April 19, 2016

"Anderson Cooper of CNN says he probably won’t vote in the coming election."

"He says voting would bias him when he covers political news. I agree," says Scott Adams.
I call it the joiner problem. The minute you take a side, you start acquiring confirmation bias to bolster your sense of rightness. Objectivity is nearly impossible once you commit to a team....
Wait. You can vote without ever taking a side or joining the team. That's what I do. For me, voting is a ritual, something I always do and have done for a long time. I'm not very committed to the candidates I vote for. No one ever embodies everything I want. I'm just picking the one that seems best when election day rolls around.

But if I thought it would make my writing on the blog better, I would give up voting. I notice that comments on my post often include statements like: Oh, we all know you'll vote for X in the end. If I didn't vote, you couldn't say that.

You know, I also don't like having opinions on legal questions that I teach about. I like opening up the discussion from all sides, taking them all seriously. Sometimes people think when I'm explaining a judge's opinion, I'm agreeing with it. For example, the other day we had a panel at the law school about the late Justice Scalia, and I spoke about his opinions on substantive due process. I explained his position and never said one word about whether I agreed or disagreed with any of it, and I was treated as if I were defending him and advocating for him. I found that very annoying, especially since there are a few Scalia-haters in the vicinity and I did not intend to offer myself as a proxy punching bag.

IN THE COMMENTS: JPS said: "The originator of the quip 'It's hard to talk when you're tea bagging' is concerned about maintaining his objectivity? That's nice."

55 comments:

TurbineGuy said...

Hi Ann. Probably one of my first times commenting, but for what its worth, I've always got a completely neutral vibe from your commentary. Probably why I've been reading for so long.

Nonapod said...

Wait. You can vote without ever taking a side or joining the team. That's what I do. For me, voting is a ritual, something I always do and have done for a long time. I'm not very committed to the candidates I vote for. No one ever embodies everything I want. I'm just picking the one that seems best when election day rolls around.

I agree. Especially when it comes to presidential elections, for me voting is about picking the person who I believe will do the least damage. I tend not to have any faith in individual candidates, I think they're all pretty bad. This is of course doubly true for our election.

mockturtle said...

True objectivity is difficult. It is rare in journalism but Mr. Cooper's statement helps me to understand why he is one of the few news anchors I admire. And trust.

Big Mike said...

I'm not very committed to the candidates I vote for.

Would that be doubly true in the case of Ted Cruz? You don't have to answer.

Bobby said...

"Sometimes people think when I'm explaining a judge's opinion, I'm agreeing with it. ... I found that very annoying, especially since there are a few Scalia-haters in the vicinity and I did not intend to offer myself as a proxy punching bag."

A lot of your regular commenters do this routinely -- they find any disagreement with any detail of their comment as automatically indicating that the critic belongs to some specific particular (and often caricaturistic) school of thought. I don't think they can help themselves. It's probably comforting for them to be able to see the world in some binary coded black-and-white.

Like TurbineGuy, I find your posts to generally be qute viewpoint neutral and not necessarily endorsing the events/happenings for which you are merely attempting to accurately describe.

Lem said...

Rush has been saying similar things about his approach to all things Trump... with little success. Most people seem to believe he is in the Trump camp.

Chuck said...

This will anger Ted Koppel (who I have always rather liked, and whose politics I suspect are not as easy to read as some might think).

Koppel's famous dictum is that nobody should care what good journalists' politics are. Koppel said that nobody cares whether their cardiologist or their accountant is a Republican or a Democrat; they just want a skilled professional. And a good journalist sets his own politics aside.

You can dismiss Koppel out of hand if you wish. My own criticism of Koppel is more tailored. I have worked as a lawyer defending doctors in malpractice cases for many years. And I know very well that doctors have standards (the "standard of care") but that even the best ones acknowledge differing practices, methods, theories and modalities. It is their field of expertise.

And so it is with journalists. In their field of "expertise."

Let's also remember that so much of what passes as "news" nowadays -- example being about half the day on FNC and almost all day on MSNBC -- is not news but rather viewpoint and opinion. On newsy topics.

I've personally never cared too much for or about Anderson Cooper. He's very low on my list of go-to news sources.

YoungHegelian said...

I explained his position and never said one word about whether I agreed or disagreed with any of it, and I was treated as if I were defending him and advocating for him. I found that very annoying, especially since there are a few Scalia-haters in the vicinity and I did not intend to offer myself as a proxy punching bag.

Preach it, sister, puh-REECH! The other thing folks looking for a punching bag just luuuuuv is when you point out to them that their arguments & positions, too, contain major inconsistencies. Well, then, you also must be on The Dreaded Other Side.

Bay Area Guy said...

