Saturday, December 18, 2004

Are there two sides to every story?

I heard an interview with psychologist Drew Weston about the way we process discussion and debate, which I found fascinating. He was commenting on journalists presenting "both sides" "as if the midpoint of two biased views is somehow reality".

I've long been disturbed by the way reporters seem to work - I joke that if a reporter finds someone who believes the sun comes up in the west, the reporter will publish a story on the debated sunrise and present both sides fairly.

This isn't objective journalism. Paraphrasing Weston, it isn't objective to portray as opinion the undisputed or undisputable truth.

I've been chewing over some conservative Christian rhetoric recently, and perhaps this is a way to think about it.

On the night of the recent US election, ex Bush speechwriter David Fromme commented that religious conservatives only want respect for their views. This is a clever casting of the debate, because of course we all want to be reasonable. Reason is good. Bias is bad. But by awarding respect to views, are we agreeing that the views are respectable?

I'm not about to respect some of the views I hear, but I will respect the people who hold them, so long as their behaviours are respectable.

Mormons are taught that alcohol is bad, and they choose to not drink it. Fine. They don't tell me I can't drink. Fine. I respect them for having an opinion, expressing it, and living their life consistenty with regard to that opinion.

The problem I have with many religious conservatives, and Fromme's casting of what they want, is that they don't merely want respect for their views. What they really want is to change my behaviour based on their views. They're changing laws to preclude actions inconsistent with their views.

And while I treat them with respect for having and living their views, I cannot respect their desire to force me to live their world view.

Nor am I able to respect the journalist's desire to afford objective treatment to such unreasonable expectation.

It's fine to report on differing views of when life begins. Reporting on a debate of whether abortion should be legal, as if such were a legitimate debate, that's a cop out of real journalism. Because a debate on abortion is really a debate on the ability of a group with particular belief system to regulate the behaviour of another group with different beliefs, and that is exactly what a constitutional democracy is intended to protect against.

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