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Opinions have a harder shell

August 24, 2009 - Jim Anderson
Writing in the Washington Post today, media critic Howard Kurtz says the health care “death panel” debate is a “stunning illustration of the traditional media’s impotence.”

After Sarah Palin warned on Facebook on Aug. 7 of an America “in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel,”mainstream journalists moved to debunk her claim that a government panel would make euthanasia decisions.

One of the more direct denunciations came from ABC’s Bill Weir, who said on “Good Morning, America”: “There is nothing like that anywhere in the pending legislation.”

Kurtz notes that even the conservative National Review concluded that Palin had attempted “to leap across a logical canyon.”

Still, a proposal to provide voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions has made many Americans uneasy.

Kurtz cites an NBC poll last week in which 45 percent of those surveyed said it was likely, under the proposed reforms, that the government would decide when to stop care for the elderly. That figure rocketed to 75 percent among Fox viewers.

(It should be pointed out that the NBC poll didn’t ask whether “death panels” were part of the legislation. The poll merely asked respondents to speculate about the outcomes of reform.)

In "Death Panels Smite Journalism," Kurtz offers two theories about the inability of the mainstream media to completely calm public fears:

— Journalists are no more trusted than politicians.

— Many people simply never saw the stories that knocked down Palin’s claim.

I’ll offer a third theory. Opinions aren’t necessarily changed by facts.

Many issues are endlessly complex, and that makes facts difficult. But they can be pliable and proveable nonetheless.

Opinions, it seems, have a harder shell. How often do you change an opinion? Once a minute, once a week, once a decade?

Taking it further, when’s the last time you conceded a “fact” that caused you to change an important opinion? More likely, I'll venture, in the rare case of overwhelming evidence, you acknowledged the “new” fact, but tried to keep the opinion.



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