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The Press’ motto is KISS – ‘keep it simplistic & stupid’

By March 1, 2004law practice

In a world where just about everyone can get sued for professional malpractice, it’s nice to know that the press is immune from making mistakes demonstrating collosal incompetence. What sort of incompetence am I talking about? Well, read this post by Bill Dyer about the Houston Chronicle’s discussion of the U.S. 5th Circuit’s supposed attempt to take up an abortion case.

And if you want to read my rant about the press, click the link below.

The press loves to fan the flames of fury about abortion, and so it has little incentive to give the average person real information about the legal landscape of the abortion issue. For example, whenever a conservative lawyer is contemplated for the 5th Circuit (or any other federal Circuit Court), the press makes a big deal about that person’s likely stance on the abortion issue. This gives a distorted view, which the average non-lawyer (and frankly, even some lawyers) fails to grasp –namely, that the federal appellate courts do not decide very many abortion issues. And in the few cases that come up there is no guarantee that a particular judge of the court will hear that case (because of panel allotments).

So any real analysis about a judicial nominee’s qualifications are inevitably lost in a simplistic, grade-school level discussion about one hot-button social issue. It’s like saying: let’s pick someone to be on a medical panel that is charged with dealing with major infectious disease issues, but let’s only concentrate on their views on one type of infectious disease (say, AIDS) and then make all of our analysis contingent on the person’s political views regarding that one disease.

The bottom line is that the press can’t deal with a story that has any level of complexity that takes it beyond a cartoon plot line. The TV stations and newspapers are the worst of the lot, but news magazines like Newsweek and Time aren’t much better. They spend too much money on being ‘cute’ and having catchy pictures and punchy headlines, as opposed to plain old sober analysis. Ever since I started subscribing to the Economist I’ve become more frustrated with poor reporting. I’m not saying that the problem is confined to reporting in the U.S. (it isn’t), but at least with the Economist I get the sense that many of the problems out there are ‘world problems.’ Our news coverage in the U.S. mostly reaffirms our sense that the only news that is worth hearing about is the stuff that directly affects Americans.

But hey, I don’t have my finger on the pulse of America. Maybe that’s what we, as a whole, want. As for me, I spent four years living in a foreign country when I was in high school and I became keenly aware that the United States, while definitely the best country in which to live and grow up, is filled with people who have no conception of how the rest of the world thinks. For example, most people in Europe have to constantly encounter people from other close-by countries who have different political systems or who speak different languages. They become attuned to the idea that there are many types of government, and many political viewpoints. In the United States, we think we are being open-minded if we consider the views of both democrats and republicans.

Everything is so neatly polarized for us in the United States. It’s like we are living in a Disney movie where all of the characters are either purely good or purely evil. And the press loves this sort of simple life. It makes everything so nice and easy. Anybody who relies on the mainstream press for their complete view of the news is making a big mistake (See this for yet more examples of incompetence) . You might as well let Colonel Sanders babysit your chickens while you’re at it.

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