The recent George Zimmerman trial and verdict has highlighted to me an unpleasant side-effect of living in the 24-hour news channel culture. We are in danger of becoming a nation of pundits – of self-appointed experts on everything!
I can’t watch Nancy Grace. She gets a few facts, prejudges a situation, then tenaciously trumpets her position as if it is black and white – clear beyond dispute. She may be the worst of the worst, but the cable news channels are filled with her ilk. Bill O’Reilly. Rachel Maddow. Sean Hannity. Lawrence O’Donnell. Chris Matthews. And the radio airwaves bristle with the opinions of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. ESPN gives us the hysterical rantings of Stephen A and Skip.
These people hold a wide range of opinions on a wide range of subjects. What links them is the belief that their views are absolutely right, that the other side is evil or stupid or deceived, their willingness to trumpet those views loudly and defiantly regardless of the factual support, and their unwillingness to even consider contrary opinions. These pundits tend to emphasize volume of argument over logic.
Are we in danger as a nation of being shaped by their punditry? In blogging, are we establishing our own little havens of punditry? Are we channeling our inner Nancy Grace, or Rush Limbaugh or Chris Matthews? Do we take a cursory look at the facts, make a snap judgment, then make bold pronouncements based loosely on the facts and largely on our prejudged ideas?
Look at the responses to the Zimmerman verdict. Just the facts, ma’am:
- None of us was there that night when Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman had their encounter. Our opinions are not firsthand, but shaped by others.
- None of us (I hope) watched the trial coverage gavel to gavel, nor likely read a full court transcript. When we opine on this matter, we are doing so on the basis of partial, not complete knowledge.
- Regardless of whether we admit it or not, our views of the events are shaped as much by our own experiences and attitudes as they are by the facts of the event. If you are a black man who has experienced profiling or DWB or other such abuses, you are likely to view this situation differently from a suburban white businessman who was robbed by a group of young black men. Our views are shaped by our experiences. No matter how objective we claim to be, we are subjective – all of us. We are shaped by our upbringing, environment and experiences.
- Our views of the events are shaped largely by the coverage we watch. If you watch Fox, your fair and balanced view is likely to skew in one direction. If you watch MSNBC, it is likely to lean forward in another direction. We are shaped by the opinions of the pundits.
Each of us is entitled to our opinions and the whole point of this blog is to allow people to share their opinions. That is what we are about. But we need to be careful to not imitate Nancy Grace or Rush Limbaugh in our discussions. We need to be careful to be as well-informed as we can before we opine. We ought to demonstrate opinion humility – “this is what I believe based on the information I have.” We must listen to others, even those whose opinions diverge from our own. We must articulate our views clearly, but avoid the blustery ways of the pundits I’ve mentioned.
That’s my opinion.