When motive not fact becomes the basis for discourse

People complain a lot these days about the divisions in our society. Some put stickers on their car bumpers in favor of civility and say the world needs more love in the face of terrorist attacks and political infighting.

What’s odd, however, is how so many of those who preach compassion refuse to debate the merits of an issue and dismiss others on the basis of their motives.

Take for example, President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accords. Rather than respond to his stated rationale, which was that the agreement was damaging to the U.S. economy without doing very much to improve the environment, people attributed his decision to his being a “climate denier.” In other words, they say we shouldn’t look at what Trump said about his decision, but conclude his remarks are a cover for his true motives.

This is not an isolated instance, but represents a pattern by people on the Left when they don’t like something someone who is a Republican, or worse a conservative, does or says. By labeling their opponents greedy, bigoted, misogynist, or racist, critics don’t have to deal with their opponents’ actual positions or behaviors.

The same tactic is used against those who defend the existence of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank). Critics call those who defend the so-called settlements “colonialists” who engage in apartheid, but in doing so they refuse to take into account why they exist in those locations––their origins and history. To some, a Zionist––someone who supports the existence of a Jewish state in the land where Judaism was born––is a racist, end of story.

Attacking someone’s views by claiming their motives are impure is an attempt to avoid having to deal with the fact that all individuals are imperfect and that people can change. Those on the Left can’t accept the possibility that while Mr. Trump has faults, he might be giving us his honest beliefs about something like Paris. Isn’t dismissing his or anyone else’s every statement itself a form of bigotry?

A perfect example was the media’s attacking Trump for bumping into an official from Montenegro in Geneva. It was cited as evidence of his boorishness, when calmer reflection suggests it was the kind of incident that has probably happened to many of us in certain social situations. Attribution of motive replaced rational explanation.

The unwillingness of people to take others at their word suggests a defensiveness about their own positions. For example, why won’t those who support Paris respond to Mr. Trump’s assertion that the agreement would accomplish little at such a great cost? Could Mr. Trump be correct in claiming a better agreement is possible––i.e., one that would do more to reduce pollution without blackmailing the U.S. to pay for others to clean up their problems? His critics can avoid such a discussion by doubting his motive, which protects them from having to defend their own logic and their facts.

With regard to the Jewish communities in the West Bank, their existence only represents an impediment to peace if one ignores the fact that no Palestinian leader has been willing to concede the existence of a Jewish state where Israel currently exists much less one that includes traditional Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. The Palestinians won’t accept any boundaries that thwart their demographic majority. Instead they rely on the fact that they can create millions of Palestinians at a moment’s notice by recruiting residents of five or six Arab countries to overwhelm the Jewish population, create an Islamic caliphate, and kick any Jews who won’t convert into the sea. To object to such a scenario is not up for discussion if opponents can be dismissed for having “colonialist, racist” motives.

That so many people who know better––academics, journalists, and elected officials––engage in motive blaming or fail to challenge it, suggests our culture is infected with a form of ideological insanity. What people who claim to want peace and to save the planet really want is for those who hold views antagonistic to their own to give up their positions and go away. They need to believe in the purity of their own motives and therefore assume that when one is pure of motive the facts are on your side. It’s time to give up motive blaming and go back to traditional rules for resolving differences––focusing on evidence and demonstrable fact.

 

Declining newspaper circulation in a divided society

Despite the early, national interest to the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the circulation and advertising revenues of daily newspapers in the U.S. continued to drop precipitously over the past year according to the Pew Research Center’s “State of the News Media 2016” report. The question is what’s causing the accelerating circulation decline and will owners do anything about it?

Let’s look at the numbers first: Weekday circulation fell 7% in 2015 while Sunday circulation dipped 4%. Further bad news is a decline in advertising revenue of 8% between 2014 and 2015. Even digital ad revenue declined, although only by 2%.

These numbers contrast with world media data, which show booming circulation, especially online. Print circulation worldwide grew just under 5% in 2015, confirming a trend that shows 21.6% increase in print circulation over the past five years. The majority of that increase comes from China and India. Print circulation for North America declined 10.9 percent during the same time period.

I doubt anyone has the data, but I suspect the percent of print and online newspaper readership among supporters of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is much lower than the national average. Both groups are disaffected with the mainstream narrative as demonstrated by their support for candidates who challenged that narrative. If they do subscribe to a mainstream newspaper, my guess is the majority access that publication online and few receive the print edition.

One can’t blame these citizens from giving up on large daily newspapers. Much of the news they are interested in can be obtained faster and cheaper online or from the TV. Further, the editorial pages of most daily newspapers largely ignore the issues Trump and Sanders supporters feel important or present positions that contrast with their own. Further many editorials and columnists disparaged dissident voters as racists, homophobes, and worse.

Will owners make course corrections in light of the above data or tweak their current game plans? I’m convinced we won’t see any major changes. Why? The newspaper industry has already responded to projections of declining circulation by seeking revenue from its online product, by consolidating operations, and by generating revenue from other sources. Hence, they have no incentive to change their papers’ editorial focus, which today makes many columns and editorials appear as if they were written by the Democratic National Committee, if not by White House staff.

Buying into the Democrat/Liberal national narrative is the safest bet for media owners. They don’t need a crystal ball to see that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive winner and that little will change in Washington. Therefore to listen to dissidents or challenge the national narrative would only invite unwanted scrutiny and probably alienate their current readers, most of whom agree with their editorial outlook.

