Rule: Ask The Question Rule: Cite The Basis

Welcome to Advance The Dialog

There is an exchange that takes place between the news media, our political officials, and the public that is often referred to as the national conversation, or dialog.  Advance The Dialog gives the public a structured mechanism to enter into that conversation in a more meaningful way, to voice their thoughts on what is important to them, and to gain leverage in the discussion.

I first got the idea for ATD when, after years of watching the steady deterioration of news coverage, it reached a point of such stark arrest that it became easy to imagine a simple set of rules that, if applied, would fix the problem.  It initially surfaced in my mind in 2010 when healthcare and the Affordable Care Act were being discussed and debated in the news.  It seemed for months the discussion was frozen in a stalemate between the two opposing camps that went something like this:

Anti:  “The Affordable Care Act will explode the deficit if it is passed!”
Pro:   “The cost of healthcare will grow exponentially if ACA is not passed!”

Where, I thought, are the numbers, metrics and estimates of costs involved?  With an aging population, rising deficits and debts, and a healthcare system that falls woefully short, the need for more information seemed obvious if we were to solve these problems.  Some basic projections, please!  Eventually they came, were much debated and frequently revised.  Healthcare, like many other issues, is not simple and it takes time to cull and evaluate data- acceptable, if not entirely satisfactory, reasons for delay.

But the case for rules really gelled for me in 2011.  As the economy continued to lumber along and the expiration date for the Bush tax cuts loomed, the debate over letting the cuts lapse heated up with specific contention centered on high income earners- $250k and above.  Again, there was the predictable party standoff, only this time it went on for over a year:

Anti:  “$250k earner’s own businesses and higher taxes will hurt job creation!”
Pro:   “$250k earner’s should pay their fair share and it will help reduce the deficit!”

Week after week, then month after month, I watched in disbelief as this story continued to be ‘covered’ with absolutely nothing new added to the discussion.  I didn’t monitor my news consumption (see Mission Statement for news intake), but somewhere around the fifth or sixth month I started keeping informal track of how many news segments, over how many months, this story played out.  And more importantly, in how many of those segments was the only question I had ever had on this topic, asked:

How many of those $250k+ earners are actually job creators?

The unofficial result, my best conservative guesstimate is-  in roughly 60 segments over approximately 11 months, only 3 times did I see the question raised or addressed in the news.  In other words, only 5% of the time did the news media advance their coverage on this story in even the most basic way, and over almost a years time!  That is pitifully low. Hence, the formulation of my rule:  Ask the Question.

Similarly, I wondered (also illustrated in above examples), how many times have we seen the media allow conflicting assertions by two parties, on a single point, to extend for prolonged periods of time, without examining the foundations of those assertions?  Talk is cheap and repeating a claim over and over becomes accepted as truth over time. A simple validity check, something to hold people- legislators, experts- accountable for the claims they make, was in order. Thus the rule:  Cite the Basis.

Yes, the problems are big and messy, data is hard to come by, and meaningful studies take time.  But if even just these two rules were followed with regularity by the media, we could increase our understanding of the issues by so much more, and at a vastly accelerated pace!  And it is imperative that we do, because we are facing very big issues. More importantly, it is our right.

So please, join me in this quest.  Vote on the issues or questions you want covered. Enter your own suggestions for them.  Call out the media when they break The Rules. Comment on my blogs, or simply contact me with your thoughts.  I need your help.

It’s your Democracy!

By mimiv

I was a software engineer in hi-tech for 23 years, now writing- this blog.