How Do We Know What We Know?

Matt Taibbi at the New York Press offers and interesting analysis as to how Howard Dean has won the “angry” label for his campaign. He documents how this label has been perpetuated throughout the media based less on actual experience and fact, and more on innuendo and reputation. He suggests that the “angry” label originated with one article, which then was adopted by other reporters who were looking for an easy handle for Dean. He concludes the article with the following:

Three years ago, in an awesome, for-the-hell-of-it demonstration of media power, the journalism establishment succeeded in convincing half the domestic population, including the landlocked portion, that it was about to be eaten by a shark. Two years ago, despite a statistical drop in such incidents, the bogeyman was child abductors: There was one around every corner. We all know who and what it was last year: Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. This coming year, the media is going to sell us another bullshit story. It’s going to be a WWF match, entitled Shrill and Angry versus Calm and Cocksure. Dean has yet to formally secure the nomination–that part of it will probably be over in a few weeks–but his label is already through to the general election. We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t admit that the labels are the real candidates.

This brings up several pet peeves for me. The first is the inability of society and the media that informs his to deal with subtlety and complexity, choosing instead to boil everything down to a particular label: conservative or liberal, democrat or republican, angry or assertive. The second is the willingness of folks to assume the factuality of a report because it is in print or on television. There is no willingness to research, to dig deeper for more information. And the situation is only getting worse in the blog world as folks are sharing opinions as fact.

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