If it Stinks, Throw it Out!

Surely you’ve had the experience of gazing into your refrigerator, hungry for a snack, when your eyes fall upon something tasty that has been there for a bit longer than usual.  As kids, my brother and I would ask Dad if it was edible.  Inevitably, he’d advise us to open the package and take a sniff.  “If it stinks, throw it out.”  Good advice for the refrigerator and for politics.

In recent days we’ve seen a heated debate between the Obama and Romney camps concerning portions of a speech given by Obama in Virginia on July 13th.  A transcript is available on the White House website HERE.  One line in that speech has drawn a great deal of attention.  All sides to the debate agree that the president stated the following:  “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.” 

Past that, there is no agreement whatsoever.  Along with Rush Limbaugh and certain GOP leaders, Team Romney insists that the comment demonstrates Obama’s disdain for capitalism and the sacrifices made by those who invest in and grow businesses.  Members of Team Obama point to several sentences immediately preceding the comment, insisting that Obama was referring to our nation’s infrastructure.  Here is the pertinent paragraph:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

Now let’s imagine for a moment that you are a genuinely impartial voter.  You want to know what the truth is about this matter.  You want to be informed.  You like to think for yourself.  So you use an Internet search engine to locate some assistance.  Like many others, you might find your search engine pointing to an entry on this matter located on a website known as FactCheck.org.  The website is clearly marked as “a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center” at the University of Pennsylvania.  By clicking on the “About Us” button you quickly discover the following statement:  “We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.”  There is even a classroom version of FactCheck, known as FactCheckED.

As you study the FactCheck “nonpartisan” commentary you discover that it leans heavily in favor of President Obama, though admitting that the manner in which he spoke was “inartfully phrased.”  The commentary then goes on to demonstrate that even Romney agrees that there is a role for government in making our nation successful.

There is a great deal about this commentary that I like.  The fact is that even constitutional conservatives like me agree that government is a necessary reality.  But that’s not the debate.  The debate is about the size, scope, and expense of government.  The debate is about how much good and how much harm is being done in the name of government.

That seems clear enough, and even the folks at FactCheck state that Obama’s comments “invite a debate not only over the role of government, but how much responsibility the private sector has to help fund it.”  (I’ll leave it to your wisdom to ask if that statement itself demonstrates a bias, as I believe it does!)

It starts to get cloudy if we analyze the background activities of the Annenberg Public Policy Center.  The organization claims to be nonpartisan.  In other words, it’s supposed to be neutral when it comes to political wrangling.  But this doesn’t seem to be the case at all.

In fact, the Annenberg Public Policy Center is about as biased as they come.  Would you like to take a guess about which side of the debate they favor?  You can decide for yourself from the evidence below.  I have included live links to make your efforts easier.

To begin with, the Director of the organization is an academic by the name of Dr. Kathleen Hall Jamieson.  Just in time for the 2008 presidential election, Jamieson joined with another author to publish an attack on conservative media in the US known as Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media EstablishmentThe premise of the book is that Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal, and Fox News have turned their audiences into what Publishers Weekly calls “a balkanized cohort.” 

But there is more to understand about the “nonpartisan” foundation headed by Dr. Jamieson.  It is funded in great part by the similarly named Annenberg FoundationThis foundation awarded nearly $50 Million to a reform project for Chicago public schools that operated from 1995 to 2001.  A founding member of the organization was Bill Ayers.  On the board of directors was none other than Barack Obama.  For more details about the cozy relationship between Obama and Ayers (a self-admitted bomber and terrorist), see the article by Dick Morris that was published about a month prior to the 2008 presidential election.  It may be found HERE.  By the way, the Chicago organization was known as the Annenberg Challenge Foundation.  Morris says it was founded in order to increase the political activism of Chicago students, if we are to believe the grant application submitted by Ayers.  It did nothing to increase academic performance.

Does any of this prove anything of importance?  Perhaps not.  But it surely suggests some interesting connections between organizations and the people within those organizations–especially when they all bear the name of the same donor.

Bill Ayers applied for the money for the purposes of increasing political activism in Chicago schools.  Barack Obama saw that the money was spent.  We may never know exactly what went on as part of this organization, but one thing is sure.  We have good reason to doubt the claim to political neutrality that is so proudly proclaimed by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Trust what you sniff.  You may not know exactly what’s going on, but you can still throw it out if it stinks.

Oh, for the record:  there’s nothing wrong with being partisan.  Just be honest about it.

