Competition among news organizations to break a story is intense. You heard it here. Fox News gives Ohio to Obama, and Karl Rove tells us why it’s too early. Megyn Kelly ripostes, “”Is this math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?” You heard it here: Fox News.
This drive to be first applies especially to big events, whether they be presidential elections, attacks on prominent skyscrapers, assassinations, or school massacres. You don’t want to be left behind. If you have to revise your early reports, that’s fine. You feel the revisions come fast as the news outlets listen to each other and assess the latest information. They take their information from the sources that are most accessible. Before sundown, the narrative has become pretty well set. Jello may jiggle a little after it’s out of the mold, but its basic shape isn’t going to change.Init
Let’s call the jello the initial assessment, or consensus account. As we consider the process by which a consensus account emerges, here are some questions to consider:
- Do we want the initial assessment to change?
- How comfortable are we with this process?
- Does the consensus account leave room for doubt?
- What if the initial assessment is not accurate?
- Where does this process leave skeptics?
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer
We are ready now to consider the biggest issue of all: how do these questions of truth, discovery, and persuasion affect our political culture? More important still, how do they affect the nature of our republic, the ability of our country to survive as a democracy? I’ve tried to avoid high-flown questions like that – I feel more comfortable in the middle ground between detailed research and abstract planes of discourse. We should venture to those planes from time to time, though, to see what we find there. We may find useful ideas, not couched in academic speak, if we look for them.