If you watch cable news you will learn a lot of not-so-useful things. You will also hear a lot of “debate” about facts, that is, about things that should be answerable with a little empirical investigation. Here are a few things presented on the news as if there is no reality of the matter:
1. The existence of Manti Te’o’s girlfriend.
2. The reality of climate change. Both sides cited “the peer-reviewed literature” as evidence that their position is settled and correct.
3. The number of gun deaths in Britain in 2011. Piers Morgan says its 37; his opponent says it’s 900+. Apparently this is a debatable point with no real answer. Hey, it’s not 11,000!
4. Whether or not the Marine Corps band actually played their instruments at the Presidential inauguration. It’s not clear whether they did or not, so let’s leave it at that. Looks like that’s one of life’s great mysteries!
5. There is a “culture of violence” in the church of Scientology. Critics say there is. Defenders deny this. Looks like they’re both right. Who knows?
Of course, some of these matters are more ripe for debate than others. What’s troubling about the news, however, is how all of them are presented as if there are a number of equally valid perspectives on the issue. There were gun deaths in Britain last year, yes. How many? Well, I guess that depends on how you interpret the data. But this element of interpretation is not raised in the discussion. Instead what you get is two people making radically different claims and then asserting that their figure is the accurate one. Then the discussion ends, leaving us with the impression that the whole matter is unclear and, really, there is no way to settle disputes like this.
Now, did the Marine band play live at the inaugural or not? Since it’s an issue, I’m going to guess the answer is no. But whether they did or not is not the point. The point is that it’s absurd that a person can watch CNN all day and never get an answer to the question, just speculation. Not everything is debatable! Go out find the facts. In many cases, they’re there to find.