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Living Outside the Holodeck – How to fix televised debates

Only watching the news you agree with creates for people a reality as false as when Barclay used the Holodeck to get busy with Counselor Troi. Here's how to fix that.

You can criticize Barclay all you want, but you and I both know this is exactly what we'd be doing with the Holodeck.

A couple of things have gotten me thinking about politics, politicians, and the way TV reports on them.

First, Obamacare was upheld by the Supreme Court and Fox News literally bent over and fired fourteen grumpy monkeys out of its ass.  (And no, I’m not misusing “literally” in that sentence, I’m almost positive this was an actual segment on Fox and Friends).

Second, The Newsroom debuted and I watched a whole episode, just like I used to before I had a wife and kids!

Third, we’re five months away from a presidential election so hotly contested that approximately 71% of the world’s resources will be expended on it. Which means no matter who wins, so much oil will be used to run Newsmax’s website servers that we’ll be in a Mad Max scenario by, like, the following Thursday.

Let’s start with the second point: The Newsroom. Call me middlebrow, but I loved it.  I can watch smart-dressed people make speeches about IMPORTANT THINGS all day long.

One of the IMPORTANT THINGS that gets pressed in the Sorkin-mill is the idea that a well-informed electorate is one of the key building blocks of a democracy. Essentially, if we’re going to vote on this shit, we should at least be well-versed about it. Regardless of your politics (or your feelings about Studio 60), you probably agree with this.

And that’s about all people of differing political opinion seem to be able to agree on.

We’ve reached the point in our evolution of the truth that each person can now choose the flavor of reality that most appeals to them. If you like Obama, you probably watch MSNBC. If you like Romney, you probably watch Fox News. And if you like silver hair and sass, you watch Anderson Cooper on CNN.

Facts have become malleable, for three important reasons:

1. As stated above, we can now choose which facts get reported to us from our “trusted news source.”

2. Our belief in those facts is colored by the fact we self-selected the source. What I mean is, we don’t critically judge our news source, because we chose it. This pushes our political belief into something bordering on the religious.

3. The only real fact-checking that gets reported is usually done by those on the other side of the ideological fence. MSNBC calls Fox News out on its baloney, and Fox News does the same for MSNBC. The problem becomes obvious if you accept points one and two: how can the truth filter out if the only people reporting on the truth are on a network you don’t watch and even worse, don’t trust?

Besides all that is the larger problem that most of the stuff being talked about is far too complicated for the average person to understand. “Common sense” solutions to economic, constitutional, and geopolitical problems make about as much sense as “common sense” solutions to combinatorial optimization problems — put simply, they do not exist.

(This is one you can’t win, dear commenter, though you’re going to think you can. It’s amazing to me how many people think themselves an expert on something as massively complicated as economics. There are Nobel-Prize-Winning economists out there arguing about the right path to take, yet every single idiot with a Facebook account fancies himself the next Ramanujan-like savant who could fix the whole damn world if Ben Bernake would just read his four-line status update.)

What all this means is that the news simply can’t deliver the nuance necessary to inform the electorate even if it wanted to. Even if you could get the people to understand it, half of them wouldn’t believe you because the facts didn’t fit with their preconceptions.

(I’m not saying that we’re headed towards Armageddon. I’m just saying that I’m watching The Walking Dead less as a fictional show, and more as a How-To guide to get me through the next few decades.)

I haven’t give up just yet, though. Despite all the evidence stacked against it, I still think democracy has a chance of succeeding. The Bald Eagle is far too cool a mascot for us to just throw in the towel and grab a water ice.

So here’s my simple idea: The Fifth Estate.

What we need is a jury of twelve people selected to keep the politicians and the news organizations from coloring outside the lines. We’ll call them “The Fifth Estate” because it sounds super cool and it’ll look good stitched into the back of their satin jackets. (Did I not mention that they’d all wear matching satin jackets? Yeah, pretty bad ass, I know.)

The jury will be selected like any other jury, except instead of random postcards going out to random dipshits, we’ll pull together a pool of 100 of the top economists, scientists, writers, and TV Bloggers.

