Absence of Evidence Can Be Evidence of Absence Another frequent conservative complaint was that the press was not letting the public in on the “real” Obama. Where was the blockbuster photo of Obama and Bill Ayers in a Hyde Park hot tub? How about a smoking-gun canceled check from Tony Rezko buried in the Cook County conveyance records? Surely, the conservative critics seemed to be suggesting, this type of damning evidence must be out there. In fact, Ayers, Rezko, and other potential Obama campaign detonators (Reverend Wright?) got plenty of page-one coverage—it just didn’t change the public’s perception of Obama or the trajectory of the campaign, much as the revelation of George W. Bush’s DUI arrest didn’t change the 2000 campaign. As a friend of mine in politics used to say, sometimes where there is smoke, there is fire, and sometimes there’s just a smoke machine.
Open Your Ears, Your Mind Will Follow This is equal-opportunity advice for liberals and conservatives. One of the less-savory aspects of media proliferation is that, if we choose, we can get our news exclusively from outlets that reflect our own views back at us. This should be resisted. As a center-lefty, I nonetheless spent a lot of time during the campaign watching Fox News, browsing The National Review Online, and grazing daily at The Drudge Report. Sure, it was tedious at times to sit through Sean Hannity’s nightly “a noun, a verb, and Bill Ayers” routine, but more often than not, plugging into the conservative media reminded me that facts, in addition to being stubborn things, are unpredictable in their associations and sometimes even wind up housed in the pie hole of a beefy Irish blowhard.
The urge to dismiss news simply because it originates in a hostile precinct may be human but it’s also shortsighted—and it leads to a kind of informational provincialism in which anyone not from your ideological tribe is viewed as irredeemably untrustworthy. In a country founded on shared ideas, not a shared identity, I can’t think of a bias more un-American than that.