I was really bugged by George Stephanopolous talking about how politically polarized we are in the U.S. Catnip mentioned it in PsiFighter’s Obama diary, and provided a link to the 20/20 video Our Country Divided. Did anybody else see it? I thought the piece was a perfect example of big media sensationalizing, simplifying, and mischaracterizing evidence to create more controversy to sell more advertising. And it worked! The promos sucked my daughter and me in to watch it.
According to ABC news, some researchers split people up according to whether they were left- or right-leaning and gave each group a question upon which they had to reach consensus within a short period of time. Over and over, people who believed strongly in a proposition managed to sway those who had started out believing only moderately. The breathy conclusion was that “like-minded people are pushed to more and more extreme positions when they group together. It has profound and troubling implications for the country.”

My teen-age daughter picked out the fallacy in their conclusion with no trouble. A strong position is not necessarily an extreme position. Of course strongly held positions will win over mushy ones. What is so mysterious or sinister about that?

You know why this country is so polarized? Because of crappy “reporting” like this. Controversy is manufactured where none exists; it’s what sells. Tellingly, Georgie put the blame on “shout” TV, on politicians, and on – gasp! bloggers for the loss of “the ongoing civilized debate that is a cornerstone of American democracy “. He didn’t mention his own part in the deluge of media bullshit.

Am I missing something here?

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