As the family renegade, the one who turned right politically, I often find myself trying to argue against such forceful conclusory statements as "Bush is an idiot" or "the War in Iraq is a disaster." (In other words, the declarative versions of the "questions" posed at the BoobTube Republican debates on CNN.)
I foolishly attempt to counter those statements with facts. For the "Bush is an idiot" assertion, I might respond with basics such as "his Yale grades were better than Kerry's" or "he has a Harvard MBA." Or perhaps I'll try for a bit more sophistication along the lines of "Sarkozy and Merkel like him." I might even do a little fighting back along the lines of "You're being regionalist by picking on his Southern pronunciation. Shame on you!"
Things get more challenging when I hear "the War in Iraq is a disaster." I usually start by trying to get my fellow conversationalist to define what a success would look like. This is always a fruitless task, since the person who holds the view that the War is a disaster can't conceive of any victory short of traveling back in time and undoing the decision to go to war in the first place. If I can tug the person back to reality, I face a new issue, one that arises because of what I call the "source problem."
You have to remember that I'm having these discussions with people who read only the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, The New Yorker, Time Magazine, Newsweek and The New Republic, and who listen only to NPR and ABC. In other words, despite the ostensible multiplicity of sites they look to for their news, all of these sites share the same view. Indeed, they share precisely the same view my family holds: "Bush is an idiot" and "the War is a disaster." The live in what Thomas Lifson calls "The Blue Bubble."
I, on the other hand, don't limit myself to these sources. Sure, I read or listen to them, but where I differ from my family is that I don't stop with them. In addition to alternately skimming or deep reading these sources, I read and listen to a whole host of other sources, with radically different viewpoints, both from the mainstream media and, often, from each other.
On the internet, daily, I read American Thinker, Little Green Footballs, Michelle Malkin, Powerline, Captain's Quarters, National Review Online, FrontPage Magazine, Townhall, WSJ's Opinion Journal, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Weekly Standard, The American Spectator, Stratfor reports, and Spiegel Online. And no, I don't read every article, in every issue, every day, because if I did I would be unable to carry on any other tasks of daily living. But I check out the top stories every day, at minimum acquainting myself with the main news and opinion. My auditory treats are the Dennis Prager show, the Hugh Hewitt show and the Michael Medved show. Indeed, I have these guys to thank for the fact that I'm in better shape now than I've been in for years. I've never been a big fan of exercise, which bores me. Having discovered, however, that I can listen to their shows on my iPod, I'm chafing at the bit to get out there and burn some calories. I look pretty good now so - Thanks, guys! But I digress....
One of the things I've discovered listening to and reading these truly diverse news sources is that I've come to trust the conservative sources more than I ever did the Mainstream Media sources. It's not just that, as a neocon, I agree with their values or the conclusions they reach running facts through their values filter.
My response is a bit more practical than ideological: Going to my conservative sources, I never feel I'm being toyed with or tricked. Each of the conservative sources is absolutely honest about its biases. If the source supports an idea or person holding that idea, it says so and explains why. Conversely, if it disagrees with an idea or a person holding that idea, the source acknowledges openly that disagreement, and then works to support its position.
This honesty stands in stark contrast to the traditional media's obsessively repeated contention that it is objectively presenting news without allowing any bias to slip in. Once upon a time, I accepted that statement as true (as my family still does), but I've been burned too many times now to believe that there's even a scintilla of truth to that statement.
If you doubt my opinion about the mainstream media's subjectivity, a good source of information about the media's myriad objectivity failures is Media Mythbusters, a wiki with which I am affiliated. Media Mythbusters collects data about the more serious media-propounded myths, none of which can be attributed to mere human error, and many of which appear to be animated by media members' hostility to President Bush, to the Iraq War and (if the media is British) to Israel. Alternatively, if you'd like to see an example of someone who never exactly lies, but who oozes Bush hostility in every ostensible neutral "news" report, just pick up any AP report that Jennifer Loven writes. (You can learn a little more about Loven here.)
Members of the conservative media are also more generous with presenting the underlying source material on which they rely or with which they disagree, something that is especially apparent on the radio. For example, on NPR, Robert Siegel will do an eight minute report that begins with his opining magisterially on a subject, and then continues with his editing in carefully selected snippets of interviews with witnesses, actors and experts. Given the limited time format, it's inevitable of course that the greater part of any given interview is left on the cutting room floor, with Siegel and his staff picking whatever money lines suit the story they wish to present.
On conservative talk radio, however, the hosts will frequently play half hour long clips, not just of people they support, but of people with whose opinion they differ. Likewise, when these hosts have guests on, the guests are not only people with whom the hosts agree, but people with whom they disagree. And in the latter case, you can comfortably settle in and listen to a free-wheeling, although never mean-spirited, discussion with both host and guest called upon to defend their positions vigorously.
But how can I say all this to my family, people who would just as soon go to a NASCAR race as listen to talk radio or read a conservative blog or newspaper? To them, despite the fact that I read two or three times as much as they do, from a much broader variety of sources, I am less well informed, not more well informed than they are. The New York Times and its ilk are the sum total of their intellectual universe, shaping their attitudes, and limiting the facts that they are willing to accept as true.
So when my family says to me that the War in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster, we stare at each other over an unbridgeable factual chasm. To me, Iraq is a vast tapestry, with some regions doing better than others, with violence still existent but shifting in nature and purpose, with its infrastructure shaky but on an upward trajectory, and with a political body that is being rather unfairly pushed to transition instantly from a violent dictatorship in a religiously fractured land into a cheery, ecumenical American style democracy. That's a tall order, and one that I think the Iraqis are handling much better than anybody had reason to expect.
To my family, however, the War has always been Bush's folly, instigated by his lies, and irretrievably hampered by his massive ineptitude. Nothing I say matters, not just because they disagree with my opinions, but because they disagree with my facts - facts that have never made it to the Times' august pages.
And so we really don't have many political arguments in my family. This is a good thing, I guess, because it advances family serenity. Nevertheless, I find it extremely sad that, because they live in a finite factual universe, my family cannot even contemplate the possibility that there are facts out there from reliable sources that might change their ideas. Bookworm is a crypto-conservative living in hostile teritory, and proprietor of the website Bookworm Room.