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Sunday, September 11, 2011

From the Washington Post

Obama scores well against terrorism

Peter Wallsten
National security has gone from being Obama’s big weakness to his area of policy strength, polls find.

I note that evidence has some effect on public opinion . I also note that the President gets the credit and the blame (the buck stops there). Obama didn't get distracted by a desire to invade a country his father neglected to conquer, but I don't think he did anything special and good.

But what strikes me is that the headline and abstract guy (or gal or team) has officially decided that the facts don't matter -- that they report only opinions and not facts. The word "polls" is tacked on second to last. The distinction between what is true and what a majority of US adults think is not consider worthy of large type. "policy strength" means "publicly perceived policy strength." The distinction between perceptions and objective reality was ignored.

Somehow the rule that newspapers should report facts not opinions has lead to them reporting opinions not facts -- a discussion of the facts is perceived as expressing the reporter's (or editor's) opinions. Since everything is debated, every claim is an opinion. Of course, I'm just following Colbert and noting that the facts have a clear liberal bias.

In contrast, it is OK to report the fact that most respondents in a poll believe p or the fact that the inside the beltway conventional wisdom is q. But widely shared opinions are the most dangerous opinions. An eccentric error leads to debate, a shared error leads to ... well invading Iraq and austerity in a liquidity trap and all sorts of stuff.

This can have dramatic effects. Newspapers do not regularly report that views on the shape of the Federal budget differ and that the US public is totally wrong. The idea that huge amounts of money is spent on foreign aid with limited results can't be contested by noting that the amount of money spent is one fortieth the average guess by an US adult, because that simple fact published in the Federal Record has a liberal bias.

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