A Straw Man Constitutes His Claims

While I esteem Quin Hillyer as an insightful logician and adept writer—and especially as a fellow Never-Trumper—I feel compelled to take issue with an opinion piece he recently wrote for the Washington Examiner. The article challenged Lester Holt’s (anchor for NBC Nightly News) assertion that “Regard for truth must regain a foothold in our society, so that we can weather the storm of tomorrow’s calamities, tomorrow’s pandemics.”

Hillyer wrote, “He [Holt] said that [above statement] in the context of asserting that it is part of the media’s job to ‘help our audiences understand what our role [the role of journalists] is in a healthy democracy.’” Hillyer then—rather openly and brazenly—began building his straw man, as follows:

What Holt really was doing was saying that the media should be the arbiters of truth. But that’s wrong. Especially because so many within that selfsame media are so intent on the idea that there is a “my truth” and a “your truth,” what this means in practice is that the media herd takes its own “truth” and attempts to make it conventional wisdom. From there, it further confuses "its truth" for the truth -- the real, unalterable kind.

Holt is wrong. The journalist’s job is not to determine what the truth is, in the ideal sense. The journalist’s job -- or at least the “straight news” journalist’s job, the one that is not supposed to represent the reporter’s opinion -- is to present accurate facts with evidence. Facts and truth are not the same things. Reporters should be tradesmen in the trenches relaying facts, within reasonable and indisputable context, not professional ethicians divining truth of any kind, whether “their” truth or “the” truth.

Hillyer built his entire case on his assertion that “Holt… was saying that the media should be the arbiters of truth.” But is that really what Lester Holt said? Here’s a key portion of Holt’s commentary: “The idea that we [journalists] should always give two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect the world we find ourselves in. That the sun sets in the west is a fact. Any contrary view does not deserve our time and attention.”

Now, granted, a persnickety pundit might protest that the sun never sets—in the west, east, or anywhere else. But everyone understands the obvious idiom. What we earthlings observe as the “setting” of the sun always occurs to our west. To suggest otherwise is to contend for a stance that is so plainly false that, as Holt correctly stated, it “does not deserve our time and attention.”

Hillyer decries what he sees as journalists taking on the role of “arbiters of truth.” Sure, there are times when the truth is not as obvious as the evening sunset. Our world is full of unanswered mysteries. Lacking undeniable evidence, journalists should resist declaring something to be an irrefutable fact. Bigfoot—despite his many ardent believers and even more fervent deniers—remains an unanswerable mystery. On the other hand, other contentions—such as the claim that the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, was staged by the American government—are demonstrably false. And because they can be plainly proven to be false, they do not deserve airtime on a legitimate newscast.

Similarly, the still-vociferously-proclaimed allegation that widespread voter fraud was responsible for Joe Biden’s election win over Donald Trump is demonstrably false. Trump’s legal team brought various versions of their voter-fraud arguments to 62 state and federal courts, and in 61 of those cases the courts ruled that the Trump team failed to provide reasonable proof of such voter fraud. (In the one case the Trump team had something close to a victory; the Pennsylvania judge ruled voters had three days after the election to provide proper ID and "cure" their ballots.)

Hillyer also groused that “They [non-Fox journalists] collectively decide, without a single fact to justify it, that if Georgia codifies for the first time ever the available [sic] of drop-boxes for voting—an expansion of voting opportunity beyond any non-pandemic availability in the state’s history—that the expansion is actually a ‘suppression’ of the vote.”

“Without a single fact to justify it,” Hillyer says. The man is building another straw man. Yes, the Georgia law does mandate that each county within the state must have a drop box for ballots. But, as this CNN report states,

However, the new law also limits how many drop boxes each county can have, how many hours and days the boxes can be open, and where they can be located.

The law says that each county can't have more than one drop box per early voting site or per 100,000 active registered voters, whichever number is smaller. This provision will dramatically reduce the number of drop boxes available in some large counties. Fulton County, for example, says it would go from 38 drop boxes in the November election to eight in the future.

In addition, the law says that drop boxes need to be located at elections offices or inside early voting locations. And it says the boxes can only be available during the hours that early voting is available. (If the governor declares an emergency, the boxes can be located outdoors.) In 2020, drop boxes could be located outside, available 24 hours a day, and open until the evening of Election Day.

This is a clear case of “more is less.” It’s smoke and mirrors, meant to deceive.

This is a clear case of “more is less.” It’s smoke and mirrors, meant to deceive. “See, we’re requiring that every county provide a ballot drop box.” One drop box for a county that might span hundreds of square miles. Getting to that single drop box requires transportation. And who among the state’s citizens is least likely to have a regular means of transportation? Yes, the poor and minorities. Wealthy white folks can get their votes in. Isn’t that enough?

Truth is absolute; humans are not. We mere mortals must assess available evidence as we seek to determine truth. And if we hope to ever rise above our base, selfish motives, we must do so while dismissing our personal desires.

Taken within the context of his entire commentary, Lester Holt was right to declare that it’s the media’s job to “help our audiences understand what our role [the role of journalists] is in a healthy democracy.” Sure, some journalists abuse that weighty responsibility. If Hillyer wants to accuse journalists of such abuse, he should begin by looking in the mirror.