Rule: Contradiction Rule: Double Standard Rule: Mountain Out of Molehill surveillance

The IRS & AP Phone Records ‘Scandals’

Some off-the-cuff observations on the IRS and AP phone records ‘scandals’, the daily updates of which I have only casually taking in…

For the most part, these stories have played out the way many do.  An initial report with few details followed by ‘explosive outrage’ occurs, then a cycle of additional details accompanied by retooled outrage repeats until it has become either completely politicized, and/or a core issue is finally identified and real debate can begin.  In other words, a series of Mountain Out of Molehill (Mischaracterization sub-Rule) moments, in tandem with a gradual news release, then, if we’re lucky, the nub of the matter, and substantive discussion.

IRS ‘Targetting’

In the first case, the initial story- that the IRS ‘targeted’ groups seeking tax exempt status who had ‘Tea Party’ or ‘Patriot’ in their name- lasted several days, along with the accompanying outrage. Then, the IRS response that they had “been flooded” with requests for the status, known as 501(c)(4), and its definition- a designation for groups who “operate primarily … for social improvement” and not for “political” purposes, emerged.  From this, it seemed that the ‘targeting’ might simply be a keyword search to expedite answering the critical question of “political activity”, a threshold definition for 501(c)(4) status.  With additional news (a few days later) that liberal groups were similarly targeted, and the subsequent analysis (days later still) of the difficulty in evaluating the definition, the ‘scandal’ died down.

Now, with the House investigation, sound-byte skirmishes between Rep.’s Issa (R) and Cummings (D) make it onto TV, as each releases ‘partial’ IRS interview transcripts in their efforts to determine the existence, or not, of political wrongdoing from actions that, we now know, began with a ‘conservative Republican’ who said he was the first to flag a ‘Tea Party’, 501(c)(4) application.

Stay tuned, but so far this looks like a MooM.

AP Phone Records

As with many, my assessment of the AP story was: ‘national security vs. protecting sources/freedom of press’ issue.  The AP printed an article that the Justice Department claimed jeopardized national security, spurring the DOJ’s wide phone records sweep to find the security leak. The negative reaction to the ‘press violations by the government’ with its’ AP phone sweep, seemed exactly in proportion to that of the ‘national security lapse’ in the Benghazi embassy attack, and, to me, politically speaking, a case of ‘wanting it both ways’ for political gain.  It boils down to this- at what price national security?  Too little protection for the Libyan Embassy?  But too much sought in the AP case?  Each deserves discussion within it’s own context (which eventually took, or is taking, place), but the initial, politically driven outrage seems a bit of MooM with some Contradiction / Double Standard thrown in.

That said, who exactly is guilty of those Rule breaks?  The press?  Or those expressing the outrage- political entities or otherwise?  The ATD Rules were designed to check the news media.  In my opinion, the media is right to report reactions to stories, including outrage, as long as they continue to probe and report facts, as I think they did.  Had they not done so, and/or remained focused on outrage without applying the Rules, then the MooM and Contradiction/DS charges would apply.  This is admittedly a fine point, but this is a blog about the media.  Though the Rules can, and, in fact, were designed to apply to political entities, in this blog, they can only do so indirectly, through the media, which, as the Fourth Estate, is held to a high standard of truth and, therefore, mandated to serve as a gateway against political abuse.  But that said, since these Rules are nothing more than contructs of logic and common sense, they can apply to any arena of life where debate takes place, including the political.

So this- the AP story- was a borderline call.  Though, initially, MooM and Contradiction/DS seemed to apply, I don’t think they hit the threshold as media violations.

Have a different opinion?  Comment below and tell me about it.  We may not watch the same news shows.

gun control Rule: Ask The Question Rule: Cite The Basis Rule: Contradiction Rule: False Argument

Gun Control Debate: Same Rules Broken, Multiple Times Each

The amendment for expanded background checks failed to get the 60 votes it needed to proceed in the Senate last week.  Part of a larger bill, it was hotly debated, with criticism and accusations of misinformation coming from both sides.

So how did the media do with its coverage?

Well, there was plenty of it, but with key gaps that were repeated, over and over again.  In a 10 day period, I saw several Rules violated, each multiple times, often with the same person being interviewed on the same subject, on different shows.

Ask The Question & False Argument- it’s all in the wording.

The simplest one to catch related to the wording of recent polls that revealed ~90% public support for universal background checks.  On 3 shows- CNN’s OutFront with Erin Burnett (April 8), Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room (April 10), and MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Mathews (April 11, 2:40 minutes in)– the same man, Larry Pratt who is the Exec. Dir. of Gun Owners of America (GOA), questioned the overall accuracy of the polls because of the high support they also showed from gun owners.  Mr. Pratt claimed the GOA and NRA’s own polls resulted in only 4-5% support in their orgs.

