Dear Dr. Bob,
I try to keep up with the latest political jargon. I’ve adopted the term “narrative” to describe what our candidate’s personal story is all about. I’ve used “walk it back” a few times already — drives our opponent crazy — and when I tell a reporter something that includes the word “optics,” it goes over very well.
But I’m having a problem with this new one: false equivalency. What’s that one all about?
Dear Fun Phrases,
First off, congratulations on keeping up with political campaign and pundit jargon. I suppose there’s a book somewhere in this, but I don’t care that much. It’s yours.
Now, let’s look at “false equivalency” by going into Dr. Bob’s Way Back Machine.
So we’re in the early 1970’s and I’m working in television news at WJIM TV6 in Lansing, Michigan. This was back in the days when people, not corporations, actually owned stations. This owner of this one was a real d*ck. I could go on at some length about those years; getting fired for organizing the union, playing poker and drinking scotch at the state capitol press room, and so on.
This is important because that guy was my first introduction to false equivalency. It came about during our coverage of the political campaigns when his majesty sent out a memo to the news department telling us this: If you can’t get the opposing view or opposing candidate, you can’t run the other. Or words to that effect.
While that may sound perfectly okay, remember that the devil is in the details. What was really happening in this small state capitol city is that the station owner was working with his politician friends to keep opposition quiet. Or at least having their voices choked out.
Practically, we’d get an interview with candidate A commenting on candidate B (the D*cks friend). Candidate B won’t talk to us. Won’t give us a written statement, Nothing. Soooo…when we get back to the station we’re told that we can’t use what we got from candidate A. I think of this as a reverse false equivalency. But I digress.
Here’s what our favorite source of information concerning all things on or around the Earth: Wikipedia
False equivalence is a logical fallacy which describes a situation where there is a logical and apparent equivalence, but when in fact there is none.
The Wikipedia article has a few examples, but in current political context it is used most to describe comparisons between Democrats and Republicans. For instance, when looking for someone to blame about America’s health care system, the media will go after one Democrat and one Republican thinking they are equivalent. The Democrat’s plan is actually designed to deal with health care issues. The Republican plan is simply a way of increasing insurance company profits.
Here are the examples from Wikipedia:
The following statements are examples of False Equivalence:
- “Political party A says the sky is red, Political party B says the sky is blue, therefore since they must both be equally wrong, and the truth must be somewhere in the middle, the sky must be purple.”
- “They’re both soft, cuddly pets, there’s no difference between a cat and a dog.”
- “We’re all born naked, we’re all no different from each other.”
- “It’s just a little white lie.” Implied False Equivalence: The phrase is usually used in cases where the lie is large enough to cause concern, and is being claimed as equivalent to small lies that are generally not considered worth mentioning.