The Shirley Sherrod Incident Underscores Our Lack of Critical Thinking July 22, 2010

The Shirley Sherrod Incident Underscores Our Lack of Critical Thinking

Here’s Blair Scott, of American Atheists, referring to the Shirley Sherrod incident:

Critical thinking skills and the ability to use rational thought are vital to the survival of the species. We saw that break down this week as every politician (right, left, and center) and every news outlet (right, left, and center) took the word of a single person and ran with it. There was no verification of facts, no burden of proof, no skepticism, no questioning of the source, etc. The accumulation of logical fallacies was like watching an algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico: spreading its devastating effects the bigger it gets.

Well put, don’t you think?


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  • mkb

    Atleast as important as the lack of critical thinking skills was the lack of courage displayed by those on the left.

    Also, I was mightily amused to read that Ann Coulter thinks that the guy who originsted the story was “set up”. That’s right the only posible victim in any situation is a white male.

  • littlejohn

    The actions were wrong, but understandable. The administration couldn’t risk being accused of anti-white sentiments. The mainstream media reasonably assumed that since the government believed the tape, it must be legitimate. And the racist motives of Fox News are as obvious as the scumbag who faked the video. Of course the Ag Dept. should have waited a day to examine the evidence, but it’s easy to understand why they felt they didn’t have that kind of time. I hope Ms. Sherrod sues the crap out of the guy who faked the video, along with whatever organizations he is affiliated with, if they knew what he was up to. And it’s good to see that Ms. Sherrod has not only been offered a job back, but a much better job to boot. I hope she accepts it. She will look bitter and unforgiving if she turns it down.

  • There seems to be a general degredation of the concept of “facts” in journalism. Instead of doing the hard work to determine what the empirically verifiable facts are, journalists (particularly political journalists) seem to just report what people say as though that was the only source necessary. There’s a reason courts exclude hearsay as a form of evidence — it’s completely unreliable.

  • WishinItWas

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/38358982#38353508

    Keith sums it up very well in this rant

  • It wasn’t every news station, it was pretty much Fox News that started all of this in the mainstream. They’re an abomination of a news channel and don’t deserve to exist.

  • Samiimas

    Unfortunately this whole incident has already served it’s purpose.

    Have you seen a single mention in the media of that teabagger AKA: Republican *Sarah palin speaks at their rallies, they’re Republicans. Let’s stop kidding ourselves* leader getting caught admitting that ‘government spending’ has absolutely nothing to do with his opposition to the first black president? It’s just a tiny bit suspicious that within days of the GOP being caught spouting blatant racism a video conveniently pops up trying to prove that the NAACP is just as bad.

  • Epistaxis

    like watching an algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico

    I know a better analogy, and it even involves the same body of water!

  • Lambert

    @ mkb

    Also, I was mightily amused to read that Ann Coulter thinks that the guy who originsted the story was “set up”. That’s right the only posible victim in any situation is a white male.

    Well Ann Coulter is a white male, so what did you expect? (Check out that Adam’s apple)

    @ littlejohn

    The actions were wrong, but understandable. [snip] Of course the Ag Dept. should have waited a day to examine the evidence

    Wrong yes, understandable, no. There was no excuse for taking the word of the same solitary source that the media orgasmed over. Ag should have checked. What if Defense did the same thing: FOX says Bin Laden is in some village, so we should just send in the troops on their say-so?

  • Hitch

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. Demagoguery that ruins people’s careers is everywhere. How many people for example have listened to Jeremiah Wrights full sermons? I dare wager very few. Yet it’s made into a huge deal about Obama.

    Sound bite culture is abound. Helen Thomas, one sound bite killing her career. And so forth and so forth.

    The media is failing at fact checking, and in fact perpetuates quick and harsh judgment from very minimal information.

    It is very worrying and very troublesome. I’m glad that in this case there is some kind of reversal, but Acorn with cooked videos goes bankrupt before people have looked at the full picture.

    In short smear politics is live and well, and the cases where it fails, like this one is way too rare.

  • JD

    It used to be that someone at least tried to get the side of the accused before things got too far along. It was over so quickly that it’s not funny.

    Part of the problem is corporatism running the news, I don’t necessarily blame the journalists themselves because it’s their bosses and penny pinchers that are looking to fill the void of a 24 hour news at a very minimal cost. Why else do you think this was picked up from a blog rather than a channel having a journalist at the speech in question, and why else do you think news channels read tweets on the air? The same goes for “press release news reports” where it’s a regurgitation of information found in a press release, often without the opportunity for a rebuttal.

  • Richard P.

    It just confirms that there is nothing that the media promotes that can be relied upon as true.
    This is why we get so many conspiracy theories going. Whether it is the Iraq war, 9/11, H1N1 pandemic, or climate change. Everything gets so blown out of proportion and then proven to be bullshit or at least 80% of it. A person just can’t believe any of it.

    Yet it also seems that a large majority of people regard it as the fountain of absolute knowledge. People quote colbert and Oprah like their qualified experts instead of understanding it’s just a fucking tv show and none of it is real. This is the real problem somewhere along the line we forgot what reality is and that it doesn’t come in Hi-def.

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    “It wasn’t every news station, it was pretty much Fox News that started all of this in the mainstream. They’re an abomination of a news channel and don’t deserve to exist.”

