Follow-Up: Facts Vs. Opinions – Liberal And Conservative Media

Posted in General by TBartine on October 18, 2009 No Comments yet

In yesterday’s post, something I said…provoked some strong reactions.

I wrote that the fundamental difference between most commentary on the left and commentary on the right, is as follows:

Commentary from media outlets and personalities on the left, such as Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, consists primary of opinions, backed up by facts, and infused with passion…with the intention of inciting the passions of their viewers to act on the aforementioned facts and opinions.  This, I called “activism.”

Commentary from media outlets and personalities on the right, such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, consists primary of opinions, backed up by misinformation/disinformation, and infused with passion…with the intention of inciting the passions of their viewers to act on the aforementioned misinformation and opinions.  This, I called “propaganda.”

Some insist that this assessment reflects an opinion.  Some attempted to explain that which side is in possession of facts is subject to interpretation.  But see, that’s the funny thing about facts…they are facts REGARDLESS of what my opinion my be.  In truth, they are facts with no regard for who speaks them, or for who believes them.  I will explain, as I believe that there exists in this country a fundamental misconception regarding “fact” and “opinion.”

A SIMPLE EXAMPLE:

If I say that the sun is a near-perfect, non-solid (plasmatic) sphere, consisting primarily of hydrogen and helium…that is a FACT.  It is a fact, because it is supported by a wealth of evidence, stemming from extensive research.  This would be a fact if Keith Olbermann said it…or if Rush Limbaugh said it.  It would be a fact even if I didn’t like Keith Olbermann or Rush Limbaugh and they said it.  It would be a fact even if nobody accepted it…in fact, for a prolonged period of human history, this was either “not known” or “not accepted,” but this didn’t make it any less true, or any less a fact.

If you say that the sun (we’re assuming you’re not speaking metaphorically) is a giant flashlight, that God turns on in the morning and off in the evening…that is FALSE.  It would be just as false if Keith or Rush said it…and just as false even if everyone agreed with you.  You might even offer up facts to support the claim: “It is bright and emits light, like a flashlight…and it is dark at night and bright in the day.“  It should be obvious, however, that these facts do not make the end assertion and more true or and less false.  It is still…not a FACT.

If I say that God made the sun…that is an OPINION.  I can list any facts I wish to support this, but as it is completely impossible for the statement to be proven true or false, it will remain in the realm of opinion.  I might as well have said that “the sun is good” or that “the sun is stupid.“  These value judgments similarly express opinions, and no amount of “proving my case” will change that.  Similar to facts, the opinions do not gain any merit based on who utters them, nor based on how many people share them.

A MORE COMPLEX, AND CURRENTLY RELEVANT EXAMPLE:

If I say that America tortured detainees through the use of waterboarding…that is a FACT.  It is a fact, because it is supported by a wealth of evidence.  It is documented and admitted that we waterboarded detainees, and waterboarding meets every available definition of torture, whether we are looking at Webster’s Dictionary, at our own federal law, or at international treaty language.  This would be true if Keith said it or if Rush said it.  It would be true even if not one single American believed it.

If you say that waterboarding was performed legally…that is FALSE.  Whether or not the President approved it, or Department of Justice attorneys approved it…they do not make federal law (only Congress has that power) and they do not interpret the law (only the courts have that power).  Waterboarding is torture, by all available definitions and it is clearly forbidden according to our federal law and the international treaties that we have entered into.  Keith or Rush could make any statements they wished to to justify it…it would still be illegal and false to say otherwise.  Any facts regarding it’s efficacy (or lack thereof), it’s intended use to “make us safer,” or of the threat presented by a particularly detainee…would do nothing to render this statement any more true, or any less false.  It is still…not a FACT.

If I say that torturing detainees is un-American…that is an OPINION.  I can cite any Christian or historical objections I may have, I may mention that it is an illegal act, but in the end I am making a value judgment  which cannot be proven true or false.  This will remain an opinion regardless of whether Keith or Rush speaks it…regardless of how we feel about those speakers…regardless of how many people agree or disagree with it.

THE ORIGINAL ARGUMENT:

So, when I say that Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow use facts upon which they base opinions, this is a statement which does not reflect my views of them nor their opinions.  The facts which they employ, and which I have extensively researched, would be facts even if they were not the people uttering them.  They would be facts even if I disliked Keith and Rachel…even if I did not believe what they were saying was true.  Now, that being said…they use these facts to formulate opinions, and those opinions I do not always agree with.  That’s to be expected…I may disagree with their opinions…but disagreeing with the facts upon which they form those opinions would be pointless, and indeed, foolish.

In much the same way, when I say that Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Bill O’Reilly use misinformation and falsehoods to form their opinions, this is ALSO a statement which does not reflect on my views of the speakers nor their opinions.  The falsehoods which they employ, and which I have extensively researched, would be false no matter who spoke them.  They would be false regardless of my feelings towards Limbaugh, Beck, and O’Reilly…false whether I liked or disliked them, agreed or disagreed with them.  Sometimes, as with the “flashlight” example above, these individuals will use facts to attempt to “prove” their false statements…but as in the “flashlight” example, these facts do not make their statements any less false.  That being said…since it is these falsehoods which they use to form their opinions, I am most likely to disagree with their opinions.  The falsehoods themselves, being false, do not require my “agreement” nor “disagreement“…but the opinions based upon those statements ARE subject to judgment, and will likely only be agreed with by those who either do not require that opinions be based on facts, or those who do not know that their falsehoods do not represent facts.

To people who do not value the truth, or who cannot tell falsehood from truth, or who cannot separate statements of fact from statements of opinion…their lives AND OPINIONS are at the mercy of any speaker who knows how to capture their interest and how to speak to their fears and prejudices.  Sadly…about one quarter of Americans fit this description, and even more tragically they’re not reading this right now…they’re listening to Rush or watching FOX.