Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The danger of inaccurate characterizations

There's a fine line between a misleading characterization and an outright lie, and the news media in particular seems to enjoy dancing between both sides. There is a certain danger in that, which is compounded by its subtlety and lasting effects.

For example, consider religious suicide bombers. One could accurately characterize them as homicidal zealots. One could also characterize them as patriotic freedom fighters. The prevalent characterization among the respected figures in the society in which people decide to become suicide bombers can greatly affect people's decisions, and indeed their lives.

It's disingenuous for people, and in particular for the American news media which typically claims unbiased reporting, to claim honesty in reporting while ignoring honesty in characterizations. Moreover, there's a long-term large risk involved in deceiving the public with repeated misleading characterizations, to the point where people think they are supporting one thing, but end up supporting the exact opposite, just because of inaccurate characterizations.

Take, for example, a current topic: the housing bailout bill recently passed by the senate. Per CNN's characterization, the bill would:
limit foreclosures [and] create affordable housing...

The bill, in actuality, is a bailout for speculators and irresponsible lenders. It gives money to people who were financially irresponsible, and helps them stay in houses they should not have been able to purchase, thus making houses less affordable. It does nothing to limit foreclosures, although it does shift some liability for bad loans from the lenders to the taxpayers.

...a voluntary initiative at no estimated cost to taxpayers which will help Americans keep their homes.

Again, disingenuous at best to take the no-cost claim at face value, when the bill explicitly provides $300 billion dollars of taxpayer-backed loans for at-risk borrowers who are likely to default. That's 10x the amount shouldered to bail out Bear Sterns, and 2x the amount of the stimulus package, which was an explicit spending program of future tax revenue. How can you plan to give away twice as much money and claim no cost to taxpayers? I tell you how: by lying.

The news media has (or should have) a social responsibility to be accurate in their reporting, and this is an example of the worst kind of inaccuracy: systemic, subtle, intentional, and fraudulent mis-characterization done intentionally do distort, mislead, and deceive the public. This kind of "reporting" is so far over the line, it really should be criminal to call it news.


  1. I agree wholeheartedly. All of the plans cost at least some money. It blows my mind that when there are people struggling at or near the poverty line, the government is devoting its efforts to bail out people who earn decent money and live in $450,000 houses.

    Democrats are really alienating me with this. I want a gov't to provide tools to help the poor pull themselves out of poverty. I used to think that was part of the Democrats' platform. Now it's about helping the stupid stay stupid. Republicans are not much better about this, but that doesn't surprise me as much b/c I never thought of myself as a Republican.

  2. Lol... that post sounds almost like enlightenment. Although I don't really consider myself a Republican (I despise the religious aspects of the party policies, for example), it does seem like the more educated and thinking people are/become, the more likely they are to abandon the democratic party and their policies/ideas. As a said a while back on my blog, I think the main problem with the country is a lack of education; perhaps if everyone was educated enough, idiots like Hillary would be laughed out of the primary.