Media owners are probably correct in assuming being more critical of Washington would not result in disaffected citizens taking out subscriptions. All they need to do is print the occasional column by a conservative or an elected Republican, and they can maintain the appearance of neutrality.

There is an unfortunate consequence of the world of today’s newspaper industry, which is that they are playing a major role in dividing our nation in two. On one side with the newspaper industry is what we can call the Washington elite. These people are committed to increasing government’s reach into every aspect of daily life. On the other side are the average citizens whose views are not taken into account––people who resent Washington’s intrusion into every aspect of their lives, including which bathroom their children use at school. These are the people who lost their jobs or had them reduced from full to part-time by Obamacare, the war on coal and other environmental dictates, and by overregulation of every aspect of business practice. These are the people whose taxes provide more in cash and services to illegal immigrants than they can bring home from a $50,000/year salary.

From today’s divided society we got Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Many Sanders supporters feel he was robbed by undemocratic provisions of the Democratic Party’s primary system. They will stay home in 2016, but they will be looking for the next Bernie to run in 2020. Trump’s ego may have prevented him from having a realistic chance to win in November. I’ve talked to people who hate the Democrats, but will not vote for The Donald due to his failure to stay on message, but those people will also be around in 2020 looking for someone to challenge the mainstream narrative. All bets would be off if those two groups ever teamed up. Meanwhile, newspaper editors might do themselves a favor by listening to disaffected Americans instead of dissing them.

The Washington Post’s Biased Narrative on Israel

If you read the opinion pages of the Washington Post, you’ll see an imbalance in the views expressed by their in-house as well as guest columnists on Israel. They are uniformly critical of the current government and continue to hammer away on a theme of the need for Israel to give up the territories of Judea and Samaria as well as part of Jerusalem to allow the formation of a Palestinian state. In doing so they are carrying water for the Palestinian Authority and its narrative of what’s going on in that part of the world.

But opinion pieces aside, not everyone recognizes how this bias influences news stories. My goal in this piece is to demonstrate that their news coverage rests on a narrative that is inherently biased against the Netanyahu government.

The piece I’m about to analyze appeared under the headline “Kerry warns of ‘chaos’ if Palestinian Authority collapses,” which appeared on Sunday December 6, 2015 on page A22 of the print edition.

The article, written by Karen DeYoung, reports on a talk John Kerry gave the day before warning Israel bad things are likely to happen if the Palestinian Authority (PA) collapses. Nowhere in the story, however, does DeYoung report the source of that possibility. In fact, she reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu is opposed to such a collapse. So why does Israel need to receive this warning? The danger of the PA’s collapse is something manufactured by the PA as a threat to convince world opinion to increase its pressure on Israel to withdraw its military presence in the territories the media calls the West Bank. Kerry’s warning is like telling a bully’s sister that bad things will happen to her if her brother keeps beating up other kids.

Instead of placing the blame where it belongs, DeYoung picks up another theme of the Palestinian’s narrative to explain the recent violence in which dozens have been killed or injured. Here, instead of blaming the PA for inciting violence against Israeli civilians, she states, “Clashes that began in early fall over a holy site in Jerusalem revered by both Muslims and Jews have ignited a wave of stabbings, shootings and vehicular assaults…” Yes, but the clashes didn’t begin for no reason. They began because members of the Palestinian Authority, including its leader Mahmoud Abbas, incited them with false claims Israel was about to do something to change Muslims’ status on the Temple Mount.

Later in the piece, she writes “Israel . . . has expanded its military presence in Palestinian areas and has allowed the growth of Jewish settlements on territory originally intended to be part of a Palestinian state.” The problem here is the word “originally.” Let’s assume DeYoung is referring to the 1947 United Nations resolution that led to the formation of the state of Israel which included a map dividing the British Mandate for Palestine into Jewish and Arab enclaves. The problem with blaming Israel for not honoring that map is that the Arabs (who didn’t called themselves Palestinians until the 1960s) rejected the boundaries in 1947, and they have rejected them over and over again, most recently by Abbas in 2008. So, how can Israel be bound by a map created 68 years ago that the Arabs/Palestinians have never accepted?

I’ll add one final example showing how DeYoung followed the Palestinians’ narrative. She paraphrases Kerry at the end of her article saying, “increased Jewish settlement activity and the demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank ‘are imperiling the viability of a two-state solution.’” But why are Palestinian homes being demolished? Not so that Jewish settlements can be expanded, which is implied. The homes that have been demolished belong to terrorists who have attacked Israeli civilians, soldiers, and police as part of a policy to try to deter individuals from engaging in terrorist acts. If Kerry lumped demolished homes with settlement activity together, DeYoung should have separated them out. They are apples and oranges.

The author of this story can attribute the positions I argue are wrong and biased to the Secretary of State, but that’s a cop out to use a 1960’s phrase. The role of a journalist when reporting on a news event is not only to report what took place or in this case what the speaker said, but also to either talk to other sources when the speaker’s statements are controversial or fly in the face of accepted knowledge or appear self-interested or biased. In this case DeYoung helps Kerry out by drawing from the Palestinian narrative.

I don’t mean to pick on DeYoung because she is not the only Post reporter who has drunk of the Palestinian/Kerry cool aid. It starts with the editorial board, the editorial page editors and flows down into the newsroom. It’s why if you read the Post, do so with the foreknowledge that you will not get unbiased reportage on stories about Israel and the Palestinians.

Footnote: The Post is not the only media organization that is biased on Israel. See “Reuters reports lie that Israel changes status quo on Temple Mount.