Monday, August 24, 2009

The Flaw of Believing the Human Interest Angle

Powerline has a post (many, actually) about everything wrong with Obama's health plans. I remind you that I continue not to be a part of that discussion, tho I am finding it to be one of the best political shows in town. I don't know who's right and who's wrong, who's fibbing and who's fibbing more.

The reason I note this particular post is that while poking fun at Obama, the author uncovers one of the most fundamental flaws of journalism and political discussion of our age (and that's saying a lot, given the number of contenders).
Still, the push for health care "reform" is in one important way, as your title states, a recklessness borne of arrogance -- or if not arrogance exactly, then of the echo-chamber quality of a liberalism that can no longer hear the outside world or, increasingly, itself. This is again related to the way Obama campaigned and has governed. The fact that big majorities are satisfied with the health care system in general and their care in particular just does not register with him. What registers are the Queen for a Day stories -- the cancer-stricken granny whose insurance company cuts her off three days before chemotherapy was to have begun, etc.
Putting a single human face on policy choices that will affect 300,000,000 people paints a powerful picture. But in short order it succumbs to the defects of its "virtues." The public is not yet so dumbed-down that it's going to cashier a system it knows and likes in favor of the Government Sponsored Unknown, and still less is it going to do such a thing on the basis of a handful of anecdotal horror stories -- stories that it senses are deeply dishonest for attempting to convey as routine something people know is anything but.

Set aside the Obama-specifics, which may or may not be an accurate depiction, and concentrate on what he calls the Queen of the Day stories. My experience has been that many people who work in journalism believe that complex issues can and should be boiled down to the specific human faces upon which they impact. Forget all the complicated stuff and look at this one lady, or this suffering young girl, or the heartrending story of these poor folks. Context, perspective, accuracy, even simple old-fashion veracity, these are all set aside in the rush to show the human face of the abstractions.

The result is pretty much what you'd expect when you systematically replace intellectual rigor with tear-jerking spectacle.


Dennis said...

I love your blog. I read your book. You write well about a lot of stuff.

And your concluding point it right.

But this is a travesty of a post.

First, powerline is blog that significanly to right of American public opinion on domestic issues, even more so than on foreign policy.

Second, what powerline describes is not the debate as it is being played out. As Howard Kurtz wrote this morning, lies by the right about "death panels," "illegal immigrants," and other just flat out on the face wrong arguments dominate the argument and they are ALL being made by the right.

Oh, and powerline misdescribes the health care plans anyway.

You rightly criticize those of us here in the United States for doing not understanding the complexities of the Israel/Arab/Palesinian conflcit. But you do the same thing when yous say that you are agnostic on "who's right and who's wrong, who's fibbing and who's fibbing more."

Don't mean to be harsh, because I read you constantly but you have this wrong.

rashkov said...

Is this also one of the fundamental differences between leftist and rightist politics -- that the left tends to focus on the story of the dispossessed individual rather than the larger, rational picture?

Anonymous said...

There are 40 million Americans - approx. 12% - who do not have health care. They are working poor who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but do not work at jobs that provide health care. Annual health insurance for a family costs more than the annual salary of a worker earning the US Federal minimum wage.

If you want a good and painless primer about the health care debate, read Paul Krugman's op-ed piece from the New York Times 16/08/09


PS. I still love your blog

Unknown said...

I know that you are anything but naive, but I choose to see this Queen-of-the-Day model as a tool in the arsenal of those who would deceive their readers in their misguided quest to do good, as they wish to define it. (The ends justify the means).

How many uncounted cases of Queen-of-the-Day went willfully unreported, that would have had a meaningful impact on the world view of those readers, if victims of murderous terrorists would have been showcased instead of being swept under the rug.

bruce said...

For 'lies' about 'death panels' and 'illegals' see Mickey Kaus. Or Obama.

Aviv said...

Thought you might want to look into this project: A series of infographic videos about the health care reform. They're looking for funding, and I gladly pledged $5 for the cause, 'cuz I could use some graphics to figure out what ObamaCare is all about.

(I am completely unaffiliated with the fundraisers).

Shalom said...

To Dennis,

Thanks for the chuckle in your typical-for-a-liberal post.

Yaacov clearly wrote that the quote demonstrates "one of the most fundamental flaws of journalism..." (and doesn't limit it to the left) and that the 'Obama-specifics' "may or may not be an accurate depiction" yet you can only focus on that very point, as if he was limiting his criticism to the left.

In fact, while people on both sides tend to shade the issues, it's the left that wants to fundamentally change American society by stealth. The polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans are satisfied with their healthcare, just concerned about costs, and Obama is lying about what he wants to push through--all the while ignoring the need for tort reform.