Solving False Equivalence in Politics?

Last week, John Oliver had a great segment that poked fun at how most (all?) television outlets cover climate change. Take a look:

Upon watching it, I didn’t think that Oliver was going to “even out” the representation in a physical manner. Instead, I thought that he was going to solve the issue of the “talking heads” appearing equal. Let me explain. Watch this:

That’s Lewis Black from the 2006 film, Man of the Year. I have no doubt that this sentiment had been expressed before this film, but this was the first time that I had heard it in this way. Hosting someone on a TV program with ideas that are clearly incorrect and putting their “talking head” up next to someone who has legitimately studied and confirmed that the other person is incorrect is a form of false equivalence.

As Black explains, to the viewer, both of these sides appear “equal.” It appears that one person is expressing an opinion and that the other person has a different opinion. What’s being missed is that one person’s opinion is factually erroneous (just as we saw in the video with Bill Nye earlier).

When I was watching the Oliver video, it made me think that he was going to do something else. I thought he was going to show the two talking heads in boxes (as you usually see on “debates” on political talk shows), but instead of giving them both a 50/50 split on the screen, I thought he was going to ration it more appropriately given the overwhelming support for climate change. I thought he’d give Bill Nye’s box 97% of the screen and the other guy’s box 3% of the screen.

I realize that this probably wouldn’t work in an actual talk show, but since I knew it was supposed to be semi-satirical, it seemed like a plausible idea.

On that note, can you imagine if that’s how political talk shows actually did things? That is, instead of having that 50/50 split, when they were talking about something factual, the size of the box for the talking head espousing the nonfactual opinion would be smaller. Of course, there’s all kinds of problem that could be raised with regard to censorship, but it’s certainly creative.

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