A Philosopher's Blog

Opinion Over News

Posted in Philosophy, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on March 20, 2013
The Rachel Maddow Show (TV series)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my critical thinking class I teach a section on critical thinking and the news media. One of the points I focus on is the importance of distinguishing between someone presenting an opinionated perspective and someone engaged in actual reporting.

Obviously, any report is going to be colored by the perspective of the person presenting it, but there are clearly degrees and important distinctions. It would be an error to merely assume that all reporting or opinion giving are equal-that is, that everyone is just as bad as everyone else.

Interestingly enough, MSNBC is the leader in relying on the presentation of opinions over reporting, at least according to this study. While I try to avoid watching MSNBC, the study is consistent with my own experiences with the network and there seems to be little reason to doubt this. Naturally, one can easily check on this matter by enduring a marathon watching session of the station. Apparently 85% of MSNBC’s airtime is composed of the presentation of opinions.

While MSNBC leads the way in opinion over news, FOX and CNN have also cut back on actual news reporting. Fox News is mostly (55% opinion). CNN is still mostly news.

One obvious reason for the dominance of opinion is that chatter tends to be cheaper than investigative journalism. Since news is a business and the business of business is making money, it is hardly surprising that the news corporations have slashed back their reporting budgets. Since they still have hours to fill, opinion segments provide the media equivalent of pink slime-a cheap filler product.

A second reason for the dominance of opinion is that such material can be more entertaining than the news-in many ways, the pundits at Fox and MSNBC (and to a lesser extent CNN) are putting on news theater that aims more at entertaining than educating. This, obviously enough, ties back into the idea that the business of the news corporations is to make money.

A third reason is that Fox and MSNBC are strongly linked to political agendas. Fox is, obviously enough, very closely tied with the Republican party. While MSNBC seems to be less formally linked to the Democrats, this could be chalked up to the nature of the Democratic party rather than a lack of desire to have such a relationship. As might be imagined, objectively reporting on the facts generally does not do much to advance a specific agenda. In contrast, opinion segments are tailor-made to do just that.

This dominance of opinion should be of concern for those who wish to be well informed rather than well propagandized. As might be suspected, I would suggest avoiding MSNBC-something I have done for years.

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16 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on March 20, 2013 at 8:48 am

    “While MSNBC seems to be less formally linked to the Democrats,”

    Are you forgetting that David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs both work at MSNBC now? MSNBC is like a house organ for the Obama administration.

    • WTP said, on March 20, 2013 at 9:55 am

      Or Chris Thrill-Up-My-Leg Matthews (from Wiki) served on the staffs of four Democratic members of Congress, including Senators Frank Moss and Edmund Muskie. In 1974, he mounted an unsuccessful campaign for Pennsylvania’s 4th congressional district seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in which he received about 24% of the vote in the primary.[9] Matthews was a presidential speechwriter during the Carter administration and later worked for six years as a top aide to longtime Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill, playing a direct role in many key political battles with the Reagan administration.

      And if you believe CTUMLM voted for W. in 2000, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

      Just more Mike sophistry. And that’s putting aside the absurd belief that there are people out there who are absolutely objective in all they do. Like Mike. Oh, that’s right. Mike claims to be fiscally conservative. About that bridge…

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 20, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      I try to avoid MSNBC (I don’t like to get that stuff on my brain) and hence don’t know all the folks in their stable.

      I didn’t claim that MSNBC is not linked to the Democratic party, just that they are not as strongly linked as Fox News is to the Republicans. Part of this is due to the fact that the Democrats are generally less organized than the Republicans.

      • WTP said, on March 20, 2013 at 3:59 pm

        Part of this is due to the fact that the Democrats are generally less organized than the Republicans.

        Or so they’d be happy for you to believe. The GOTV effort in the last campaign, not to mention the degree of GOP infighting going on, would suggest otherwise.

  2. ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 20, 2013 at 10:47 am

    “The goal of modern propaganda is no longer to transform opinion but to arouse an active and mythical belief.” ~ Jaques Ellul in: “Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes”

    This is what most people (like WTP) have: “an active, mythic belief.”

