Pundits: Impeding Discourse

I stopped watching all cable news because I lost all respect for those who report it.

For one, they are not reporters.  They are pundits.  The definition of pundit says “a source of opinions; a critic”.  I may be alone in this, but I expect a pundit with a national audience to offer opinions based on the examination of available data, exploration of all sides of an argument, and a fair evaluation of the above.

I understand individual pundits might arrive at different conclusions based on the interpretation of the same facts, and I understand that reflects attitudes and world views that are specific to each pundit.

I don’t expect pundits to mislead, selectively edit available data to favor one particular position, or to lie.

But they do.  The arena of today’s social and political discourse is dominated by well-known personalities who routinely get caught using quotes out of context, editing data and presenting it in misleading ways, and outright lying to their audiences.  And it’s not just the cable news.  It’s pervasive throughout the spectrum of social and political commentary.

I may not respect them for their lack of honesty, but I understand why they do it.  It’s money, power, influence, and loyalty to a particular ideological position.

What I don’t understand is the reaction of their audience.  It takes one lie for me to lose all trust and respect for a person, yet for these pundits there are no negative consequences for repeated examples of quote-mining and out-right misrepresentation of facts.  No negative impact on viewership, no disgrace for being caught in a lie, no demands for apologies from their audience.

One could easily surmise their respective audiences want to be mislead, misinformed, and lied to, but I don’t think that’s it.  Part of the answer is the various cable outlets do not self-police; they do not run retractions, explanations, or ever admit they were wrong on anything they “reported”.  The other part is the audience itself.  A pundit’s typical audience does not critically examine claims, engages in no independent fact-checking, and makes no demands for accurate facts and information.

It’s the “other side” that usually points out errors of omission and deception, but the pundit’s core audiences are not listening to what the other side is saying, so they never hear about being lied to.   Worse yet, from their pundits they hear about the lies of the other side, so they are left with an impression that 1) everything they hear is the truth, and 2) the other side always lies.

Nowhere is this more evident than when I get into discussions with left-leaning or right-leaning individuals populating forums, Facebook, and other sites where discussions might ensue.  There is an immediate indignation when I try and point out some of their respective views may not be based on an accurate understanding of the concerns of the opposition.  Did I say indignation?  I meant hostility.

Liberal see anyone questioning the purity and motives of The Left as rabid Tea Party members intent on spreading racism, protecting Wall Street, and taking this country on a path of destruction.

Conservatives see anyone questioning the purity and motives of The Right as godless communists favoring a nanny state, wanting to take the savings of hard-working people (to give to illegal immigrants), and intent on the destruction of the American way of life.

Wherever I engage one side or the other in discussions over a given issue, my arguments often get dismissed; not with reason, but with soundbites.  Links provided in support of the soundbites are skewed to support those soundbites.  The arguments I hear are seldom the person’s own, but rather echo each side’s accepted “truisms”.  The overall attitude allows no possibility dissenting arguments hold any validity; if the argument doesn’t match the political dogma, it is not worth considering.

That is the state of matters; pundits have succeeded in painting the “other side” as incapable of coming up with any good ideas, as not having any legitimate concerns, and as being “The Enemy”.

The result is a lack of discourse, no possibility for compromise, and justification for strong-arm tactics by whichever side happens to hold even the slimmest of political advantage.

OK … I wrote all this, and I bet the majority of the people did not make it half way.  But for those who did make it all the way here, I remind you it’s “your side” I am writing about, and I urge to take charge of your opinions, and make them truly your own.

Do your own research.  If you cannot find unedited news sources, listen to multiple news sources.  Think about the different takes or slants presented by each side.  Look for a third side (foreign news sources offer a different perspective on our own events), and then sit and think.  Evaluate.  Use your own cognitive process to come to an understanding of what you have read.

Don’t stop there.  Discuss this with friends to get their opinions, especially if they differ from your own.  Likely you will get sound bites being thrown back at you, and you will know you are engaged in a pointless endeavor with someone who abdicated their own thinking to others.

But once in a while you will run across persons who have given it some thought, who can see the complexities of a given issues, and who are themselves struggling to find answers to difficult questions.  You will recognize them by their ability to argue multiple sides of a given issue, to concede the validity of at least some of the concerns from each side, and by them striving to find common ground from which to attack political and social problems.

Discussions are what gets your own brain to consider other viewpoints, to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes, to gain a broader understanding of what the true scope of an issue encompasses.

If you do all that, two things will happen; one, you will gain a healthy measure of disgust for the pundits, and two, you will be on the path to better decision-making.  It does not mean you will have answers, but you will have a better understanding of the questions.

A word of warning; you will be in the minority, looked down upon by both The Left and The Right, because you, as a thinking individual, are of no use to them.  It will not be fun.