What the media do and what researchers do are not that different. Both of them relate to empirical reality and are interested in getting data – only that the media are particularly concerned with highly contemporary data, data from today, new data called news; researchers may also be satisfied with “olds”. Both are concerned with theories, efforts to understand the data, to interpret them – usually put into the commentary in the newspapers, such as editorials and in the theory section of a scientific article or book. And both of them are actually concerned with values, only that the media are usually more honest, making the values very explicit – researchers have a tendency to hide their values even to themselves, pretending that they are “value-free”, objective – uninfluenced by anything but data and the effort to interpret them.

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The Mass Media: An Analysis of Their System of Fallacy by John McMurtry (1990)

At the heart of informal logic is its concern to detect fallacious structures of reasoning in natural language discourse. The normal procedure is: where we are able to identify a flaw in premise, inference, relevance or the like in any route of reasoning, we hold that a fallacy has been committed and we seek to demonstrate it. Otherwise put, logical analysis is directed at what is argued, and fallacies are found in this or that particular way of arriving at a conclusion.

This method of analysis is indispensable to sound logical construction of individual arguments, but misses the overall pattern of assertion and non-assertion for the particular claims within it. What has been so far overlooked is that reasoning can be misled not only in its steps of making a case, but by what is ruled out from being made a case: not only by what is wrong within this or that route of assertion, but also by what is wrong with the structure of these routes of assertion taken together. We have in a word missed the forest for the trees – or more accurately, we have missed the logical landscape within which the forest and trees are located.

I argue here that there is a deeper, more comprehensive structure that subverts reason and misleads our thinking across propositional routes, and not through any fallacy of any such route. And I show that this structure obstructs and deforms our thinking by a general system of deception which has so far operated underneath the reach of our tools of logical detection and correction.

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