Strasbourg, le 14 septembre 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Last week, the University of Denver hosted the first 2012 presidential debate between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. However, the media coverage of the debate and the resulting political fallout will be the same; both republicans and democrats will try to spin the outcome of the debate in a way that benefits their side. Meanwhile, the news media will overflow with coverage concerning the political impact of the debate, but will ultimately fail to explain if the facts actually fit the claims made by either candidate. Instead, the American electorate was given nonsensical and derivative sports analogies purely to oversimplify what should have been journalistic analysis of policy claims.
By lazily relying on the typical horse-race coverage of elections (i.e. the news media’s focus on which candidate is up or down in the latest public opinion polls), the news media, especially cable news, have abdicated their role as fact checker. These actions further exasperate the inescapable certainty that presidential debates are more about presentation than substance. Consequently, the big news story following any and all debates will inevitably be which candidate “won” divorced from any assessment concerning which candidate, if any, actually had the facts on their side.
This week, the news media will predicatively bombard the American audience with poll numbers along with a bloviated analysis of said poll numbers with a pretentious and misguided sense of accomplishment for delivering the very “news” that they themselves have shaped with their utter lack of journalistic examination. Get ready for hundreds of hours of useless analysis and flagrant political spin; well, until the Vice Presidential debate feeds the horse-race coverage even further.
What changes, if any, would you make to the American news industry to ensure reporting of political events involved more fact checking and less horse-race coverage?
Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon during the first televised U.S. presidential debate in 1960. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Debates between presidential candidates have been a part of U.S. presidential campaigns for generations. The format of the presidential debate is typically more restrictive than many traditional formats, forbidding participants to ask each other questions directly and restricting discussion of particular topics to short time frames resulting in scripted responses rather than a true debate of ideas . Despite being heavily dominated by sound-bites and political spin, presidential debates still offer a rare opportunity for the electorate to see and hear candidates side by side.
However, the scripted nature of presidential debates allows candidates to purposefully engage in logical fallacies in order to win political arguments. Logical fallacies are intended to appeal to emotion rather than reason and include:
Ad hominem– the candidate attempts to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or unrelated belief of the person supporting it.
False Dichotomy – the candidate claims their conclusion is one of only two extreme options, when in fact there may be completely different alternatives. The candidate then goes on to show the alternative position as clearly outrageous in order to present their preferred conclusion as correct.
False Equivalence – the candidate describes a situation where there is a logical and apparent equivalence, but when in fact there is none
Irrelevant Conclusion – the candidate presents an argument that may in itself be valid, but does not address the issue in question in an attempt to shift the focus of debate to “safer” but less relevant ground.
Straw Man Argument – the candidate misrepresents the position of their opponent by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequal proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.
Proof by Verbosity – the candidate tries to overwhelm those considering an argument with such a volume of material that the argument sounds plausible, appears to be well-researched, and it is so superficially laborious to untangle and fact check that the argument is accepted as valid.
As you watch the presidential debates, try to count how many times the candidates rely on the above logical fallacies to answer or avoid answering a particular question.
In a recently released video surreptitiously recorded, Romney is heard saying that he is not concerned about the 47 percent of voters who will vote for Obama because they don’t pay income tax and see themselves as dependents of government funded programs. Some political analysts see this as damaging evidence that Romney is out of touch with the general population. What do you think?
After two extremely long and expensive wars the American people find themselves with the prospect of yet another war in the Middle East. Ironically, the argument for war with Iran is the exact same logic behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq; namely, nuclear proliferation. How should the United States deal with Iran? Can the United States afford another war? Can the United States afford a nuclear armed Iran?
However, the most important question not asked is how much of the Iran debate is motivated by politics. 2012 is an election year and the highest office, the presidency, is up for grabs. As such, much of the debate concerning Iran is geared at rallying a particular candidate’s base instead of a well thought-out policy geared towards keeping America safe.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security, works together with state and local emergency management officials to coordinate governmental responses to disasters that overwhelm the resources of local and state authorities in the United States. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, FEMA can provide food, water, shelter and medical assistance for disaster victims as well as longer-term recovery assistance through low-interest loans to businesses and homeowners. FEMA has been involved in recovery efforts following natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires, and following man-made disasters, such as the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003 and the September 11th terrorist attacks.
However, half the country believes the government, specifically the federal government, is never the solution and always the problem. Yet, they were silent during the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003, the September 11th terrorist attacks, the destruction caused by hurricane Irene, and now the inevitable devistation of hurrican Issac. Moreover, the governor of any state impacted by a disaster will only receive assistance if they declare a state of emergency and formally request from the president that FEMA and the federal government respond to the disaster. Not surprisingly, all the governors representing states impacted by hurricane Issac have accepted the serviced of the federal government despite the fact that some have openly questioned the purpose and function of such services in the past. Clay Bennett posted a cartoon on his blog with timesfreepress.com which raises a serious question concerning the function of government and federal assistance. Is government the solution or the problem? Is there a state in the union that is truly self-sufficient?
Mitt Romney has picked Tea Party darling Paul Ryan as his running mate. However, some political observers wonder if Ryan candidacy is strong enough to help Romney win the White House. What do you think?
Look beyond today’s headlines with our analysis of American politics! This blog is a feature of Pearson’s MyPoliSciLab, the most popular online learning solution for American government courses. To learn more about MyPoliSciLab, visit www.mypoliscilab.com.