The mass media has become a very effective tool at leading our society astray. The mass media got the average American whipped into a frenzy which allowed our country to become bogged down in two ugly wars. The media flew high cover for the treasury to be raided and trillions of dollars stolen out from under our collective noses. They have aided these, and other, social atrocities through questionable journalistic practices. By playing fast and loose with the facts and presenting information in way so as to project balance where no balance exists, the media has cajoled us into a false sense of security and made us pliable to any lie, as long as it is presented in what appears to be an impartial and fair way. The mass media is doing us no favors.

Balance and impartiality is not established by finding two voices with opposing views. That’s easy. That is actually the lazy way of approaching a subject. Regardless of the issue you will always find a voice in the wilderness to counter the position of another. Whether it be the benefits of clean water, the sainthood of Mother Theresa or the twisted beliefs of an oppressive regime there will always be someone willing to speak to the polar side of an issue. This is a strategy for the promotion of argumentation not a road to the discovery of fact. To discover balance and maintain impartiality it requires some measurement and disclosure of findings surrounding the positions on any issue. Failure to do so establishes the conditions for a problematic practice becoming more and more prevalent in mass media today; the false equivalency.

A false equivalency is when one position is presented and then rebutted with a contrarian view with little regard paid to the support of either position. A classic example of this is found when a one political party defends its actions by pointing out a similar action by the other. The real world example being, in the wake of the financial system implosion, Republicans defending their decades of promoting deregulation by pointing out Clinton, during his time in office, participated in deregulation himself. The decades of behavior is excused by a very small two year sample which was caused by extenuating circumstances. The false equivalency is presented to project balance and give a feeling of impartiality during the discussion of the issue. There is always more to the dispute than that exposed, but the presentation of two instances of the theme provides the appearance of balance and equality on each side of the rhetorical fulcrum.

The false equivalency is also used to obfuscate issues and continue debate where none should exist. This comes about as a result of overwhelming evidence being ignored by the media and presenting the contrary view as having similar rhetorical and factual weight. The best example of this behavior is in the climate change debate, where equal time is given to both camps, regardless of the strength of support on either side of the discussion. The facts and overwhelming support on one side of the issue become irrelevant because the same weight is granted to the counter position in a hope of striking balance by the reporter. One voice is passed off as an equivalent expert, regardless of the actual expertise on the subject matter, so the journalist appears to have presented both sides of the story. Superficial information is presented and key facts are suppressed just to continue the debate and say the problem is unresolved.

The damage that a false equivalency can do in the public consciousness is immense. The climate change “debate” is still considered alive in the United States, thanks to the poor job done by journalists and the mass media. Equal time is presented to both sides and little fact checking is done to verify the validity of the information presented. The issue will be discussed in an article where an actual climate scientist will present information on the subject. To provide balance the article will then present a counter view from another “expert” without drilling down into whether the person in question has the expertise in the field to even question the stated research. Nothing is mentioned about the numbers or facts on each side of the argument. Many times irrelevant facts will be presented in an effort to confound or obfuscate the issue, allowing for an equivalency to be drawn regardless of the facts.

An example of this obfuscation comes from a recently published report from Fox News. In this article Fox reports that an important scientist had abruptly announced his resignation from the American Physical Society over anthropomorphic climate change. The facts and implications of this scientist’s actions paint a different picture. The scientist, Dr. Giaever, is a physicist who achieved fame studying semi-conductors. He has no expertise in climate science nor any dealings with climate science or climate scientists. Giaever’s closest link to climate is his study of biophysics, the study of the molecular scale organisms and ecosystems within cells. His resignation was nothing more than a decision to not renew his membership because of the use of the word “incontrovertible” in an APS statement in support of anthropomorphic climate change.

To someone who has little interest in the subject, or intellectually lazy and unwilling to fact check, this would seem like a big thing in the climate change debate. Except it isn’t. This scientist has no bearing on the subject matter and the issue is overblown by a network with an agenda. This would be like reporting a brick layer was indignant about the job your dentist did in filling your tooth (a false equivalency of my own). It does nothing to forward the debate or focus on the facts. The witness in question has no expertise in the subject matter making his testimony irrelevant and not admissible! The introduction of this concern into the debate is strategic in nature and only done to cloud the issue itself. In short, textbook obfuscation.

This is the type of behavior we must keep a look out for as we consume media. All too often we accept what the mass media presents without actually looking into the details of the subject matter. We let the media present “experts” or “skeptics” from think tanks paid for by those industries, who would suffer from the facts finding root in the public consciousness, without questioning the information or their motivation. We ignore the overwhelming support of the IPCC and accept the information provided by the many front organizations funded by Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, Shell and friends, simply because we don’t think for ourselves. We allow these false equivalencies to be promoted and allow them to poison our debate and the facts in the public consciousness. We need to be more aware of these practices and guard against them. We need to protect ourselves from the lies which have done so much damage to our society, perpetrated by those with nothing more than money and power on their side. If we don’t, who knows how far loose facts will lead us?