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Monday, January 30, 2012

Arguments about the President

Recently Newsweek magazine ran two opinion pieces about President Obama.

The first by "conservative-minded Independent" Andrew Sullivan (here) argued that much of the criticism Barack Obama has received has been unfair and ignorant of the President's actual record as well as his long-term view of politics. It also outlined Obama's major accomplishments. Sullivan concludes:

"If I sound biased, that’s because I am. Biased toward the actual record, not the spin; biased toward a president who has conducted himself with grace and calm under incredible pressure, who has had to manage crises not seen since the Second World War and the Depression, and who as yet has not had a single significant scandal to his name."

So this author admits his bias and thus his subjectivity. But he also offers facts that can be checked and/or refuted.

Newsweek got some criticism for the title on its cover--something like, "Why are the President's Critics So Dumb?" (the title of the article was: "Andrew Sullivan: How Obama's Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics.")

To make up for it, in this week's edition, there is an article titled: "David Frum Strikes Back at Andrew Sullivan on Barack Obama." In this article, David Frum (here) argues that Sullivan is wrong, that President Obama is wrong for America, and that Obama must be defeated in order to save the country.

He argues: "You don’t have to succumb to ideological fever or paranoid fantasy to see that the Obama administration is dragging America to the wrong future: a future of higher taxes and reduced freedom, a future in which entrepreneurs will innovate less and lobbyists will influence more, a future in which individuals and communities will make fewer choices for themselves and remote bureaucracies will dictate more answers to us all."

You can (and should) read both arguments to decide the truth for yourself. But when you do this, you should be looking for those facts to refute the original argument.

What I noticed very early on in the second piece by Frum a serious problem. On the first page of the article, Frum writes:

"Employment at the Social Security Administration is up by more than 6,000 since 2007, or 10 percent. In fact, hiring is up across the federal government, by 15 percent since 2007." Frum is using
these data to argue that Obama is thus BIG GOVERNMENT (ruuuuuuuuuuuuuun!).

One major problem with these data? Obama did not take the oath of office of President until January 21, 2009 (if you forgot you can see that here).

When a person starts an argument using data (from 2007) to smear a man that did not become President until 2009), it calls into question his motivation and even his entire argument. And this is a nice example of subjective bias in the media.




  1. In an effort to remain "objective" a major media outlet conformed to the model of having two sides of an argument attack each other vehemently as we discussed today in class. While I appreciate Newsweek's attempt to remain unbiased, I have to say that it bothers me personally that Newsweek did not find a problem in posting the editorial from Frum which proposes inappropriate and misleading statistics.

    With that being said, I find that this is an example of the media in a way, however small it may be, stepping away from the propaganda model, and straying from protecting the status quo, which is refreshing.

  2. Great post. Nice link to class material too.