Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Never pass up an opportunity to float some propaganda

I haven't been following the tragedy in Newtown, CT very closely; I can't quite bring myself to stare it in the face and I'm reluctant to desensitize myself with another media frenzy.  Instead I want to talk briefly about the media.

As you've noticed, the events of last Friday have provided a great opportunity to bring a long neglected national debate back to the forefront:  gun control.  I tend to see the debate from one side of the argument that you will probably be able to guess easily if you don't already know, but I don't want to talk about gun control itself right now.

I read part of an article this morning that focused on how the gun debate has awakened in the wake of the Newtown shooting.  It attempted to sum up the debate in a few sentences that, for lack of an eidetic memory, I will paraphrase:

Advocates of less restrictive gun laws point to states that have more widespread gun ownership and claim that there is a lower incidence of violent crime.  Gun control advocates disagree, however, and say that jurisdictions with tight gun laws have records of lower gun violence.

Both sides of the debate could be right, because they're talking about two different things.  Through either sloppy or dishonest reporting, the reader is left to wonder which side is going to massage the data better.

Read the paraphrased paragraph over again.  Advocates of gun ownership say violent crime is lower where law-abiding citizens are not prevented from defending themselves with guns.  Advocates of gun control say gun violence is lower where there are fewer guns on the books.

Violent crime ≠ gun violence.  A crime could be committed violently with guns, knives, baseball bats, binder twine, a roll of quarters, or bare fists.  Gun control only attempts to take one class of tools out of the hands of criminals.

Today I'm not going to argue about whether gun control would be fruitful or not.  I only want to draw attention to the fact that honest and informed dialog is not going to be possible if we're not going to hold our sources of information up to better scrutiny.  This instance happened to be obvious to me because I've had practice looking for cases where my political opponents try to have a debate on their grounds under their terms and treat any sign of skepticism as an act of bad faith or ill will.  There have been other instances when I've been let down by sources I thought were more trustworthy (I know, trust not in princes and all that...), and I'm sure yet others that I haven't become aware of.

I strive to be more perceptive.  I don't know if I'm any better at it than anyone else, but I'm better than I used to be.  I encourage everyone to do the same, to challenge their own suppositions from time to time.

A coworker of mine mentioned a few weeks ago, "I don't like FOX News.  They lie."

Honey, lying news outlets are the only game in town, including the networks and publications that tell you FOX is not to be trusted.  Best get used to checking your own facts.

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