No matter what

A road sign with the word Choose and arrows pointing left and right

In America, we like to choose sides. We make a decision and then stick to it. Nothing you can say or do will convince your buddy to change his ways.

Take for example the Cola Wars. There’s been a rivalry between the drinkers of Coke and Pepsi for generations, with both sides insisting that their favored beverage is better. While I’m sure you know somebody who has no preference, most of the people in my circles are dedicated to one brand over the other. One side insists that Coke is the only soda worth drinking, while the other will select water rather than accept a cola other than Pepsi.

It’s the same thing with sports teams. Or Ford vs Chevy. Or those old commercials with a bunch of guys yelling “Tastes great!” and “Less filling!”

In most cases it’s all in good fun. But often we invest so deeply in our devotion toward one side over the other that it’s no longer trivial. Eventually, these disputes become much more heated when the loyalists on the two sides face off on a political issue.

The Truth, the Whole Truth

If you’ve been following this column for any period of time, you know that I have no patience for liars. If your argument is built upon a foundation of falsehoods, I want no part of it. I wouldn’t want to stake my reputation on something I know not to be true, and I can’t conjure up the desire to have a conversation with someone who deals with fantasy rather than facts.

We have a world of knowledge at our fingertips. Our computers and smartphones can lead us to the answers to just about any question imaginable. But we have to be willing to use discernment. We have to take precautions, to make sure that what we hear and what we read is honest and trustworthy.

Sometimes the lies are obvious. Others, though, are partially shadowed. Whether these are half-truths or unspoken realities, we can count them as lies because of how they’re presented. We may be told a less than complete story or, quite often, we just don’t listen well enough. We hear the things we want, and ignore the rest.

If you always believe what you’re told without doing a bit of investigating on your own, you’re taking a big risk. You could end up putting your trust in a person or an ideal only to be greatly disappointed in the long run.

Take for example the woman in Indiana who counts herself as a supporter of President Trump. She voted for him because, among various reasons, she liked his tough stance on undocumented immigrants. But she didn’t think that her husband, who came to the States illegally from Mexico nearly twenty years ago, would be deported. She heard Trump talk about kicking out criminals, but never suspected he was talking about people like her husband. And yet, he was detained, then sent to Mexico on a one-way trip.

Or the mother in Tennessee who told the Washington Post that it was tax credits from Trump that made her unemployed son’s health insurance premiums drop by nearly 85 percent. In reality, those savings were the result of subsidies from the Affordable Care Act, which is still the law. Ironically, repeal of the ACA – a key talking point of Trump’s campaign – will cause those subsidies to end, thus causing her son’s insurance premiums to skyrocket.

In both cases, and a multitude of others, overwhelming loyalty prevented these people from seeing and understanding basic truths.

It becomes part of you

Dan Pfeiffer, who served as Senior Advisor to President Obama, recently said, “Being for Trump becomes part of someone’s identity.” While he is clearly partisan, Pfeiffer’s words ring true. Trump himself made the claim that he could shoot someone and not lose support. Based on the enthusiastic attendees at Trump’s rallies, he’s right. There are a lot of people who are willing to accept anything Trump says or does and remain on his side.

It didn’t matter to them when Trump reversed his campaign promise to label China a “currency manipulator”. They seem okay now that Trump has changed positions on NAFTA and NATO, and that he has flip-flopped on several health care issues. They stand by their votes for him, and they eagerly sign up for tickets to his rallies where they laugh at his jokes and feel good about the choice they made.

They refuse to be convinced otherwise, perhaps because they just don’t want to admit that they fell for a con.

I wonder what it will take, what abuse of power or act of greed, before they see clearly.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald May 4, 2017.)

News: Shaping the story

Take a close look at this comparison I stumbled upon while roaming the internet:

Notice the differences? From straightforward reporting of a fact to hyper-partisanship, these six American news sources approached the Hillary Clinton email story with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

One quick note, the one news network that seems to get the most criticism from right wing pundits — and especially in comments on social media — is NBC (along with its sister network MSNBC), yet its coverage of this story seems to trend toward viewing Clinton in a negative light.

Let’s take this globally and look at how a few other news sources presented the story.

Reuters leads with “Embattled”, suggesting that Clinton is in a precarious struggle. Note how the story is paired with a photo showing Clinton with a rather alarmed expression.
BBC News presents Clinton in a more conciliatory manner, as if she is being victimized by the State Department not releasing her emails… though the headline ends with “controversy”, making sure to paint the story negatively and with the promise of future trouble. 

UK’s The Guardian not only flame-throws with “scandal” in the headline, it also provides a short list of questions guaranteed to draw the reader further into the fire. Yet the editors also made sure to include a picture of Clinton with a “What, me worry?” pose.
Finally, Al Jazeera takes a mixed approach, highlighting Clinton as aggressively trying to clear the air but coupling with a much more casual photograph.

What have we learned?

It’s clear that one story can be handled — or, perhaps, manipulated — by major news outlets. They do so to grab an audience and, sometimes (more often than not), to shape the tone of the story to match the news organization’s own agenda.
It makes sense; if Fox News knows that its audience is overwhelmingly anti-Clinton, then to please the audience the network is more inclined to present stories in such a way that is not favorable to Clinton.
This is further evidence that you should never rely on a single news source. Instead, take the time to explore various outlets to be sure that you get balanced, credible information.