Research and Journalism 

Warning: This post is going to seem political in nature, but it’s not. I will use politics as my backdrop to illustrate a bigger idea. So it’s kinda like Friday Night Lights. The central characters may be a football coach and his players, but  football actually has very little to do with the show. 

One of the things that pissed me off the most about the 2016 Election is the fact that I actually got involved in it. 

You see, you have to understand that most of my mentors for a broad span of my life (1999-2012) taught me that being a Christian meant that I had to vote for republicans. So, shortly after coming to faith in Christ, they told me that George W. Bush was a Christian, and Christians needed to support Christian leaders. It’s important to note that I was never told anything about policy, character, or record/experience, which is what we should be focusing on. Just whether or not a candidate was prolife and anti-gay rights (Yeah, “biblical values” were also always only summed up in these two single issues.)  

So, as tends to be my M.O., when I escaped from such hypocritical bullshit, I threw the baby out with the bath water. I didn’t just give up republican politics, I gave up on ALL politics. It’s also important to note that, while I did abandon the notion that Republican = God’s Party, I had also never relinquished the idea that Democrat = Satan’s Team (I once even told an old friend, “As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a little bit liberal, you’re a whole lot sinful.”). Now that I think about it, it should’ve been  much easier to transition out of such thinking. If what they taught me about “God’s Party” was wrong, then shouldn’t it stand to reason that they also misinformed me about “Satan’s Team”? 

I was enjoying my politics-free life. Really enjoying it. Really, really enjoying it. Really! I don’t think words can express just how much I enjoyed it. I mean, I got to chuckle at my republican brethren every time they’d freak out, and everything. 

“No, dude, Kim Davis isn’t being persecuted for her faith, she’s just enduring the natural consequences of refusing to do her job, and forbidding the people of her office from doing their’s.” 

“Calm it down, Franky G! President Obama isn’t mocking God by projecting the image of the rainbow flag on the White House. It’s just a symbol of solidarity and unity. And it’s just weird that you would judge people for using a symbol that God used to say he wouldn’t judge people.” 

“No, Starbucks has not declared war on Christmas with their red cups. And calling yourself ‘Merry Christmas’ so that they’ll be forced to say it, just means you paid them to say it, which is odd, since you yourself don’t want to be forced to say ‘Happy Hoidays!’And your capitalistic contribution to their store suggests that their offense wasn’t so offensive as to curb your craving for a burnt caffeine fix.” 

I was just happier than a pig in poop. Well, okay. Maybe I didn’t enjoy it that much. But I at least got to enjoy the smug warm glow of someone freshly detached from expectation. 

Enter Election 2016, and the Gas Lighting tactics of Donald Trump. 

Donald Trump ran a campaign based on lies, bigotry, lies, xenophobia, lies, misogyny, lies, and, when necessary, more lies. Two of his main arguments were that America was not great because of all the undocumented Mexican immigrants hopping our border and bringing crime and drugs into the country, and Muslims using our “unrestrictive” immigration laws to act as Trojan Horses, and commit violence in the country. Those who know their history were reminded all too well that Hitler promised to make Germany great again by removing the “Jewish threat” to its economy, and that during WWII, America imprisoned upwards of 120,000 Japanese Americans, 62% of which were actually born and raised American citizens. Coupled with how Mr. Trump treated women (something that has been well documented even before his campaign), these things made me see this election, not as a political issue (mere republicans vs democrats), but a moral one. I asked myself how I would feel if they created a Christian Registry because of the antics of Westboro Baptist (treating the whole for the sins of the few). I picked my candidate, and the battle was on. 

Now, one of the main counter tactics of the President-elect was to gas light the media. Meaning that he would say something, they would report on it, and he would counter that they were lying about him. People in general were already suspicious of the mainstream media, where “If it bleeds, it leads.” (Russell Brand even said once, “Its not the news, it’s a list of carefully selected stories to continue to [control you].”) But Trump’s supporters went beyond mere suspicion, to accusation. Unless their source said it, or because the information they received made him look bad, the news media “had to be lying.” I heard “liberal media bias” more times than I care to remember. 

And that brings me to my big point. How can we know if what we are reading or watching in the media is true or not? Because I saw a version of this play out on my friend’s status the other day. 

This friend posted: I wonder if Trump would believe that it’s not the DNC but US intelligence agencies reporting that Russia hacked into DNC, if say, he attended his daily briefings. 

One of the comments that rolled in said, “Obama didn’t attend 90% of his while he was sitting president. Didn’t hear no one bitching then. Just sayin.” 

And I was just too curious. It’s one thing to say that President Obama didn’t attend some of his briefings, that’s just understandable. But 90%? So I asked, “Got some evidence to back such a bold claim?” 

But this wasn’t my first rodeo. I knew he wouldn’t answer. In the least, due to my other experiences, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect to be told to “just google it” or “look for it on Facebook” or that “it’s common knowledge.” So I looked it up myself. And this honestly pisses me off. Because in the world of reason and debate, when you make a claim, the burden of proof is on you, not your opponent. It’s your responsibility to back up your claim with evidence, not get your opponent to do it for you. When you make a claim, you need to show that you’re not just pulling that information out of your ass, or basing it on false information. For instance, if everyone I work with says that my blanket is blue, but I say it’s brown, it’s up to me to prove it, not them. “I used to have a blue blanket, but I replaced it with a brown one.”

