A couple months ago, while driving my daughter to volleyball practice, she heard them talking about Afghanistan on the radio. One thing led to another, and we were having a conversation about post-modernism and the importance of understanding context in the news. Below is a paraphrasedtranscript of our conversation.
Daughter: Hey, I heard about that on the news at school!
Me: Good, it’s important. How did the news spin it?
Daughter: What do you mean?
Me: How did they report the facts?
Daughter: … I dunno, they just said things. What do you mean?
Me: I mean there is no possibility for any human to report on objective fact without subjectivity. The facts and opinions boxes always get messed up.
Daughter: So … you can’t believe anyone?
Me: No, that’s not what I mean. What I mean is when you report a fact, the way in which you report it is unavoidably colored by how, when, and why you are reporting it. You can try as hard as you can, and some people are better at it than others, but even objective facts are affected by the person or people reporting it.
Me: So let’s take our drive here. What’s the difference between saying, “I have to go to volleyball practice,” versus “I get to go to volleyball practice.” Are both statements objective facts?
Me: What’s the difference?
Daughter: One sounds like you are excited to go and the other doesn’t.
Me: Exactly. Let’s make it harder. Statement one: “The U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan, leaving thousands of Americans and materiel behind enemy lines.” Is this objectively true?
Me: Statement two: “President Biden pulled the U.S. out of Afghanistan, leaving thousands of Americans and materiel stranded behind enemy lines.” Is this objectively true?
Me: What’s the difference?
Daughter: It sounds like you’re blaming President Biden.
Me: Why would you think that based on my reporting of that true fact?
Daughter: Because you don’t like him.
Me: But you can’t know that from what I said. How do you know I don’t like him?
Daughter: Because of other things you’ve said about him.
Me: That’s called context. You don’t know why I’d report that fact in that way unless you have heard me say other things. I could’ve just said the first statement, but I added the president in there because I believe he has made some very terrible mistakes. I even used the word “stranded” to make it sound even worse. Unless you recognize that, you might dislike him without even knowing why. Follow me?
Me: Let’s do one more. “Jesus Christ rose from the dead.” Objectively true?
Me: “Christians say Jesus rose from the dead.” True again?
Daughter: Yes. But you wouldn’t say it that way; the first one is a … (lightbulb goes off) … I need the context!
Me: Bingo. What’s the moral of the story?
Daughter: (thinks for a while) I should get the news from more than one source.
Me: Yes! You also now understand postmodernism. I know grown adults with advanced degrees who can’t figure it out.
Daughter: (thinks for a while again, then smirks at me) … and don’t vote for Democrats.
Me: My work here is done.