2016 Obama’s America, Fahrenheit 911, and Bias

I usually don’t talk politics. Nothing can raise the dander of otherwise rational people more than politics (unless you want to throw religion in the mix). But I’m not talking religion today either.

What I do want to talk about is bias. It all began with a little mention on Facebook by a shirt tail relative:

Went and saw 2016 Obama’s America tonight with [name] and my mom and dad tonight. Very eye opening.

Unfamiliar with this particular movie (I know, I live under a rock), I looked it up on Rotten Tomatoes. It appeared to be the typical political “documentary” vilifying one side while portraying the other side as calm, rational, and particularly bright. The same method was used before Bush’s second term in Fahrenheit 911. Nothing new here. I chimed in:

From what I hear, the movie isn’t all that balanced. Here’s a quote: “Conservatives have Dinesh D’Souza. Liberals have Michael Moore. We all lose.

It’s too bad that that both D’Souza and Moore’s work are considered “documentaries.” The truth probably lies somewhere in between the two views, in my opinion.

Now, I enjoy documentaries. They generally rock. Many are biased, and that’s fine as long as the viewer realizes there are two sides of every story. One of my favorite documentaries features a whole food plant based diet as a potential treatment for heart disease. Even that movie invited representatives from the National Beef Council to have their say. And they did. I love that. One of my favorite whole food plant based doctors regularly invites nutritional authorities to speak at his weekend retreats… many of whom who disagree with his methods… so all sides of the conversation can get stated. I admire this.

I’m thinking Facebook folks aren’t as open minded. Here’s the next response:

You need to see it firsthand. We did last night. Dinesh dors (sic) an incredible job stating the facts, graciously. Things we never would hear in the media. Most of it was based on obama’s (sic) book “dreams from my father”.

Still not too bad a conversation. Only problem is that I know someone who read this book. They didn’t find anything very controversial in it. This raised a few red flags in my mind so I responded.

Sadly, people say the same thing about Moore’s work. It’s quite easy to mine quotes. Usually, when your emotions get triggered, you can suspect you’re getting manipulated. It’s the number one rule of persuasion… tweak the information to suit your purposes, rile the emotions, then you own the audience. Sad thing is the truth is usually quite mundane if not boring.

I figured this was pretty straight forward. I guess the years of my working as a local reporter makes me cringe when people don’t recognize bias and my years as a copywriter (writing ads) makes me particularly suspicious of both the blatant and subtle tools of persuasion. While I admit I’m not familiar with Dinesh, a quick perusal of his book titles on Amazon made me suspicious of his ability (or desire) to present his message in a neutral way.

Now, things get interesting:

I disagree totally. You can’t tweak facts. That’s like re-writing the history books to be more politically correct (they’ve done that too). I will give you that when someone doesn’t want to believe something, they won’t , despite the facts.

This comment floored me. Yes, you can “tweak” facts, just ask any advertiser. Ask any politician. Ask any reporter. Just by virtue of the quotes I select to use, I can make a mundane city council meeting into a knock-down-drag-out fight. Humans are complex and it’s actually quite easy to mine the bits you want to manipulate any audience.

Interestingly, we’ve also got a straw-man “they” in this statement. “They” are revising history books. I don’t know who “they” are but “they” are quite powerful, evidently.

So, how to respond when you’ve engaged someone gunning for a fight? I decided to shoot for some common ground:

I agree. You can’t tweak facts. You can, however alter the presentation of facts. Take any event, take three people who witnessed the event, and you’ll get three interpretations of that same event. That’s what I was talking about. Solid documentaries present both sides of an issue. Neither D’Souza and Moore usually do this. Sorry I’ve evidently offended you. I’ll bow out of this conversation… just thought I’d mention my boring middle-of-the-road opinion on the matter.

At this point I was hoping to not ignite a fight on someone else’s Facebook wall. Yet, this person wasn’t quite finished putting me in my place:

You have not offended me. You may prefer to see another documentary coming out. It’s called the hope and the change. It was written and produced and starred all by Democrats who voted for Obama.

Well, I’ll be darned. I just hate it when people don’t read what I’ve written. This whole conversation (near as I could tell) was about bias. Guess it wasn’t in her mind. I responded for the last time here:

I doubt that would be worth my time either. It’s likely biased. 🙂

I figured we were done, but we weren’t. She wrote:

Just thought it might be more believable to you.

Zing. She nailed me but good. I didn’t respond. It simply wasn’t worth it. In fact the entire conversation was a waste of time because the next poster wrote:

Saw this last night and it was very unemotional, unsensational (sic); just calmly presenting information thoroughly. It did not throw out a bit of info without showing where it came from and what it means. I honestly saw no resemblance to Moores (sic) tactics.

I admit it’s frustrating to spend even one minute trying to explain the subtleties of bias on an average Facebook page, perhaps it’s stupid. But sheesh,

Bias doesn’t always entail blow horns and publicity stunts. Sometimes it’s subtle, gentle, and quite comforting. It’s simply gleaning information (facts?) to suit your purposes. It’s as common as salt and to think it doesn’t exist in any ideology is naive. But to think you can address bias on Facebook (or a blog) is probably even more naive. But here I go. 🙂