Only on OutFront, was Mr. Pratt asked if the wording of the question in the GOA and NRA polls was:  “[Do they] want a gun registry?”, to which Mr. Pratt replied “They know what the deal is”, dodging the question.  Querying the wording difference could expose a False Argument that conflates a different issue- national gun registry- with the one of universal background checks, leading to confusion on both and subverting legitimate discussion on each.  Many, including Mr. Pratt, assert there already is a national gun registry, and that it will expand and lead to gun confiscation.  (More on this below.)

On Hardball, Chris Mathews did, post-interview, read the FOX poll question:  “Do you favor or oppose…requiring criminal background checks on all gun buyers, including those buyng at gun shows and private sales?”.  Supplying the poll results, he added “85% said they were in favor”.

Though Wolf Blitzer had a spirited discussion, citing the 4 polls- CNN, CBS, Quinnapiac, and FOX, he did not zero in on language.

Take your pick- OutFront, Hardball (2:40 min. in), or Situation Room.  They’re all pretty much the same. (If no video below, click here, here, or here.)

So it’s all in the wording, and how many times have we seen that escape hatch left open?  All 3 news anchors should have read the poll question they were citing, then Asked The Question:  “What is the wording of the GOA and NRA polls?”  In OutFronts case, the question should have been re-asked, with any additional non-answers noted.

Clarification made.  Confusion ended.  Move on.

Cite the Basis- existance of a national gun registry.

So, is there a national gun registry or not?

If you believe Larry Pratt, there is.  On CNN’s OutFront he said: “Records are kept in a registry on computers in Clarksburg, West Virginia.”  If you believe Mark Glazer of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, there isn’t.  He claims: ~“It’s illegal to have a gun registry. Gun dealers do background checks.  Government records are destroyed in 24 hours. Gun dealers keep paper records, [they’ve] been doing it for 40 years”.

On CNN’s The Situation Room Mr. Pratt said: “The federal government tells dealers that registration using an internet portal becomes permanent information to the federal government. These background checks are national gun registration”.

How do we know who is right?  We ask them to Cite the Basis, then follow up on it.  That’s how.

False Argument / Contradiction- background checks vs. mental health.

The exact same False Argument and Contradiction Rule breaks occurred 3 separate times recently- 2 on News Hour: April 9 with Judy Woodruf f (5 min. in) & April 17 with Gwen Ifill (4:15 min. in), both while interviewing Lawrence Keene of the National Shooting Sports Foundation; and 1 in the San Jose Mercury News (AP), interviewing Wayne LaPierre of the NRA (March 29).

The current gun background check system is a 2 tier system. The top tier consists of the gun dealers who sell guns and initiate backgound checks on buyers. The second tier is the database known as NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System), which has information- criminal, mental health, etc.- on individuals, and is what is used for the background checks.  There are gaps in each.  Only 60% of gun purchases are subject to checks, leaving a gaping 40% hole in the top tier of the gun check system.  The bottom tier, NICS, is reliant on the states supplying information to it, which is voluntary and known to be incomplete.  According to Mr. Keene, 50% of states don’t submit records.

Both Mr. Keene and Mr. LaPierre agree that there should be more “focus on unauthorized access, … mental health [being] most important”, and “getting records into NICS”.  Yet both are against expanding background checks.  In effect, they argue for closing one of the gaps, but not the other, failing to completely solve the problem of access by the mentally impaired.  This is the contradiction underlying their False Argument of why dealing with the mental health issue from the NICS side alone is all that is needed.  Even if states comply and keep NICS up to date, people whose names are in it, including those with mental health issues, can still buy guns at gun shows, part of the 40% top tier gap.

It’s one system and it either works or it doesn’t.

Ask for poll wording.
Find out if there is a gun registry.
Point out an obvious contradiction in logic.

Honestly media, how hard is this?

economy Rule: Cite The Basis Rule: Contradiction Rule: False Argument Rule: False Choice Rule: False Comparison Rule: Focus Issues Not Politics

Paul Krugman & Joe Scarborough: Debt vs. Growth- A Question of Priority & Timing?

The current hot button debate over our two biggest fiscal problems- debt and growth and how to deal with them, has devolved into yet another needless stalemate in the media.  This time it has come in the form of False Argument, cast as a vitriolic and polarizing ‘either/or’ proposition, rather than a more fact and reason based- ‘both, but when’ one.  In other words, an argument that disregards the element of policy timing which, after months (actually, much sooner), has become clear is key in the discussion.