Then, each campaign will get to vet the jury, putting them through a televised Voir dire process, with each side publicly explaining why they want to get rid of any potential jury member.

When we finally get to twelve people that both the Democrats and Republicans can agree on, they’ll be sworn in and given their official satin jackets.

Their job would be to keep tabs on the Fourth Estate the those guys were supposed to keep tabs on the government. When a lie or half-truth is being perpetuated by the biased media, The Fifth Estate will post on its website what the real truth is. Heck, if they have the time and inclination, they can even give a wikipedia link or two explaining to people just what “socialism” is.

But all of this is just a warm-up to my big idea. I think I can say without hyperbole that if you don’t read this idea and immediately quit your job to devote yourself full-time to implementation of it, then you obviously hate America and everything our country stands for.

Okay, here it is: The Fifth Estate should monitor the presidential debates in real time. All twelve of them will watch along with the rest of us, except they’ll have two buttons in front of them that read “TRUTH” or “LIE”.

Whenever one of the candidates states a fact, The Fifth Estate will press their buttons. If a statement receives 66% truth, a green light will flash underneath the candidate’s name. If a statement receives a 66% lie, a red light will flash. And if it falls in between (i.e., The Fifth Estate can’t agree whether it’s the truth or a lie), it’ll flash yellow.

That way, instead of biased, useless post-debate “analysis” in which the guy from MSNBC finds a way to call Mitt Romney an inhuman monster bent on destroying the middle class and the guy from FOX takes a picture of Obama out of his pocket and defecates on it, we get a real-time discussion of which candidates are lying to us and which candidates are telling the truth.

Plus, since The Fifth Estate is chosen by a bipartisan panel, there can be no calls of bias. The only bias will be reality (though it should be noted that reality, as Stephen Colbert has observed, has a “well-known liberal” bent.)

For too long, politics have lived in a subjective reality. Candidates can say anything they want, and the news organizations that support them will moderate their reporting to fit that reality. By amassing war-chests and manipulating grass-roots movement, candidates can bend their reality even further by saturating traditional and social media with their version of the facts. Finally, by having mouthpieces calling any dissenter un-American or part of a conspiracy to hide the “truth,” what we’re left with is a world that has completely rejected objective reality.

So this is my idea: let’s all do something to live in the real world for just a little bit. At least long enough to cast an informed vote. Then, after the important stuff is done, we can all go back to the Holodeck and bang Counselor Troi.

Photo Credit: Paramount

7 Responses to “Living Outside the Holodeck – How to fix televised debates”

July 10, 2012 at 12:11 PM

Dad, you crazy up in the head.

July 10, 2012 at 12:13 PM

I have to say — a Jay Black Jr. novelty account might be my favorite thing ever. Hopefully you can start commenting on other articles in the voice of my son. Mostly, he would be disappointed at the shocking lack of Blues Clues coverage on this site…

July 10, 2012 at 1:39 PM

Dad, when your out on the road working, mom wrestles with her “friend” Bob in your bedroom with the door shut. She tells me to zip it jr. or no more Blues Clues.

July 10, 2012 at 1:51 PM

See, this is where the novelty account begins to break down — no son of mine would replace “you’re” with “your” in a sentence. In my family, that’s a paddlin’…

July 10, 2012 at 1:52 PM

When I submitted this, Chuck said “good piece, can’t wait to see what the response to it is.” The Internet! It never disappoints!

July 10, 2012 at 4:00 PM

They should re-air it the next day, with pop-up video-like facts popping up while they’re spewing out nonsensical fiction

July 23, 2012 at 10:56 PM

Any thought of distilling decision making down to a panel of 12 is a common elitist liberal fallacy – if we could just find the ‘right’ people to make our decisions for us, everything would be just fine. The truth isn’t defined by a poll – no matter how perfectly anointed the chosen are.

I wish there were a better way – but nothing other than a well-informed electorate (which means people that take a little time to critically review the available information), has any hope of working in the long run.

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