Responding to the Journalism Crisis


Yesterday I was involved in an “animated” discussion about immigration triggered by “the caravan” that is making its way to the US border. I have read the “suggestion” by people on social media that we should carpet bomb the caravan, that the caravan is being funded by George Soros and is full of criminals and terrorists. I’ve also read sources debunking some of the extreme claims made about the caravan.

The reporting is all over the board. That is problem, not just in regard to this “caravan” issue, but in general. Because journalism has all but thrown off the façade of being unbiased, people don’t trust journalism anymore. We are experiencing a journalism crisis in the United States today.

As the “conversation” played out on my social media page, one person demanded a source for the claims that the caravan was trumped up and funded by people like George Soros and infiltrated by criminals and people who have been deported many times before. When another person posted a Western Journal article (with the headline, Reporter Proves Trump 100% Right), the first person responded this way:

“I guess I should ha [sic] said credible evidence. A statement from an independent reporter for a right wing paper trying to spread irrational fear does not work for me.”

With a headline like that, who wouldn’t be suspicious of its content? (Unless you want to believe that Trump is 100% right.) The headline is classic clickbait. It’s designed to attract the people who want to believe every word, and it is meant to get a reaction from the people who don’t want to believe a single word.

Is this what journalism has come to?

But, I also had to cringe at the response. While I understand it, the response reveals a deeply flawed, knee-jerk reaction mentality that is just as unproductive as the clickbait headline (which is intended to provoke the reaction). We have gotten so that we dismiss anything out of hand that comes from “the other side”.

It happens both ways. People will say the same thing about CNN or MSNBC or other sources. For that reason (and others), it’s a no-win argument. It might make sense to distrust a source that is clearly biased, but bias doesn’t mean that the reporting is inaccurate.

Stripping away the opinions, the factual statements are either true or untrue – but the truth doesn’t depend on the bias of the source.

Putting it another way, it’s wrong to dismiss the statements of fact in an article out of hand just because we distrust the source. The accuracy or inaccuracy of the factual statements have nothing to do with the source. So, how do we respond?

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Skeptical Perspectives on Kavanaugh

LOS ANGELES, CA – JULY 12, 2018: Protesters showed up at Senator Diane Feinstein’s District Office to protest nomination Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court Justice.

As I write this, Brett Kavanaugh is undergoing ongoing scrutiny for alleged sexual offenses committed against multiple women in his high school and college years. People have lined up along partisan lines for him and against him. Predictable and disappointing – as always.

I fear that that the allegations are true, and we will trample over them insensitively in the rush to achieve political outcomes, both sides using them against the other. I fear that the allegations are false, and we will destroy the name and reputation of a good man and the integrity of our democratic system in the political crossfire.

Due process is intended to prevent hangings, real or political, and to provide a fair, orderly and just way to get to the bottom of factual disputes so that the truth will win out. But that doesn’t always happen. Due process outside of a court of law is more like the wild west, and sometimes the court system doesn’t even get it right. Doe process, even when done right, doesn’t always uncover the real truth.

As the Kavanaugh fiasco teeters and totters forward, Bill Cosby was sentenced for the sexual crimes he committed in 2004. Ironic isn’t it? It’s still hard to accept the verdict that Bill Cosby is a sexual predator.

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America’s Changing Melting Pot


So here’s a thought, but first, consider these statistics:

In 2016, in 26 states, the number of non-Hispanic whites who died was greater than the number of non-Hispanic whites who were born in those states, according to an analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau that was released last week. The 26 states were a diverse group in terms of geography and demographics, from Maine to Alabama to California. Nationwide in 2016, there were 0.98 births for every death among non-Hispanic whites, a rate lower than that of blacks (1.71), Asians (3.87) and Latinos (4.88).

I have seen numbers like these before on a national scale. We are tottering on the edge of population regression. People get married less, marry later, have fewer children, and these factors contribute to our population decline – at least among white Americans. Most European countries are well beyond us in this population regression cycle.

Blacks, Asians, Latinos and others have more children than whites do. If the trend continues, whites will become the minority as compared to non-whites. My children went to a school district in which whites are already the minority.

So what are the implications of this development?

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Suicidal Nation

LOS ANGELES – SEP 11: Anthony Bourdain at the 2016 Primetime Creative Emmy Awards – Day 2 – Arrivals at the Microsoft Theater on September 11, 2016 in Los Angeles, CA

I recently read an article in USA Today by Kristen Powers in which she cited a statistic that suicides are up 30% since 1999. In the article, she quotes an author who says that “despair … isn’t always caused by our brains. It’s largely caused by key problems in the way we live.” I don’t know if there’s any research or professional opinion to back that up. The author is a journalist who wrote a book. That doesn’t necessarily make the author an expert. Still, I personally think there is some merit to the point.

Kristen Powers went on to assert her opinion that “we are too busy trying to ‘make it’ without realizing that once we reach that goal, it won’t be enough.” For proof, she quotes Tim Carey about “getting to the place where you have everything everybody has ever desired and realizing you are still unhappy. And that you can still be unhappy is a shock when you have accomplished everything you ever dreamed of and more.”

