Right Question

Asking the right question is usually more productive than trying to prove the right answer.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Facts are Facts. Aren't they?

I'm not sure whether this is actually a recent trend, or just something I've been noticing more recently, but it seems to me like people on the left and the right can no longer debate reasonably about anything -- not because they have different opinions and beliefs, but because they can't even agree on the basic facts involved.

Take the memo behind CBS's reporting on President Bush's service in the National Guard. It's been widely reported that the document couldn't have been produced on a '70's typewriter, that the secretary who would have typed them said they were fake, that they were provided by a clearly partisan source who said he had no idea where he got them from, and that they contained basic errors like ordering him to report on a weekend when the base would have been closed. And yet, the CBS report dodged the question, investigating only the narrower question of whether political bias influenced the reporting. Now, a new article in the New York Review of Books lays out the new liberal consensus -- there's no reason to think the documents were forged. (via TigerHawk via Power Line)

Take the tragic situation of Terri Schiavo and her family. Clinically, she's in a Persistent Vegetative State. CT scans show that much of her cerebral cortex is physically gone. Yet, proponents of ending her life routinely describe her as in a "coma" or even "brain-dead". Far worse, doctors opposing her death have made a number of misleading claims, culminating in this article for the Florida Baptist Witness: "“Terri’s not that bad,” Hammesfahr said. “She is like a child with cerebral palsy. She can speak. At least when I saw her, she would speak very slowly. She would sort of form words, she would move her arms and legs at command. She could understand questions in English.” If that were true, this truly would be a monstrous injustice.

These are just two examples, but just about any issue in the headlines provides a similar example. Once upon a time, the role of the press was to investigate and report and help to establish the facts. Then pundits and politicians would stake out positions and argue them on a mix of those facts and their values and beliefs. Now it seems like the debate never gets beyond the question of the facts. We don't discuss what Social Security should accomplish -- we argue about how much it will cost and when it will "go broke". We don't discuss who should make end-of-life decisions or how -- we argue about what the condition of one patient is. We don't discuss the circumstances under which military force can be justified -- we argue about whether the Iraq war was "unilateral" or whether Hussein had "WMD's". In short, we don't really discuss anything political anymore. And that's a shame.


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