Friday, November 26, 2010

On bogus stories and spotting them

Today's quiz: What's the difference between these two stories?

If your answer was on the order of "One is about a well-attested empirical phenomenon of the grownup world, and the other is about a fictional crisis fabricated by a tiny cabal of self-interested, America-hating kleptocrats and their media enablers," take the rest of the day off. Otherwise, stick around.

Let's go ahead and bust some bubbles to start with:

  • It's the sled
  • Rick makes Ilse get on the plane with Victor
  • There is no Santa Claus
There is, however, a wonderful holiday called Christmas (Xpesmasse for you traditionalists out there) -- a time of joy and laughter at which gifts are exchanged, feasting is in order, bad singing is forgiven and glory is shown around.* You may greet friends, colleagues or strangers with "Merry Christmas" without invoking the holiday's religious origins -- in much the same way you can say "How are you?" without meaning "What marks on the neck?" Because a lot of holidays tend to cluster around the end of the (Western) year, it's also common to wish people an aggregate "Happy Holidays."

Grownups in general do not have a problem with this sort of interchangeable greeting, but certain (ahem) sectors of society and their (kaff) news organizations have found in it further evidence that all we hold dear is collapsing. And thus do we have this thing called the "War on Christmas":

It's the most controversial time of the year.

At least it can seem that way because of the annual debate over the appropriate way to mark the Christmas season in public life.

Conservative Christians have for years claimed there is a "war on Christmas," citing evidence such as mall employees saying "happy holidays" to avoid religious language and government buildings rejecting Nativity scenes.

There is one slight problem. There isn't a "War on Christmas," and there never has been one. It's mythical. The "evidence" of it is made up. Unless you have someone out at the airport regularly talking with arriving passengers about how many gremlins they saw on the wings, there's no reason to give these folks the time of day on your front page. They are telling fairy tales.** This sort of "balancing" is the rankest form of the green cheese fallacy:

Interest groups have created the "war" to promote their agenda, Baskin said.

Groups like the American Family Association disagree.

Wow, that was tough.

Let's rephrase our opening question again. There's one flavor of journalism in which the "War on Christmas" is real and "global climate change" is a hoax created by freedom-hating "scientists" and the immoral politicians who feed them their gubmint grants. There's another in which (for all its faults) at least some of the observations are taken and analyzed in the empirical world. By their front-page budgets shall ye know them.

* A bar of Sunlight soap came down. Gotcha, Cowan!
** And taking their claims of success at face value is (at best) careless journalism. This is not the sort of blog  where you'll hear that two sides is "both sides," or that "both sides" is "all sides," but there's no excuse for not calling the allegedly repentant retailer and asking for its version.



Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...


8:22 AM, November 27, 2010  
Anonymous Faldone said...

Any one who complains to me about my wishing them happy holidays can expect me to respond, "OK. Merry Christmas and have a Crappy New Year."

11:57 AM, November 29, 2010  

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