Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Joe the Plumber" Isn't Quite a Plumber, and Isn't "Joe!"

In an online community I'm in, I learned that Fox News is a mouthpiece for the Republican Party, and CNN does the Democrat's bidding. Or, rather, I learned that a number of people believe it's so.

And, we've all heard about the 'vast right-wing conspiracy'1 and the right-wing press that is against right-thinking people.


This isn't About Politics: It's About News, Facts, and Thinking

I didn't intend to revisit this topic, or anything else 'political' for some time. Not in this blog, anyway. Then I read about developments in the "Joe the Plumber" story that are
  1. Important
  2. An excellent example of how assumptions may not be accurate

"Joe the Plumber" Unmasked by Investigative Reporters!

Here are a few excerpts from the story:
  • "HOLLAND, Ohio -- Joe the Plumber's story sprang a few leaks Thursday.
  • "Turns out that the man who was held up by John McCain as the typical, hard-working American taxpayer isn't really a licensed plumber. And court documents show he owes nearly $1,200 in back taxes.
  • " 'Joe,' whose name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, was cited repeatedly in Wednesday night's final presidential debate by McCain for questioning Barack Obama's tax policy...."
  • "...The burly, bald man acknowledged he doesn't have a plumber's license, but said he didn't need one because he works for someone else at a company that does residential work.
  • "But Wurzelbacher still would need to be a licensed apprentice or journeyman to work in Toledo, and he's not, said David Golis, manager and residential building official for the Toledo Division of Building Inspection...."
  • "...And then there was the matter of his taxes.
  • "Wurzelbacher owes the state of Ohio $1,182.98 in personal income tax, according to Lucas County Court of Common Pleas records...."
  • "...Wurzelbacher, a self-described conservative, had spoken to Obama at a rally Sunday near his home and asked him whether his tax plan would keep him from buying the business that currently employs him, which earns more than $250,000 a year...."
That's the sort of story you won't find on Fox News, right?

Actually, that is a Fox News story, " 'Joe the Plumber' Owes $1,200 in Back Taxes" (FOXNews (0ctober 16, 2008)). CNN and the BBC are still running their "Joe the Plumber" stories: as of 7:58 p.m., Central time, USA (UTC 00:58).

CNN and the BBC are Part of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy?!


The way I see it, news services aren't part of any sort of conspiracy. It's pretty obvious that the editors of, say, The New York Times live in a culture that's far removed from that inhabited by editors of the Fargo Forum: and this is reflected in what stories they decide are important to print, and what spin to put on them.

Aside from attitudes like The New York Times' 'all the news we feel like printing.' I think a big difference is how good the news services are at digging up facts, verifying them, and getting them to print.

The "Joe the Plumber" story presented a challenge: Holland, Ohio, is almost as far away from New York City as Fargo, North Dakota, is. Fox News was able to get someone there, learn important details about Mr. Wurzelbacher, and get them published. Before CNN. The BBC couldn't be expected to be quite so quick, since there's a good-sized ocean between the United Kingdom and Ohio.

Conspiracies, No: Available Information, Yes

What gets into the news depends on information that reporters can collect and organize, and what editors decide is important. Reporters and editors, however well-trained and well-meaning they are, will see the world through the lens of their own culture.

People for whom anything beyond New Jersey is 'out west' will perceive events in a way that's quite different from that of people whose experience includes both the east coast news, and life in Ohio, Nebraska, or some other remote outpost of humanity.

I think this explains a great deal in the sometimes strikingly different way that different news service handle the same event.

So What?

I don't think that news services lie, but I do think that it's a good idea to take what we read with a grain of salt.

Even Barack Obama thought that "Joe the Plumber" was really some guy who wanted to go into business for himself. Which makes Obama's 'spread the wealth' remark quite interesting. But that's for another post, in another blog.

In the news:
1 I know: that "vast right-wing conspiracy" remark is supposed to be something that Hillary Clinton didn't say. The problem is, I saw and heard her refer to the "right wing conspiracy" during a televised meeting. Maybe she was just quoting someone else.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.