In spite of the lack of real evidence, I think she has a point. The article is prompted by the suicides of two famous TV personalities who seemed to have it all, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. We don’t have to think very far back to remember Robin Williams, who also seemed to have it all. Then there is Whitney Houston who maybe didn’t intentionally kill herself, but she drank and drugged herself to death.

It turns out that the list of famous people who committed suicide is quite long. (See, for example, the Famous Suicides List) The list of famous suicides includes some of the wealthiest people of their times. (See, for example, 10 Millionaire Businessmen Who Committed Suicide and These are 10 Rich People who Committed Suicide)

What is it that possess a person who seems to have everything anyone could want in this life to commit suicide?

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Thoughts on A Plea for Round-Table Discussion, not Debates

Depositphotos_194263130_s-2015_esthermm


Larry Hurtado wrote:


Debating is a win/lose contest, little subtlety or complexity allowed.  It doesn’t make for the sort of careful consideration of matters that is most often required. It certainly doesn’t allow for people to grow, develop/alter their understanding of matters. […]

via A Plea for Round-Table Discussion, not Debates — Larry Hurtado’s Blog

I’ve often been frustrated with debates as a tool for advancing knowledge and understanding. Many times, maybe even most often, both sides claim a victory, but wins and losses are hard measured in debates. Debates are seen as win/lose propositions, but they rarely deliver that kind of satisfaction.

Listen to any political debate, and both sides will claim victory. Listen to any debate of atheist and theist, and both sides will claim victory. The after debate responses are continuations in kind of the debate – both sides trying to convince the other and the world of their victory. The claims usually fall flat and ring hollow to anyone who makes an effort at remaining objective.

If we want to get at truth and understanding, debates are not the best way to do it. Respectful discussion and dialogue are much better platforms for truth and understanding.

I am not much a debate watcher, as you might expect from the perspective I have already presented, but they serve to illustrate my point. The first debate between the famous atheist, Richard Dawkins, and his colleague, John Lennox, (the God Delusion Debate) is a good example. At one point it became evident that Dawkins defined faith one way (belief in spite of the evidence) very differently than Lennox (trust in the evidence).  Since they both started from different premises, the entire hour and a half debate was an exercise in the two of them talking past each other.

I recently listened to an interview by the atheist, Sam Harris, of the agnostic, Bart Ehrman, on What is Christianity? Harris began the interview lauding the virtue of approaching a familiar subject from a fresh point of view. Unlike a debate, Harris and Ehrman very much agreed with each other on most every point. One has to wonder what was the fresh point of view. It all had a very familiar feel.

The respect and generosity that Harris offered Ehrman in the interview would have made for a much more interesting discussion if Harris had a scholarly believer on with him to talk about the same subject. While the discussion was enlightening, it wasn’t as valuable as it could have been. It wasn’t a true dialogue – more like an echo chamber.

Today, just before I read the Larry Hurtado blog, I listened to an interview on the Unbelievable podcast of Christian philosopher, Dr. Robin Collins, and atheist philosopher, Dr. Peter Millican, on the issue of the Fine Tuning of the Universe. The discussion was exactly the kind of thing that debates and echo chambers are not.

Justin Brierley, whose podcast it is, does a great job of generating mutual respect and is generous in allowing well-rounded, nuanced discussion that is refreshing. The point isn’t to crown winners or losers in a dual of wits and rhetoric, and it wasn’t an exercise in preaching to the choir. The focus was, refreshingly, to get at truth and understanding.

We could use more of that. The one-upmanship of debates and the echo chambers of discussions with people who think like we do are platforms that are not as good at cultivating understanding, in particular, and truth as a healthy, respectful dialogue with people  think differently.

I am not going to go so far as to say that debates are useless, and discussions with people who think like we do are not wholly invaluable either. Debates certainly contrast points of view in ways that maybe dialogues don’t, and two people pulling in the same direction is, maybe, a better way of advancing a particular view or framework. Dialogues, however, take sharp edge off of debates and tend to generate more respect and understanding. Dialogues, on the other hand, sharpen our thinking in ways that discussions with like-minded people can not do.

 

 

 

The Gun Problem Needs Diagnosis


I recently read a post on social media with a quotation by Samuel L Jackson.

I don’t think it’s about more gun control. I grew up in the South with guns everywhere and we never shot anyone. This [shooting] is about people who aren’t taught the value of life.

I checked Snopes. It looks like the quotation is rightly attributed. For the record, though, Samuel Jackson denies any intention to speak in favor of guns or to weigh in on the issue. So what’s the point?

If you are still with me, I’ve got something for everyone, and I can guess that most people will not be happy with what I have to say (on both sides of the “fence”). That are sides to this issue with something like an insurmountable fence in between is what I mean to address.

So, let me begin with the quotation. For this portion of my comments, I ask that the gun law advocates stay with me for awhile. You might applaud, or at least take some consolation in what I have to say, in the end.

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