.2008 4:08pm