    • WTP said, on March 20, 2013 at 12:17 pm

      Geez, still butt-hurt because I find conspiracy theories to be load of bunk. Curious…two questions:

      1) Is the phrase “most people” like WTP here or are there some other “most people” here who have an “active, mythic belief”? TJ? Magus? The Perfessor?
      2) Do you buy into what MSNBC, the subject of this post, is selling?

      • T. J. Babson said, on March 20, 2013 at 1:39 pm

        WTP: do you still doubt that a secret cabal known as the Illuminati control everything?

        If that is their real name.

        • WTP said, on March 20, 2013 at 2:30 pm

          Oh, you mean the Lizard People who live in a deep underground bunker on the far side of the moon and control the world via chips that they implanted in the brains of 33rd degree Masons? The ones who generate fake conspiracy theories, like 9/11, JFK assasination, moon landings and such? Sure, I believe in that. Who doesn’t?

          • WTP said, on March 20, 2013 at 2:46 pm

            Damn…just realized I forgot something…The real secret that the sheeple still haven’t picked up on is that the Lizard People are also known as the Joooos.

            • ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm

              Those advancing the dominant opinion have drunk the Flavor-Aid.

              And you know who you are.

              “Hurry my children, hurry please…” ~ Jim Jones (November 18,1978)

              AUDIO – Jonestown FBI Death Tape – http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/AboutJonestown/Tapes/Tapes/DeathTape/death.html

              See: Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple – http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/

              The Spiral of Silence…

              “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”

              “Spiral of silence theory describes the process by which one opinion becomes dominant as those who perceive their opinion to be in the minority do not speak up because they fear isolation from society.”

              The Agony of Truth Denial…

              “After writing a series of articles documenting the discrepancies and outright lies in the official narrative of the Sandy Hook shooting, Professor James Tracy of Florida Atlantic University shot to international attention when the establishment media began covering his work. Now, Dr. Tracy is left trying to explain the misinterpretations, lies and soundbites that the mainstream media is using to discredit his work. Find out more in this week’s GRTV Feature Interview.”

              See: The Sandy Hook Controversy – James Tracy on GRTV – http://www.corbettreport.com/the-sandy-hook-controversy-james-tracy-on-grtv/

              VIDEO – Psychologists help 9/11 Truth Deniers – http://youtu.be/UiSciPYXCY8

              The mass media-government always makes the right decisions and loyal Americans accept these decisions without question.

              Those who question and depart from mass media-government groupthink will be called: “truthers.”

              Groupthink (Wikipedia) – “Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking.”

              Those who depart from mass media-government groupthink will be cut-off from society, demonized, and held up to public ridicule and punishment.

              Fear will be instilled within the general population; thereby coercing most peoples to “toe the line” or suffer the consequences.

              Groupthink (Wikipedia) – “The dysfunctional group dynamics of the “ingroup” produces an “illusion of invulnerability” (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the “ingroup” significantly overrates their own abilities in decision-making, and significantly underrates the abilities of their opponents (the “outgroup”).”

              Spiral of Silence (Wikipedia) – “The spiral of silence is a political science and mass communication theory propounded by the German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. Spiral of silence theory describes the process by which one opinion becomes dominant as those who perceive their opinion to be in the minority do not speak up because they fear isolation from society.”

              Overcoming the silence

              The theory explains a vocal minority (the complement of the silent majority) by stating that people who are highly educated, or who have greater affluence, and the few other cavalier individuals who do not fear isolation, are likely to speak out regardless of public opinion.[8] It further states that this minority is a necessary factor of change while the compliant majority is a necessary factor of stability, with both being a product of evolution. There is a vocal minority, which remains at the top of the spiral in defiance of threats of isolation. This theory calls these vocal minorities the hardcore nonconformist or the avant-garde.