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10 thoughts on “If it Stinks, Throw it Out!

  1. I am not convinced that your analysis has shown that the Annenberg Foundation is partisan at all. Your comment that “the Annenberg Public Policy Center is about as biased as they come” is utter nonsense. Fox News is as biased as they come and there is no way a comparison can be drawn between the two, it’s night and day. I smell something here, and its not the Annenberg Foundation or FactCheck.org.

    • Thanks for reading my blog, Ron. I always welcome opposing views when they are offered reasonably. As for what you smell here, it’s liberty! I realize it’s an aroma that is becoming rare, but I relish it.

  2. I agree that it is troubling to find direct connections between political entities and the sources of information upon which a reasonable individual might base an analysis of current or historical events. However, the tone of your piece suggests to me that you find this to be more troubling than the direct connections between private enterprises and common sources of information. Given that in most instances the private enterprises concerned are intimately involved in the funding of political campaigns and lobbies, I don’t believe that this implicit viewpoint is consistent. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    My second point concerns the nature of information itself – do you honestly believe that information can be unbiased? Epistemologically, linguistically, and socially, I don’t believe that it can. Surely, facts exist which can not be argued – the number of dead in an accident, for example. However, given that the vast majority of individuals in society will neither experience nor witness this hypothetical accident, our knowledge of the number of dead necessarily depends on second-hand accounts – a media outlet that reports on it, or supposed first hand accounts, the absorption of which makes the information at best second-hand to us.
    Furthermore, the nature of the language used to describe the event, no matter how earnestly composed, necessarily biases the audience. Suppose, to flesh out our hypothetical situation, that 14 people died when a bridge collapsed in a small town in the mountains. The nature of news reporting requires that there be additional information – Who were the dead? What were they doing? Was there foul play? Was there something wrong with the bridge? Could it have been prevented? Is someone to blame? Who might that person be? These questions are a natural product of human curiosity, and anyone reporting this information will naturally try to answer them. Consider the following stories describing the same event:
    14 Killed in Tragic Bridge Collapse
    A bridge collapsed in such-and-such place in the such-and-such mountains on Tuesday, killing 14. The victims were members of a documentary film crew working in the area. Local residents report that the bridge was out of use, as it had not been maintained for over 20 years.

    Municipal Neglect Kills 14 in Bridge Collapse
    A bridge collapsed in such-and-such place in the such-and-such mountains on Tuesday, killing 14. The victims were members of a documentary film crew working in the area. Local residents report that the bridge was out of use, as it had not been maintained for over 20 years.

    Film Crew Collapses Bridge, 14 Dead
    A bridge collapsed in such-and-such place in the such-and-such mountains on Tuesday, killing 14. The victims were members of a documentary film crew working in the area. Local residents report that the bridge was out of use, as it had not been maintained for over 20 years.

    The first headline conditions a response of fatalistic sympathy, the second, one of outrage, and the third, depending on the reader, one of either disgust or bemusement, despite the fact that all three articles report the exact same event in a purely factual manner. This is before we even begin to choose how to report numbers – let’s flesh this situation out a little more. Say 100 people a year used to bungee jump off this bridge, and last year, one of them died. This could be reported as a 14000% increase in bridge-related deaths! Does that mean that the bridge got less safe? Of course not, but you can bet that somebody in that town will try to pin it on the mayor, and you can bet that someone else will ask what the hell people were doing there in the first place, after all, they only have about a thousand warning signs…
    When dealing with the incomparably more complex real world, the number of possible shades of meaning must necessarily be incomparably greater. It would be wonderful if we lived in a world that could be known, but we don’t. We must each individually decide how important it is to us to know that we know the truth, and how much of it, and how hard we are willing to work to pursue that end. Mainstream news outlets and the first page of google results simply do not suffice for one who cares to be informed. On the other hand, there are no shortage of individuals whose entire curiosity about the world is satisfied by the evening news, and ultimately, you and I are not the ones who will decide what information, with what bias, those individuals will receive.

    • I came to this site as the result of a websearch to fact check FactCheck.org. and the Annenberg Foundation. Although the context of the thread here is a bit outdated so far as the Obama/Romney election goes, I found the conclusions drawn by Prof. Switzer about the smell test to be sagacious if not certainly arguable in whether they themselves may be biased. In the abstract, it is virtually impossible to elaborate beyond a simple statistical accounting of events without installing bias. I find his opinion that being partisan is fine as long as you are honest about it, to be spot on for my tastes.

