“You Lie” – Now What?

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On Wednesday, September 9, 2009 while President Obama was addressing a joint session of Congress he was heckled by congressman Joe Wilson from South Carolina. At one point during the President’s speech Representative Wilson disagreed with what the President was saying and blurted out “You Lie”.

The policy item under discussion was whether the proposed health care bill would cover illegal aliens. Almost immediately news sites on the left started pointing out how wrong Rep. Wilson was as there is a line in the bill that explicitly states no public funds will pay for the health care needs of illegal aliens. News sites on the right seem to be saying there is no enforcement mechanism in the bill and without enforcement illegal aliens will be treated under the health care plan. (It’s not clear what Joe Wilson knew when he blurted out “You Lie”.)

What both sides are missing is how harmful a personally accusatory and otherwise fact free statement (“you lie” as used here is an opinion and not a fact) like Representative Wilson’s was on the overall debate. It’s clear now that any verbal outburst, be it “You Lie” or something more substantive would have been picked up in the media. In recent history no outbursts containing verbally recognized words have been uttered at a sitting President while giving a speech to Congress, so any outburst with recognizable words would have made the news.

You Lie” – attacks the person. The immediate reaction is to defend the person. Neither advances the underlying debate. Further, if you genuinely do not believe the other side is being honest there is no point in further discussion as you can not trust that agreements will be honored. If people like Representative Wilson actually believe this of President Obama, then we’re all in deep trouble.

That’s Not True” – is better. It attacks the issue and avoids the non-productive defense of the person and leaves the door open to the possibility that the other side is honest and honorable. But it doesn’t specify what’s not true.

There’s No Enforcement” – is best in an actual debate, but probably too cerebral for a TV news blurb. It states the issue under contention and the immediate response will be to provide details on the enforcement plans.

NewsWithNumbers is all about getting to the heart of the issue. Numbers and graphs provide a means to focus on the facts and not the hype and misinformation surrounding the facts. In addition to providing you with the facts of the issues we hope we’re also changing the way you perceive these debates. After being immersed in a fact-full debate it should be much easier to detect when fact-free debating tactics are being used.

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