Green Government: Putting “False Balance” to Rest

Just the facts.

Let’s remember that when discussing how our towns should make decisions for our communities.

On Dec 3, the Frelinghuysen, NJ town council held discussions about continuing to participate in the voluntary, advisory and non-binding Sustainable Jersey program.

That’s a fair enough discussion. What’s not fair is that the town council members might have taken far-fetched, false concerns about Sustainable Jersey into their consideration.

Sustainable Jersey is all about helping NJ towns build stronger, healthier communities by sharing good ideas state-wide.

Things like saving money on town energy bills, building nature-friendly parks, and setting up safe bike paths for kids. Improvements that make a town a nicer place to live for everyone.

It has nothing whatsoever to do with a Tea Party-promoted conspiracy theory.  The United Nations is not plotting to take away Americans’ rights to personal property.

The council voted 3-2 to cut ties to Sustainable Jersey.

I blame false equivalency. In my opinion, there has been an erosion of fact-based public discourse in the past decade.

Somewhere along the line, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” morphed into “Every opinion deserves equal weight in public decision-making.”

(See also: Creationism in public school science classrooms and Climate Change denialism in the halls of Congress.)

It doesn’t. Governments need to make decisions based on facts. Not hopes, wishes, dreams, and especially not on paranoid delusions.

This fall, the New York Times redrew the rational thinking line in the sand. In a public editor statement, Margaret Sullivan wrote about the Times viewpoints on “false balance” when it comes to reporting on non-fact-based opinions or untruths.

He Said, She Said, and the Truth

“Recently, there’s been pressure to be more aggressive on fact-checking and truth-squading,” said Richard Stevenson, The Times’s political editor. “It’s one of the most positive trends in journalism that I can remember.”

It’s all a part of a movement — brought about, in part, by a more demanding public, fueled by media critics, bloggers and denizens of the social media world — to present the truth, not just conflicting arguments leading to confusion.

You’re entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts, goes the line from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, made current again on the PressThink blog by Jay Rosen of New York University, a media critic who has pressed the fact-checking argument.

Simply put, false balance is the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side. And many people are fed up with it. They don’t want to hear lies or half-truths given credence on one side, and shot down on the other. They want some real answers.

So maybe the tide as a whole is turning towards fact-based decision making.

But in Frelinghuysen NJ, perhaps, not.

Sullivan ends her Times comment with a statement I fully support: “The more news organizations can state established truths and stand by them, the better off the readership — and the democracy — will be.”