Nevertheless, I looked it up on my own anyway. So I commented again, “Never Mind. I found what you were talking about. President-elect Trump tweeted that Obama only attended 42% of his security briefings. This was based on a false report spread by Steve Bannon and Breitbart…Fact Checkers at The Washington Post gave this claim 3 Pinocchios. In other words, the claim is one big liar, liar, pants on fire.”

To which another commenter stated, “Oh yes, and The Washington Post is such a wonderful source of unbiased truth!” (And note, once again, this person did not give any kind of evidence for this claim. It was just supposed to be taken at face value.) 

My answer to this person is the big idea that I want to share. And it is another point of contention for me. Because I’m really not that smart. Now I don’t mean that in a self degrading way, as in “I’m an idiot.” But rather that these are not ideas that I came up with all on my own. I didn’t wake up one day, and say, “You know what? I’m going to come up with certain rules for how to argue with someone…” These are just basics. Like Isaac Newton, I’m standing on the shoulders of Giants. Because, truth be told, when it comes to the more refined rules of logic and reason – the logical cube for instance –  I get lost. In fact, I find it easier to understand the fallacies than the actual rules. But the way in which people respond to certain arguments, suggests mental laziness. I ask, “Where did you get that information?” or “Can you give me some examples of what you mean?” And the answer is “Just google it, or look for it on Facebook.” In other words, “That’ll take too much of my time, why don’t you use your time to prove my claim? Or worse, it suggests that they don’t really have concrete evidence, and everything they’ve claimed is based on hearsay. Maybe even hoping that I’ll settle for a stalemate. 

And also, this goes beyond politics. You can use the following for any kind of information seeking. I just happen to be using it in a debate about politics. 

“You bring up a great question that’s worth considering. And I mean that. Because even though we live in the Information Age, where we have all the world’s information at our fingertips (literally), the internet is still full of misinformation. (The Internet said that Russell Brand died in a snowboarding accident, which really surprised him when he read it!!!) So how do we determine if a source is acting on bias or fact? 

1. Journalism 101: Report the facts, as they are, and allow the facts to make the case. It is fact that the  president-elect tweeted that President Obama only attended 42% of his security briefings. It is fact that this number was based on the story spread by Steve Bannon’s publication. It is a fact that multiple fact checking sources have proven this allegation to be false. 

So even if you disregard the Washington Post, there are still numerous credible sources that disapprove the claim. And literally all I did was google “Did Obama miss 90% of his security briefings?”. And what came up were Breitbart articles, New York Times articles, Boston Globe articles, NBC news articles, and the Washington Post article that I quoted directly in my original answer. 

2. Research 101: Use multiple, trusted, unbiased, and when necessary, opposing sources that provide evidence for or against your case. Evidence determines the verdict, not the other way around. 

In high school, I once wrote a paper advocating for prayer in the classroom. I looked high and low, but couldn’t find any evidence to support my claim. But instead of allowing that lack of evidence to change my argument, I forced the solution into my paper, because that’s the solution I wanted. So my research paper ended up being a 4-page Op-Ed with bible references to prayer. I was lucky I only got a C.

The president-elect’s tweet was based on a single source known for its alt-right bias, and fake or misleading stories. Just recently the Weather Channel debunked Breitbart’s claim that TWC disproved climate change, stating that Breitbart “cherry picked the information they wanted to hear.” (It’s always fun when the person you quoted tells you what they really said, and how you misrepresented their findings.) 

3. Just because a person leans a particular way, does not mean that they are biased toward that way. All of us lean a certain way. We all have beliefs that determine our values, ideologies, politics, etc. I daresay that it would be impossible to make even the simplest decision without them. But our leanings do not excuse us from truth

So for instance, I am a Democrat, and I value democratic values. However that does not mean that I get to deny how shady the DNC acted toward Bernie during the primaries. Or to put it in a different way, I don’t like Donald Trump. I lean away from him. But if he gets up tomorrow and states, “The sky is blue!”, I can’t say, “Well that’s a totally biased statement!”, because he would be stating the truth. 

4. I fear that certain Trump supporters claim bias, simply because the source is a liberal, and not because they’ve actually observed bias in that source. Or worse, that bias has been redefined to mean “they report more bad stuff about my guy, than their’s.” For instance, Politico fact checked every claim made by Trump and Clinton from the moment they each began their campaign up until a week before the election. Certain folks cried foul, because Trump had something like 230 fact-checked statements, while Clinton only had 150. “Why the disproportionate number of checks?” They demanded. Simple answer: Trump made more claims. It’s hard to fact check a claim that doesn’t exist. What matters in the end is not the number of claims checked, but whether they were true or not. 

The Washington Post may have a staff full of liberals. But they are under journalistic obligstion – an ethical obligation – to report the facts as they are. Just because they write a story that points out the skeletons in Trump’s closet, does not mean they are biased against him, or lying. It just means you’ve gotta do some more research.”