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Believers, cynics and skeptics

October 26, 2009 - Jim Anderson
I came across a remark from Ralph Nader that touches upon the difficulties of communicating news and ideas. Nader credits his parents for cultivating his skepticism towards economic and political powers: “My father used to say: ‘Ralph, what did you learn in school today? Did you learn how to believe, or did you learn how to think?’” On any given issue, there are probably three categories of news consumers — believers, cynics and skeptics. The believers accept most everything at face value. The cynics reject most everything. And the skeptics try to sort it out. As a writer, whether I’m conscious of it or not, I would hope that I’m addressing an audience of skeptics. The important question for skeptics is whether what’s offered is accurate, substantial and relevant. As a writer, if you can’t consistently meet those tests, then perhaps you’re wishing to have a large audience of believers. A modern trend — one that I’ve mentioned previously — is that many people seem to seek out news to reinforce their own views. The Obama administration has recently pointed some jabs at Fox News — deserved, perhaps, but also misguided. The administration should leave Fox out of it and simply encourage news consumers to be skeptics. It’s a good strategy, no matter which network you’re watching or, for that matter, what newspaper you’re reading.


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