Saturday, November 20, 2010

You can't do this, but I understand the sentiment

A quote from Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) caught my attention:

There's a little bug inside of me which wants to get the FCC to say to Fox and to MSNBC, "Out. Off. End. Goodbye." It would be a big favor to political discourse, to our ability to do our work here in Congress and to the American people, to be able to talk with each other and have some faith in their government and, more importantly, in their future.

I know, The First Amendment, free speech, blah, blah,blah. No, the FCC can't and shouldn't ban FOX and MSNBC. But I can sympathize with Rockefeller's thinking. Those channels add nothing of value to American political discourse. They exist simply because of the psychological principle called the confirmation bias. That says that people value information that agrees with their preconceived notions of the world much more than information from another side. For example, liberals watch Keith Olbermann because he agrees with them on every issue; conservatives like Sean Hannity because he agrees with them on every issue.

This principle came up in a recent conversation. A conservative family member who loves FOX tried to convince me she watchs it because she wants the truth. My response: "No you don't. No one watches Sean Hannity for the truth. You watch it because it reflects your view of the world." Political ideologues, like all fundamentalists, don't really want to know the truth. As Jack Nicholson says in a great scene from the movie A Few Good Men: You can't handle the truth!

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