Jerry Martin’s Daybook

I used to be a great logic teacher. At the beginning of each course, I would give students a diagnostic exam, about twenty brief arguments and ask them which ones were valid. Most were not, but students swallowed them all. At the end, I would give a similar diagnostic, and they would nail 19 out of 20. I was giving them a terrific life skill. One of my assistants said I should post some logic tips for my readers. Well, that is not exactly what any of my readers signed up for, but here is a simple one that might be helpful. You need to be able to tell when a report or newspaper story is slanted, biased to one side. Slanting is one of the most insidious and hence most effective methods of persuasion. It doesn’t even present an argument you could accept or reject, which would at least give the reader or listener a fighting chance. Instead, slanting slips the wanted conclusion into the very description of events.

Consider the headlines: “The Mayor scales back the X program.” “… slashes the X program.” “… trims the program.” “… reorganizes the program.” Maybe add: “the popular” X program or “the controversial” one. You can often recognize instantly, even in a normal newspaper headline, the bias of the reporter. Exercise: Try restating the sentence in your own mind, removing the slant and making it more neutral between points of view. Then you can make up your own mind about whether the Mayor is doing the right thing.


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