Monday, October 01, 2007

Critical Thinking for Establishmentatians

Andy points to, an educational offshoot of

I really can't stand This is partly because of how narrowly they've defined their mission:

We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases

This allows them to choose from what would under any circumstances be an endless and evenly balanced (numerically) supply of statistical gaffes and stretches, like Bill Richardson saying he created 80,000 jobs when their research shows he created 68,000. They can remain safely "non-partisan" by keeping these posts numerically balanced. But this approach leaves them unable to make any larger analysis. Their coverage of the probably decisive Swift Boat ads of 2004 is non-committal. Their approach doesn't allow them to handle character assassination, which is much more of a threat to our democracy than fudging numbers. Their narrow parameters cause them to miss the forest for the trees:

Kerry would be correct to say the cost of the war in Iraq "is now $120 billion and counting." He would be well within the bounds of argument to say "this war will cost $200 billion," by some unspecified date in the future. But when he says the cost "is" $200 billion, he's straining for effect and going beyond what the facts will bear.

Given what the war has actually cost us, I can't say I see Kerry's 2004 statements on this as being a threat to our democracy.

And if you're going to stick to "just the facts, ma'm," I don't agree with this kind of post, either:

The Democratic National Committee released an ad Aug. 6 saying 2.7 million manufacturing jobs had been lost under Bush. That's true, but ignores the fact that manufacturing jobs started their decline three years before Bush took office...

The Democratic National Committee ad uses the time-honored tactic of putting the opponent's worst foot forward. It's a one-sided presentation that doesn't give the full picture.

You can't selectively decide that it isn't appropriate for a political ad to present a "one sided presentation." That means you can essentially critique any political ad if you need to meet your balance quota.

Getting back to, there is a real problem with how they categorize sources. Their relatively trusted "Policy Wonks" section spans from hard right libertarian and conservative think tanks like Cato and the American Enterprise Institute to establishmentarians like Brookings, which they manage to label as both "leaning liberal" and "free from partisan slant." What you don't get on this list is a proportional representation of any liberal, working class, minority or heterodox organizations.

The mouthpieces rich white guys and business interests are reliable "wonks," everyone else is "for the cause" and must be treated with caution, such as the Center for American Progress, Public Citizen or the Innocence Project.

As for their curriculum materials, I've wasted too much time on this already to look through all the worksheets. I don't like this from the Finding Premises and Conclusions worksheet:

• You can also try acting like a 3-year-old: 1. Read a sentence and ask, “Why should I believe that?” 2. Look at the rest of the passage and see if you can find anything that looks like an answer to the why question. 3. If you find an answer, then the answer is a premise and the original claim (the sentence about which you asked why) is a conclusion. 4. Repeat the process for each claim.

That's acting like a 3-year-old?

Anyhow, I'd do Urban Debate League instead.

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