caveat lector: “let the reader beware”

Normally, I eschew writing about, or even discussing, politics, but as I blog this (mid-September 2012), the quadrennial circus that is the American presidential campaign has cranked up the music, released the clowns, and is spinning itself into its frenzied, childish, pie-throwing finale as folks like me check our watches, wishing the show would end already. 


If the Republicans are one ring of the circus and Democrats another, the third is filled with the news media: print, TV, radio, and Internet.  As usual, they’re doing what they do best, which is ignoring the ideals of journalistic objectivity that they were supposedly taught back in school.  Instead, they toot their kazoos and slide whistles for “their guy” and furiously throw pies and spray soda water at “their guy’s” opponent.  Sometimes they’ll stop for a moment to bop rival journalists (i.e., those who support “the other guy”) about the head with those oversized bats or mallets they carry around, but they soon tire of that and go back to competing how many of their number they can cram into “their guy’s” bandwagon and then drive around the ring.   


All this cacophony and puerile silliness merely nauseates me, who’s been around for awhile, but I can only imagine it’s bewildering to folks like my older daughter, who’s 18 and thus can vote for the first time.  Daily, hourly, the clowns tumble and gyrate and stamp their oversized shoes and screech merely for the sake of being the loudest under the big top.  The news media are the worst clowns of all, as they’re not bound by even the benthic-layer standards of “decency” that politicians at least wave at in passing. 


So for you younger folks, here are some things to remember when you read, watch, or listen to the news clowns….       


Be like Missouri.  The unofficial motto of the state of Missouri is, “Show me.”  As in, I’m skeptical and won’t believe unless you can prove it to me.  If your parents told you not to believe everything you read in the newspapers, then that should go double—no, triple—for what you read on the Internet.  Because….


Anyone can say anything anytime.  You don’t need to be a journalist or a scholar to pontificate about politics.  Hell, you don’t even need a computer: a cell phone will do, and every crotch-scratching troglodyte in America has one.  And with that cell phone, you can text or post on Facebook whatever pseudo-fact, taken-out-context quote, inapplicable statistic, groundless rumor, outright lie, or insane frothing you’ve heard or misheard, read or misread, or just pulled directly out of your rectum.  And somewhere, somebody will believe it (even if they aren’t an involuntary resident of a group home) because….  


Sensationalism sells.  Candidate X can’t simply disagree with your position on Topic Y; he or she must be The Reincarnation of Hitler (or Stalin, depending on your political leanings) who is out to Steal Our Freedoms/Take Away Our Rights/Destroy Our Way of Life/Kill Our Democracy.  Obviously, there can be no compromise, obviously the issue is black and white, good vs. evil, and there is nothing to think about.  For the most part, the media doesn’t in-depth analysis and consideration of all the issues, because that’s “boring” and “too cerebral,” and as H.L. Mencken said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”  Despite the fact that….      


Soundbites are not the whole story.  Energy production is not as easy as, “Drill, baby, drill.”  Female Republicans are surely perplexed at hearing that their party is engaged in a “war on women.”  You can craft a slogan for any issue, but that doesn’t tell nearly enough that you need to know about it.  But the slogans and the soundbites get slung at you fast and furiously from the media, and it’s vital that you….      


Recognize the cheerleadersOnce upon a time, when I was young, I was told that you could trust the news, that it was a watchdog to keep government from abusing its power, and that it strived for objectivity and fairness.  However, American journalism has never, ever been unbiased: some organizations currently are or have in the past been better at putting on a front that they don’t lean one way or the other, but all of them do.  You, as the recipient of news, need to be aware of the biases and agendas—left wing, right wing, pro-this, anti-that—each news outlet has, and especially be aware that many of them—especially blogs—make no secret of it.  There are some blogs that are so overtly biased that I would fact-check them if they told me that September has 30 days.  And while I was fact-checking them, I would also ask….


“Says who?”  As I mentioned, anyone can say anything anytime.  Who or what is the source that is being quoted or referenced?  Is that source actually in a position to know anything, or are they farting out of their mouth?  If they are in a position to know something, are they credible?  Or do they have a competing political interest, an axe to grind, or a fast buck to make?  Is that source biased?  Are they partisan or non-partisan?  Are they speaking for themselves, or are they someone’s Muppet, with a hand up their backside making their mouth move to the script of the folks paying their bills?  And if they give you numbers and figures, you should….


Always distrust figures.  I’ve helped edit many government reports, and I’ve seen firsthand how they can be slanted to support one position or another, highlight one set of assumptions and downplay others, support some facts without telling the whole story.  It’s a cliché, but it’s worth repeating: “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  And while you’re paying a close attention to the numbers, be careful about certain words, because….   


Speculation is just that.  “Candidate W implies that he possibly will…”  “Candidate X may cut funding for….”  “Candidate Y intends to….”  “Candidate Z might introduce legislation that could….”  Don’t fall for this mealy-mouthed journalistic trick that deceives otherwise intelligent people.  Did Candidate X or Y or Z actually say they were going to do such-and-such, or is it just speculation?  Because someone could post a blog where they say that Kenton Kilgore might flap his arms and fly to the Moon, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.  Who would say such a thing?  Well, idiots, and you know what you should do with them, don’t you?


Ignore the idiots.  There are many, many people in the media and in politics who attract attention to themselves (in addition to campaign or advertiser dollars) by spewing stupidities.  There are some radio shows that I cannot listen to more than five minutes of before the logical fallacies, shallowness of thought, and belligerent idiocy literally make me feel pain behind my eyes.  Speaking of listening….


Listen to both sides.  I’m fiscally conservative and socially moderate; however, I get my news from a variety of sources, even ones I know are blatantly partisan—but I read what both sides are spitting out, even if some of it is so stupid it makes that Honey Boo-Boo show look like Masterpiece Theatre.  Because each side has their agenda, they’ll downplay certain facts or leave them out entirely; fortunately, the other folks usually pick up on them.  I’ve found that even though I don’t agree with most—or even any—of what a certain news outlet has to say, I can learn more from them than I can one from I do agree with.     


I could go on, but you’re smart people, and I think you get the idea.  It doesn’t matter to me how you vote or what you believe, but I am happy that you care enough to follow politics.  Many people don’t because, apparently, they prefer to have other people making decisions about their country, their money, and their lives.  But please, please, please question everything–everything, from everyone–that you read or hear or see.  Recognize the clown act that the news media–liberal and conservative and supposedly “neutral” or “objective”–are putting on, and don’t let the bozos bamboozle you.  Too many people don’t realize how much a show the news is putting on.     


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