Addendum to Recent “Pseudocracy” Post: Give Tough Love to Those With Whom You Agree

Wild Bill recently commented upon the “pseudocracy” in connection with one study that suggested viewers of Fox News may be less well informed than viewers of other news programs. (We are using “news” loosely, of course, for O’Reilly and Olbermann, for example, don’t bring us news.)

As W.B. noted, a response from a Fox News employee to the study was as follows:

“Asked for comment on the study, Fox News seemingly dismissed the findings. In a statement, Michael Clemente, who is the senior vice president of news editorial for the network, said: ‘The latest Princeton Review ranked the University of Maryland among the top schools for having ‘Students Who Study The Least’ and being the ‘Best Party School’ – given these fine academic distinctions, we’ll regard the study with the same level of veracity it was ‘researched’ with.’”

Even if you are partial to Fox News and/or defensive about the study, you will note the worn out rhetorical tools Clemente uses. He attacks the school from which the study was released–not the study (yet). The “logic”: If the Princeton Review writes X about school Y, then any study at school Y must not be valid. If the P.R. had written, “All studies done by professors at school Y are invalid,” then the “logic” might work. As it stands, or sits, the rhetoric is a bit like “no I’m not–you are” on a playground.

Then Clemente wheels out sarcasm–“given these fine academic distinctions”–followed by that which does not follow, a non sequitur: “we’ll regard the study with the same level of veracity it was ‘researched’ with.” The sarcasm almost works, in isolation, but the Clemente merely repeats his logical fallacy. A fair summary might be . . . “Given that we seem to have found some unflattering comments about the U of M in the PR, we are going to pretend to dismiss the validity [I think Clemente confused veracity with validity] of the report without providing any details about the invalidity we imply.”

In other words, Clemente managed to prove only that his rhetoric and logic are as potentially sub-standard as the knowledge of many Fox viewers. But for most of those viewers, the rhetoric and logic probably “worked.”

Which brings us to some advice Wild Bill and I are considering–that readers of political writing and audiences of political media should be more suspicious of and exacting toward media with which they are likely to agree.</strong>.

Why? Well, I guess in many cases, people are more likely to think cheating by “their” team is acceptable while cheating by the other team isn’t. But second, why sell your agreement cheaply–to anyone or any propagandist. Make them earn it! So, in this instance, if I were a Fox devotee, I’d write to Clemente and tell him that I expect more of him in the way of logic and analysis. If I were a devotee of MSNBC or CNN, the Nation or the National Review, I’d give someone there what-for if she or he used the same worn, cheap tricks.

“In what particulars is the study invalid, and by what standard, Mr. Clemente?” These are the questions. Not “what kind of part school is Maryland?” Or “What bit of sarcasm do you have for us today?”


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