    Uhm… its called free speech and if you won’t defend the right of the fool to speak then you cannot assure the right of the sane. You have the right to get your news elsewhere. Where a lie is uttered it must be countered with truth, you do not crush the speaker or keep them from being heard.
    And I get news from a wide variety of sources and if you ignore the opinion shows like Hannity and O’Reilly FOX is no worse than CNN or MSNBC, they are crap journalist bent on ratings.

  • bluezinnia

    It might be free speech now, but it ought to be very expensive speech. If FOX and a few others got their pants sued off of them, there would be an end to this nonsense.

    It’s time someone sets a precedent.

  • sailor

    This was inexcusable, firing someone without making a reasonable investigation of the circumstances (i.e knowing when this tape was made and listening to the whole thing) shows a blatant lack of analytic depth. Before you condemn and fire someone, talk to them and listen their side of the story. Not to do so shows a shocking lack of loyalty towards your own staff. In the case of Acorn, it was exactly the same.
    This administration is sometimes very amateurish and unprofessional.

  • littlejohn

    As a journalist, I accept the criticism of journalists in this case.
    But if you’ve never worked for a news organization, you probably aren’t aware of effects of deadline pressure. It’s very real and it takes its toll: the stereotype of newspeople as hard-drinking basket-cases isn’t much of an exaggeration.
    What do you do when you get a bombshell story that looks legit? Do you let yourself get scooped while double-checking everything? It’s always a tough call, and we shouldn’t be surprised when we occasionally get it wrong.
    At least, with the exception of Fox News, which is still trying to figure out a way to make this Ms. Sherrod’s fault, we’ve apologized and corrected the record.

  • Jim

    Is it any surprise that this got blown out of proportion like it did? Especially given the asshat teabag party racist that got publicly skewered for actually being racist. One domino fell and then the other. The quote above is very well put and echos my thoughts on the Sherrod situation when I first heard about it earlier this week. We’re all guilty at times of being reactionary instead of critical thinkers but this whole event takes irrational reaction to a whole new level.

  • Baconsbud

    Littlejohn do you feel she should sue the people who edited this and the media sources that run with the story before making sure it was correct? You say that deadline is coming and you don’t want to miss the chance to be first. Look at what can happen when you try being first and are wrong. Luckily for her things seem like they are going to work in her favor but how seldom does that actually happen?

  • littlejohn

    @baconsbud: That’s an extremely good question. There’s only one area of law that every journalist studies – libel.
    She can sue anyone she wants, of course, but to point out the obvious, the “media” is not one thing. It would mean dozens of suits against various news sources.
    There is no such thing as “libel law.” It’s strictly a civil matter. But judges follow precedent, and precendent makes it very difficult to win a suit against a news organization unless you can prove deliberate malice. Simple incompetence won’t do it.
    I think she would easily win a suit against the asshat who provided the doctored video (and may have doctored it himself).
    She could probably win a suit against the Department of Agriculture, but I think she would be wiser to forgive them and accept their job offer.
    She might be able to establish malice on the part of Fox News, but it would be a long shot.
    Against the other news outlets, not a chance. No sane attorney would even touch it.
    I think it would be in her best interest to let this blow over and display forgiveness. The people who deliberately hurt her have already shot themselves in the foot.

  • Revyloution

    that article nailed it.

    What I really don’t understand is the administration. Why are they so eager to fall over themselves to appease a conservative blogger, or the viewers of Fox news? Nothing he does will bring those people over to him. He could resurrect Reaganomics, change the motto on our money to “In JESUS we Trust!”, and privatize the US Army and they would still call him a fascist, communist, race baiter. The far right is completely immune to logic and reason. The Obama administration should stick to the middle-left, and just ignore all the far right loons if he wants to win in 2012.

  • Aj

    It’s sad because the full video contains her story of how she overcame her racism and actually ended up helping the “white” farmer.

  • Bob

    There is no such thing as the mainstream media. The term is a talking point used by Rush Limbaugh, and a sales point for FOX News. If you want to know WHY broadcast news has become a train-wreck of false equivalency and fake controversy, look no further than this ‘mainstream media’ nonsense that even liberals now routinely parrot.

    I say this as someone who has been in television news for 24 years. I believe that objective journalism nonetheless must make value judgments – if 2+2=4, and you can verify it, that’s what you report. You don’t give equal time to 2+2=5.

  • Bob

    As for the lack of critical thinking, I’m of a mind to think we’re seeing the decline of our civilization, marked by the following stages:

    1. A growing inability to observe the world around us.
    2. A loss of critical thinking.
    3. A growing inability to THINK, period. (Kids who can’t spell, people who can’t make change, people for whom outlets like FOX News are a replacement for thinking.)

    I suppose it’s to be expected, since entropy will win out in the end, but …

  • Dan W

    You know, this incident could have easily been averted if the person in the Dept. of Agriculture who first saw that edited video had bothered to see if the website had previously quote-mined people. I’d consider the selective editing of a video like in this instance to be a video version of quote-mining. In general, when linked to website posts on the Internet, I try to make sure the website I’m linked to wouldn’t have a reason to inaccurately report a story. You just have to think critically about what you read or hear, especially on the Internet. If the government had been more skeptical about this story, they might have checked the website’s claims and found it to be bullshit. It honestly isn’t that hard to fact-check claims you see on websites.