Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Critical Thinking: More Than Finding Fallacies

I like this article by Neo-neocon in which she shows how an article in the Washington Post is written to create the impression of Obama suffering from events that have hurt him.

The article goes on to describe the precipitous decline in Obama’s standing in approval polls this year:

His position is all the more striking when compared with his standing a year ago, as he was preparing for his second inauguration after a solid reelection victory. That high note proved fleeting as the president faced a series of setbacks, culminating in the botched rollout of his Affordable Care Act two months ago.

I offer the above as another demonstration of the care with which these things are written. Some may think reporters and editors are simply clumsy or indifferent writers, and sometimes they are. But much of the time they choose their words (and photos) with exquisite and subtle care. They also realize that most people only look at the headlines and photos of most articles, and that those are therefore the most important, and that even people who do read the article often read only the first few paragraphs.
In this article, the headline and photo have been chosen to suggest that Obama is a suffering victim—in fact, the greatest victim—of a series of unfortunate circumstances that have befallen him. Nearly a martyr. And the copy (the paragraph I’ve quoted here is the second one in the piece) reinforces that idea by this phrase, “faced a series of setbacks.” Passive voice; no actor.
I know not everyone will agree with Neo-neocon's analysis, especially if you're an Obama supporter. I offer this example because critical thinking doesn't rely just on finding fallacies. Critical thinking isn't just about analyzing arguments. It also involves identifying premises buried in choice of words that are chosen (consciously or unconsciously) to influence us.
Years ago I taught a course on critical thinking with a friend. While we did cover logical fallacies we also used articles from weekly news magazines to show how the stories were crafted to get the reader to buy into their hidden and not-so-hidden agenda. We had absolutely no problem finding examples for our class. Actually we could have picked any page at random from the typical news magazines or newspapers.

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