Thursday, January 5, 2017

Hoof Beats and Zebras

You are all familiar with this right, the teaching analogy used by doctors? They are told “When you hear hoof beats, don’t think of zebras.” The point is that when they look at a patient, they should not immediately jump to the most obtuse malady that fits the symptoms, but should first try out the more obvious diagnosis. It’s a pretty good analogy that applies well to all situations that require critical thinking. 

If I had to pick a profession where critical thinking plays a major role, I would guess that news reporting falls pretty high on that scale. In general, I think that reporting is probably a pretty straight forward job. You gather up the facts, organize them in a way that makes sense to the consumer, and then present them. The main problem with news though is there is so much of it. So an editor has to decide what information is most likely to grab their audience’s attention, and what stories will hold it. Furthermore, the editors also have to decide how much of a story will fit in the window of time they have to present their news. It’s probably a very difficult job. Like most jobs, those that do it well are probably well compensated.

Thus we come to this story about a brutal attack on a special needs white guy attacked by a four black gentleman in Chicago. Now I am guessing that this kind of thing happens a lot, but what makes it even more heinous, beyond a special needs guy being on the receiving side of the assault, is that fact that they choose to broadcast the beating on Facebook. A note the here to denizens of Facebook: perhaps you should worry less about policing ‘fake news’ and immodesty on your site, and a little more about censoring the monsters that use your facilities to popularize this kind of behavior… just saying..

The larger story here is the editing that this story received in first the AP, and then later in the nightly news. If this had been 4 white guys beating up a retarded black guy, yelling ‘F*** Obama’, I am betting that it would have gotten widespread unedited coverage. Instead, what the monsters were saying was omitted, as well as the races of the individuals. There’s probably going to be a lot of ink on the conservative web sites about this, but I imagine the traditional press will continue sticking their ink stained fingers in their ears and humming ‘we shall overcome’ until the furor over this dies down.

But in that there is hope. Where the traditional press will not cover this, the conservative media will. The incident is getting noticed, and people – a lot of people – know what happened. This speaks volumes about the increasing divide between the traditional media and the ‘new media’. I for one have not watched a new presentation on TV in years, and have not read or purchased a newspaper in over 15 years. I suspect that anyone reading this has similar news consuming habits. In fact, I’d say that a majority of people now get their news from ‘alternative’ sources, making traditional news sources increasingly irrelevant. So while their failing to inform us of the real story behind this attack is disturbing, it really doesn’t matter to the vast majority of us. We know what happened, we know why it happened, and we will live accordingly.

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