              Hardcore nonconformists are “people who have already been rejected for their beliefs and have nothing to lose by speaking out.”[3] While the avant-garde are “the intellectuals, artists, and reformers in the isolated minority who speak out because they are convinced they are ahead of the times.”[3]

              See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiral_of_silence

              Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Wikipedia) – “In this work, Kuhn challenged the then prevailing view of progress in “normal science”. Scientific progress had been seen primarily as “development-by-accumulation” of accepted facts and theories. Kuhn argued for an episodic model in which periods of such conceptual continuity in normal science were interrupted by periods of revolutionary science. During revolutions in science the discovery of anomalies leads to a whole new paradigm that changes the rules of the game and the “map” directing new research, asks new questions of old data, and moves beyond the puzzle-solving of normal science.[1]

              See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Structure_of_Scientific_Revolutions

              “Shut up Copernicus, you anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist truther!”

              Media-mind = groupthink?
              Science or Conspiracy Theory?
              Lies or Truth?
              Truth or Lies?
              Conformists or Truthers?
              Social Acceptance? or Shame and Ridicule?
              Sham Science, Media Bullying, and Institutionalized Lies?

              The fate of Christian “truther” Stephen: “Now when they [=Jews] heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him… they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.” ~ Acts 7:54;57

              “Shut up Stephen, you anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist truther!”

              “Who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men” ~ Saint Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:15)

              “Shut up Paul, you anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist truther!”

              Science and Lies?

              Theory and Truth?

              How to “shut up” an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist truther:

              Democracy Now – The anti-semitism “trick” used on critics of Israel – http://youtu.be/uW3a1bw5XlE

              Logic 101 – The ad hominem fallacy- http://youtu.be/FD50OTR3arY

              “Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.”

              “Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the “ingroup” produces an “illusion of invulnerability” (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the “ingroup” significantly overrates their own abilities in decision-making, and significantly underrates the abilities of their opponents (the “outgroup”).”

              See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink

            • WTP said, on March 23, 2013 at 1:59 pm

              Heh.

  3. Douglas Moore said, on March 21, 2013 at 12:04 am

    MSNBC is a failed business. If I were a politician, I wouldn’t want to associate with such low ratings, either. Fox has quite a few liberal commentators, but those guys never ruffle Mike’s feathers (because he agrees with them) and thus don’t garner his attention. The one conservative voice on MSNBC got the axe; Pat Buchanan. And can anyone name a single person on MSNBC with the intellectual clout of Krauthammer or George Will? They’re both journalists at the Washington Post, too, hardly a right-wing entity. All in all, there’s just a lot more rigor at Fox. It just happened to break out of the mold that CNN created and the liberals have yet to recover.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 22, 2013 at 10:02 am

      I’ll agree that Fox is better than MSNBC.

      Certain “liberals” annoy me, usually by violating the principles of classical liberalism. For example, Bloomberg annoys me with his view of the role of the state. While I think people should choose not to be fat, I am against the state using coercive power to keep people from buying big sodas. But, I would support a tax on the big sodas that went directly into a health fund-perhaps one to offset the medical costs or for education. That is, “fatties could chose to be fat”, but would also have to contribute to offset the cost to the non-fatties for their fattitude.

      That seems to be a classic liberal view: people can self-abuse, but have to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

  4. Nal said, on March 21, 2013 at 11:57 am

    An opinion should be supported by an argument. If the argument is sound the opinion is arrived at rationally. Consider the opinions on MSNBC and FOX regarding same-sex marriage. The opinions for and against same-sex marriage differ in their rationality. I would like to see more philosophers critiquing the arguments supporting the opinions found on MSNBC and FOX.

    • WTP said, on March 21, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      I would like to see more philosophers critiquing the arguments …

      Philosophers? You’re way off. That’s 3 blocks over. This is Sophistry here. Arguments are connected series of statements intended to establish propositions. We already have our propositions. Well, confirmed beliefs actually. Of what use is anything else?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 22, 2013 at 9:56 am

      Doing that could be a full time job. Pundits are essentially rhetoric and fallacy machines.


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