      I believe this is one of the fundamental underlying distinctions between right/left orthodoxy. The right will readily admit that their pronouncements ARE opinion, and then passionately debate those opinions. After such debate, the conservative will normally shake hands and walk away possibly feeling a bit smug that they won the intellectual day with their side of the argument–carrying malice toward none and charity to all. Conversely, the left state their opinions as self-evident and obvious truth, and that by the mere daring to challenge them makes the challenger (usually a conservative) some sort of neanderthal rube, worthy of no more than visceral and vile contempt. At the end of the debate, the left leaning debater normally maintains a countenance that conveys a literal hatred for their adversary in the debate. Yes, I understand that these statements identify my own bias, but I have lived this experience time and again over my half century or so of perambulating vertically on this planet.

      Ron, the first blogger, makes a blanket statement that Fox News is as biased as they come, and he is, of course, entitled to that opinion, although the statistical facts do not support his assertion. While endeavoring to be as objective as I can, such a pronouncement evokes my bias in that someone who says such a thing is so totally blinded by their own bias that nothing else they opine has any relevance for me.

      Mr. Roy, on the other hand, presents a fascinating treatise with the three different headlines covering the exact same factual story, but he failed to conceptualize for the reader, how each case approaches bias (isn’t that the actual theme of this thread?). It is important for the reader, whether conservative or liberal, to know how to analyze a news story in order to digest fact without being corrupted by slant.

      In the first headline, the only conceivably subjective word of bias is the adjective “tragic”. Most reasonable people, whether left or right leaning, would probably agree that 14 persons killed in a bridge collapse is indeed tragic. This example is by far the most factual and unbiased of the three.

      Examples two and three should be immortalized as paradigms in modern journalism schools (and make the likes of Woodrow Wilson and Joseph Gobbels proud) as presenting a biased conclusion as a headline, then presenting “facts” to reinforce the prejudicial statement with the intent to sway the opinion of the reader. Case two makes the unsubstantiated assertion that municipal neglect was responsible for the bridge collapse without a shred of evidence to back up the statement. Case three makes the same dubious style claim, pre-concluding it was the film crew’s fault for the collapse.

      Therein lies the heinousness of modern propagandist journalism, colloquially called the “Mainstream Media” as perfected by William Randolph Hearst. The game consists of making a biased, if not fallacious statement that follows an agenda-driven motive, and then to cherry-pick “facts” as to unduly influence the reader to come to a erroneous conclusion. Does “Remember the Maine” come to mind?

      Thanks to Professor Switzer as I now know everything I need to know about FactCheck.org and the Annenberg Foundation. My probiscus shall place them in the same intellectual rubbish bin that I had already come to understand about the also agenda-driven, Snopes.com Are there any places to to be found on the web that are not liberal-biased, to fact check urban myth? I have even found Wikipedia playing fast and loose with the truth on occasion, though they are fairly moderate in political bent on most postings of fact.

      Perhaps one last avant-garde and thought provoking statement concerning the US Constitution: While virtually every President from Thomas Jefferson on, selectively trounced on their least favorite parts of the Constitution, is it not fair to say that even though our beloved martyr Abraham Lincoln, more times and more often, than all that came before, abridged more of our sacred governing document? I am quick to assert that Lincoln did righteously and expeditiously usher in the passage of the 13th Amendment, but at the same time, and for all practical purposes, did he not also effectuate the dissolution of the 10th Amendment–an act that stands to this day and starkly evidenced in its dissolution by the executive actions of the Jimmy Carter administration? No, I am not a Texan, but I am a Southerner–why do you ask? LOL

      • Ray, thank you for elucidating the same thoughts I had on FactCheck.org and the Annenberg Foundation. I too shall place them in the intellectual rubbish bin as I had always felt that they were just a “dressed up” version of most other agenda driven “fact check” organizations.

  3. Ray, thank you for an erudite post. I’m sorry it took so long to approve. I’ve been tied up with exams, commencement, and other end-of-year issues. Bless you! God save the United States Constitution.

  4. I think it shold also be noted that: The founder Walter Annenberg, served under Presidents Nixon and Regan. Mr. Annenberg died in 2002.

  5. What I find interesting about this is that I’ve seen liberal bloggers say exactly the opposite about FactCheck.org, that it has a conservative bias. If both sides don’t like what they have to say then I have a feeling that it maybe less bias than you give it credit for. I am assuming you had a personal investment in something they had a differing opinion about? That’s usually they reason they take flack.

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