The Rules

The Rules are simple, common sense building blocks of human inquiry and logic, codified as rules. The media is asked to adhere to them, and the public, to Call The media Out when they fail by citing the Rule break.

The Rules are flexible tools. There is some overlap in their design and, thus, they are somewhat interchangeable. For instance, an alternative to using the Cite the Basis Rule on someone who makes an unsubstantiated claim, might be to Ask the Question: ‘What are the facts supporting your claim?’. Or, if someone is quoted Out of Context, a comparable Rule break to invoke would be Sin of Omission (of contextual facts).

Cover the Topic  (CtT)

Cover important issues that impact large numbers of people or our nation as a whole, and are not being covered.  These might include the growing gap between the rich and poor or declining education, and the impact these have on vast segments of the population, or our economy or competitive standing in the world. The converse of this rule is Don’t Cover or dwell on unimportant Topics (DCtT).

Example Covering a story like Chris Christie ‘Bridgegate’ (whether traffic on the George Washington Bridge was deliberately clogged as a political retaliation) for extended periods of time when there is little new development and other more important stories, is a good Don’t Cover the Topic example.

Ask the Question, Get the Answer  (AtQ)

Ask the next logical question.  Resist superficial or stalemated coverage of issues.  If competing assertions or data exists, resolve them by asking questions and seeking the correct interpretation of answers.  When a question asked is not answered, re-ask it.  If it is repeatedly dodged, recognize that at close.

Example  In the debate over whether raising taxes on $250k+ earners will hurt job creation, Ask the Question: ‘How many $250k+ earners are actually job creators (ie. own businesses)’?

Cite the Basis  (CtB)

Cite the basis of a claim.  When interviewing opposing experts or polititians, it is impossible to know who is right without identifying or examining the data underlying their respective claims.  Doing so holds them accountable.  If known data exists that conflicts with a claim, state it and ask for a response.

Example  To the contradicting claims of:  ‘Studies show gun regulation doesn’t work.’ and ‘Studies show gun regulation does work.’, respond by asking each side to Cite the Basis of their claim, then examine and compare those bases to ascertain what is true.

Focus on Issues, Not Politics  (FoI)

Focus on covering issues well.  Do not discuss strategy or ‘politics of’ or, in the case of campaigns, the ‘horse race’, unless that is expressly the topic being covered.  When interviewing experts, stick to expertise only of the person.  That is what they are there for.

Example  Rejecting the idea of using successful Affordable Care Act pilot programs as models for larger programs because ‘Washington DC doesn’t implement those well’, breaks the Focus on Issues, Not Politics rule because it precludes discussion of implementing proven solutions on a larger scale by conflating the separate issues of ‘solving the problem’ and ‘political process’.

Correct Inaccuracies  (CI)

Do not repeat rumors, myths or inaccuracies without correcting them.  Repeating an untruth without reporting correcting or relevant facts, perpetuates the falsity leading people to believe it is true.

Example  Saying: ‘Most people believe (some untrue fact)’ without redressing it with the truth, breaks the Correct Inaccuracies rule. Even though the statement about peoples belief might be an accurate one, forgoing an opportunity to correct that misbelief is a dereliction of duty by the media.

Generalization Trap  (GT)

Avoid broad, meaningless generalizations.  They are useless and often lead to misunderstanding and bogus, time wasting discussion.  Always insist on clarification and specifics.

Example  In a weak economy with growing debt, saying that: ‘Government spending is bad.’ falls into the Generalization Trap because it does not specify the type of spending. It has been established that, while some spending does, in fact, add to the debt without improving the economy, other spending, on jobs programs for instance, not only improves the economy, but over time, also helps to diminish the debt.

False Comparison / Argument / Choice  (FC, FA, FCh)

Do not equate two events, statements or other phenomena as similar or of equal importance if they are not. Identify arguments and choices that are based on false comparisons or equivalencies, and reject them as such.  Contradiction and Double Standard are other rules that fall under this class of logic inconsistency.

Example  Stating:  ‘Since we cannot prove that all climate change is caused by humans, we should not impose energy regulation.’ is a False Argument because an overwhelming amount of scientific data strongly indicates that humans have at least contributed to climate warming in a profoundly negative way, and that regulation can slow, and possibly stop, or even reverse the trend.

Contradiction / Double Standard  (C / DS)

Hold people accountable for making contradictions.  Challenge them when something they have said or done, opposes or conflicts with another statement or action of theirs.  Similarly, if they apply a principle unevenly to different parties, or hold a double standard, call them on it.

Example Favoring the restriction of guns to mentally impaired persons, but being against requiring background checks at gun shows, is a Contradiction.

Mischaracterization  (M)

Represent the significance or meaning of statements or events accurately.  Do not mischaracterize.  If the meaning of something is indeterminate, make that clear.  Some specific methods of mischaracterization include Sin of Omission, Out of ContextOversimplification and Mountain Out of Molehill.

Sin of Omission  (SoO)

This rule is breached when some facts are given, or ‘cherry picked’, but other mitigating information is omitted for the purpose of making a one-sided argument.

Example Claiming that: ‘Vital information was gotten from a terrorist who was water-boarded.’ without mentioning that the water-boarding was applied after vital information was elicited, is a Sin of Omission.

Out of Context  (OoC)

‘Out of Context’ often refers to using partial quotes whose meaning, outside the entire quote, becomes unclear or is purposely misconstrued as other than intended.  Context is also lacking when a statistic is given without historical or ‘big picture’ perspective.

Example  Stating: ‘Burglaries have doubled in the last three months.’ without mentioning that they went from 1% to 2% of overall crime (if that is also known), is presenting a fact Out of the broader Context that substantially changes its significance.

Oversimplification / Mountain Out of Molehill  (O / MooM)

Oversimplification occurs when an event or phenomenon of complexity or importance is reduced to less than that through fundamental misrepresentation of either facts or their meaning.  Conversely, Mountain Out of a Molehill is made when the meaning or significance of facts is falsely inflated.

Example Criticizing a politician as being “tone deaf on foreign policy” when they casually admitted to some concern over multiple reports of inadequate security for the Olympic Games (as Mitt Romney did), is making a Mountain Out of a Molehill.

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