A Good Illustration of the Problem With the News

A few days ago, Qasem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike. That’s probably not a shock. It’s all over the news. On the surface, it almost looks like the news is being competent in their coverage. We know who, Qasem Soleimani. We know what, was killed. We know when, January 3, 2020. We know where, Bagdad. And we know parts of how, by a drone. The thing that we don’t know, and the news is not helping us at all, is how to judge the story. That comes down to two things, we don’t know the why, and we don’t know the consequences.

Consequences are difficult. I’ll give the news a pass on this one. I don’t believe anyone knows the consequences of the drone strike yet. I’ll bet Iran hasn’t settled on a response. It might be a lot of rhetoric or it might be a war, or just about anything in between. We’ll have to wait and see.

That is why the why is crucial. If someone is killed on the street in front of a hundred witnesses and fifty witnesses say the killing was an act of self defense and the other fifty say it was a murder, it becomes almost impossible for anyone else to make a judgement. And with Soleimani’s killing the press is content to just repeat what others are saying. Trump says that the drone strike was to make America safer. People who dislike Trump are saying that the drone strike was to distract the public from the impeachment or to start a war to help Trump’s reelection campaign. Any of those are plausible, and all the news is giving me is biased testimony for me to try to make a judgement.

This is what the news does these days. It tells you what people say about events rather than showing evidence for why and how the events happened. As a result, every political story is the same. Trump and the Republicans say one thing and Democrats say the opposite. If it’s a conservative news outlet, they say that the Republicans are right and if it’s a liberal news outlet, they say that the Democrats are right. It’s incredibly predictable, and at no point do they provide actual evidence that would allow members of the public to judge for themselves.

In the Soleimani case, the news has to answer a series of questions. How long has Soleimani been on the kill list? Who put him on the kill list? How does killing Soleimani make America safer? How does killing Soleimani stop an immanent attack? How does conflict with Iran help Trump’s reelection campaign? How does conflict with Iran hurt the Democrats’ articles of impeachment? Does it help the reelection campaign or hurt the articles of impeachment? Was this the first opportunity the U.S. has had to take out Soleimani? If not, why were the other opportunities passed up? These are just to start. And the news can’t just tell me how Trump or Pelosi answer these questions. They need to investigate and provide evidence.

In the mean time, the press should be telling us what they don’t know. They should be providing us with the list of unanswered questions. How can people hope to arrive at sound judgements without this as a bare minimum? This is just one example, but the news needs to do better.

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