The Krugman-Scarborough debate began on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and was later excerpted, and continued on Charlie Rose.  It is not surprising that Mr. Rose, with his 50 minute format, can get to the nub and establish as minor differences between two people, what are otherwise often characterized as ‘explosive’ ones on shorter formats. Still, format brevity is not sufficient excuse to not zero in more quickly on the simple, obvious ‘difference’ here- that of the timing of policy- and to begin debate there.

The first 10 minutes of Mr. Rose’s show (including MJ excerpt) contains 3 Rule breakers and, though most are addressed as the show proceeds, those 10 minutes are representative of how this has played out on many others I’ve seen.

The first exchange has Mr. Krugman proclaiming that debt is not an immediate problem, which Mr. Scarborough counters, saying Medicaire and Medicaid are growing too fast.  To this, Krugman aquiesces, allowing for the need for cost containment, but cites the Affordable Care Act as having many pilot projects designed to be testbeds for just that.  Scarborough rejects that solution with: “you and I know that Washington DC is not capable of doing that on a micro level” citing “1993-94 and 2009-10” as examples. This breaks the Focus on Issues, Not Politics rule since it cuts off a politically legitimate and much needed debate (given Krugman disagrees with him) on health cost reduction via delivery efficiencies vs. benefit cuts.  In addition, though Scarborough gets credit for Citing the Basis with his 90‘s & 00‘s references, the False Argument rule is breached since those years seem to refer to healthcare proposals that failed to get passed into law, as opposed to programs that, once passed, failed due to bad administration (or some other reason)- two very different things.

Resuming discussion on Mr. Rose’s show, Scarborough observes: (paraphrasing: ~) “maybe Paul is more focussed on the short term & I’m more focussed on the long term” acknowledging the time frame issue, and seems to reject the either/or (debt vs. growth) premise that had heretofore shaped the debate, as a False Choice.  Progress!

Scarborough then asserts a bigger difference between them: ~“Paul thinks congress can’t do two things at once- grow the economy & focus on the long term.”, then quotes Mr. Krugman from the 90’s: ~”It is irresponsible for government to run deficits because of the aging baby boomers.” (ie. entitlements). Krugman, explaining himself: ~“It was irresponsible to be running deficits when the economy was at full employment, … we missed that window.”, continues with: ~”we should have paid down debt when economy was strong, … now economy is weak”, ~“for every federal $1 cut, GDP falls by $1.50, …will lead to higher unemployment”.  Scarborough responds: ~“The problem of aging boomers & exloding entitlements still exists.”, then issues a 2005 quote by Krugman on the danger of debt & asks Krugman if he’s been wrong for 15 years?  With his use of those quotes, the False Comparison rule is broken by implicitly equating the economic circumstances of the 90’s and 2005, with those of now, when they are clearly different.

As the debate proceeds, it is established that both agree on the importance of growth in the short term, Scarborough contrasting his emphasis on type of jobs programs, with Krugman’s- size. Thus, the false ‘debt vs. growth’ framing of the debate is rendered null, and the real difference clarified:

Scarborough:  Debt planning is needed now.
Krugman:  Any cuts now will hurt job growth.

The debate progresses, becoming more substantive and focussed, with both Citing the Basis of their claims to varying degrees of efficacy (one more than the other, in my opinion).  It is interesting to note that, throughout, the time frame in question (short vs. long) has centered on 10 years, yet when Scarborough is asked if he is concerned about the deficit in the short term, his answer is: ~“not for 3-5 years, but Medicare/Medicaid planning is needed right now”.

This flushes out subtle vagueries that have been lurking beneath the surface and now beg to be dealt with. First, while Scarborough already seems to have softened his position on the time issue with his statement above, by the ‘planning .. now’ part, does he mean congress should take it up, discuss it and maybe even pass legislation now, but not actually cut anything till later?  If so, as far as the notcut part, he is in more apparent agreement with Krugman on that too.  As far as the ‘congress taking it up now’ part, another anomoly arises. Since Scarborough concurs that focus on growth is also needed in the short term, and has called on congress to act and even admitted to Mr. Rose: ~”congress can’t do anything .. look at the sequester”, why did he goad Krugman for not thinking congress can do two things at once, when he apparently agrees with that?  Hmm, a Contradiction?

This was dense going, but my take is that something as complicated as economic policy absolutely requires getting into details, and failure to do so has a high cost. If watching the whole debate doesn’t make that clear (and I hope you do, as it is chock full of information), then at least view the first 10 minutes plus the disappointing backsliding Scarborough did on his own show the next day in [intlink id=”110″ type=”page” anchor=”VoW_Scar_v_Krug”]this Video of the Week[/intlink].  Progress made, only to be lost!

We have to remain vigilant, people.