§7.1

a blog by josef johann

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Not x but y

Thankfully, by now the criticism of "he said/she said" journalism is widespread, at least on the blogs. That is admittedly very different from it being acknowledged by reporters as a problem. It comes packaged with an argument on its behalf, namely that it's a way to strike balance between biased sides. A person can be persuaded to believe anything, even the worth of he said she/said reporting, if they think their belief transcends some other still more simplistic belief.

But I think another framing device needs to be criticized: the "It's not X that matters, but Y" said in a context where no criteria has been put forward for what should matter, and where ultimately both X and Y matter to some degree. Alternately phrased as "but the real problem is...."

While I'm here, I'll give one more. I guess I'll call it the transcending device. It's similar to he said/she said in that it pits opposing perspectives against each other and suggests they have equal validity. But it adds a third idea, which transcends the framing of the previous two ideas.

It is common now to want to "revolutionize" or "rethink" something, whether with digital devices or perspectives on politics or whatever. But sometimes pertinent thoughts are not original thoughts, and they suffer for being framed as if they are more original than they actually are. For an example, take a look at Brad Plumer's summary of the peak oil debate. On one side, he says, are the peak oilers, on the other are the skeptics. Then Plumer unveils "a clearer way of looking at matters," which defines peak oil as “the cost of incremental supply exceeds the price economies can pay without destroying growth.” But this is not a new idea. At best, it's compatible with what peak oilers already believe. At worst, it's a restatement of what peak-oilers already believe. So what was the framing for?

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