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Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Curse of Intellectual Dishonesty

The Curse of Intellectual Dishonesty

One of the great things about living in a free society is that we are free to disagree. I think Baseball is the greatest American sport, you think the greatest American sport is Football. You love the cities of the East, I like the mountains of the West. You believe in a strong, centralized government, I believe in a limited, minimal government. You think taxes are too low and I think taxes are too high.
It all works, providing we are honest in our debates. While the two of us may embellish our facts from time to time in a one-on-one debate, it’s generally understood that our influence is limited. However, the more powerful position we have, the more we need to understand the critical importance of getting our facts straight. Some of us, such as news reporters, have an obligation to tell the truth and not shade it to reflect our own personal bias.

When I listen to Rush Limbaugh, I know I am hearing his personal views and opinions, but I do expect him to be intellectually honest, i.e. to not give out false information or tell untruths. But at least I know Rush is speaking from a perspective, he wants to promote a conservative message.

However, when I listen to the nightly news or read The Washington Post or the New York Times news sections, I expect to hear honest, carefully considered news. Of course, in this day and age, I would be disappointed, just as I was disappointed when Dan Rather promoted, without research, a story on George Bush and the Air National Guard that could have been easily proven to be false.

I am disappointed again. Recently, the New York Times wrote a series of articles about how troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have committed murder in American cities and towns in epidemic numbers. The articles talk about how these war veterans are killing Americans in town after town in growing numbers, something the Times describes as a "…phenomenon tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak."

The Times talks about 121 cases and even includes in their "killing" definition, car accidents (a stretch at best). Their new story line is that "Americans are being cut down by violent irrational soldiers we can never hope to understand." Sounds awful, doesn’t it?

But there’s one little catch, the numbers (which the Times didn’t bother to check) don’t hold up under scrutiny. It turns out when compared to the national average, returning vets are one-fifth as likely to be killers as your average 18 24 year old male. That’s right, less likely!

As Dan Rather might have said, "Let’s not be bothered with the facts we have an image to create, a story to slant, a message to get across to the American people." Intellectual dishonesty is not only wrong, it is dangerous, especially when it comes from institutions we should be able to trust. 

All Americans ask is for their news sources to be honest and straightforward. They understand that the editorial section of the paper is about opinions, but they want their front section to be hard, objective news without any agenda. We used to have papers like that. It didn’t matter if the owner was a liberal or a conservative, we could count on honesty. It’s no wonder the New York Times readership is shrinking rapidly and that their financial balance sheet is covered in red ink. It’s no wonder the mainstream media is held in the same regard as a used car salesman by the average American. They deserve no more.

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