Althouse:

You know, I also don't like having opinions on legal questions that I teach about. I like opening up the discussion from all sides, taking them all seriously.

I like the first part and love the second part.

A minor suggestion - How about just having a soft tentative opinion? Then, the listeners can get a sense where you're coming from and you don't have to pretend that you don't have an opinion (which gets some folks in trouble).

Example: My tentative opinion is that abortion is a bad idea. I could be wrong, though. Also, I'm not sure whether or how to regulate it. Now, let's talk about Roe v. Wade as a Constitutional matter-- what a judicial crock! The majority justices simply expressed a public policy preference (that abortion be legal), so they conjured up a Constitutional right to support this preference, when none exists. Please discuss.

MadisonMan said...

"Why are you assuming that because I understand his reasoning that I agree with it?"

A very useful sentence to have ready at all times.

JPS said...

The originator of the quip "It's hard to talk when you're tea bagging" is concerned about maintaining his objectivity?

That's nice.

Big Mike said...

@Althouse, I'll be serious for a (brief!) moment. I think you have a fairly traditional view of the law. Scalia haters don't. If you're going to present Scalia's opinions without prefacing it with something along the lines of "here's what that idiot Scalia had to say about substantive due process ..." then the Scalia haters will inevitably view you as a valid target. That's not how it should work, but how do we get back to what it used to be?

campy said...

And the thread win goes to: JPS.

CJinPA said...

Declining to vote because it may bias you, while perpetuating the blatant pro-Democrat bias of CNN, really isn't strengthening your professional integrity, Anderson.

Keep the former and ditch the latter, and you'll come across as more sincere.

Bay Area Guy said...

People get very emotional about opinions -- in the abstract.

I was guilty of this too, until I turned 40 or so.

My general rule of thumb is, First, find out whether you are debating an abstract question or a concrete question.

Having a discussion about abortion -- with a pregnant woman is probably not a good idea. Better to talk about the origins of the Vietnam War or something else.

If it's purely an abstract question, then no holds should be barred. Every stripe of opinion should be vigorously expressed and challenged.

If it's a concrete question, well, ya gotta have some tact. Understanding the appropriate time, place and manner to discuss the issue is key.

Bay Area Guy said...

Anderson -- I've watched you a few times on CNN. Here's a clue --

I bet you are a Democrat. I bet you support gay marriage. I bet you are not voting for Trump or Cruz.

Amiright?

Jake Tapper, though, is one journalist who I think does a very good job keeping balance and perspective. There aren't many others.

Mike Sylwester said...

Anderson Cooper is OK. I like him.

I like also Don Lemon.

I just do.

Chuck said...

There is another approach to this subject entirely. One that I much prefer.

When he was the founding editor-in-chief of Slate.com, Michael Kinsley instilled a quadrennial tradition of posting a short paragraph or even just one line from every member if the staff who agreed (they nearly all did) to say, who the voted for in the presidential race. They have done it every four years since Slate came into being, and I expect the tradition to continue this year. As you'd expect, it is rather easy to review the past surveys. And as you'd expect, the Slate staff runs 85-95% Democrat.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...Wait. You can vote without ever taking a side or joining the team. That's what I do. For me, voting is a ritual, something I always do and have done for a long time. I'm not very committed to the candidates I vote for. No one ever embodies everything I want. I'm just picking the one that seems best when election day rolls around.

Well...ok, but allow me to point out that it seemed like you engaged in a spirited defense of the voting strategy you employed in the WI primary (when one of the candidates made statements that attacked that strategy), right? So insomuch as Adams is saying that acting in a certain way causes "tribal" feelings I think you might have to agree at least a bit, no?

I understand you didn't enthusiastically support a person, or even a party, this time, and that you probably don't, normally. That doesn't mean you don't have "tribal" feelings towards the object/purpose of your vote, though, so it doesn't mean you aren't susceptible to some of the same influences Adams identifies. Even "neutral" is a position! Adopting the and defending the position has influences--Adams is correct that taking a side/making some action that commits you to a position triggers tribal feelings, but contra your read I'm not sure you can avoid that fate by not voting or not taking a position that involves wholehearted devotion to a single person/side.

Dan Hossley said...

Anderson Cooper swims at the shallow end of the pool. I wouldn't take anything he say too seriously.

Kevin said...

"I explained his position and never said one word about whether I agreed or disagreed with any of it, and I was treated as if I were defending him and advocating for him."

You made him sound reasonable. For that you must expect hatred, if not outright attack and ridicule.

They were just doing what they were trained to do.

Gahrie said...

I explained his position and never said one word about whether I agreed or disagreed with any of it, and I was treated as if I were defending him and advocating for him.

That's because the default position on the Left is that you shouldn't even dignify your opposition by actually listening to them, or acknowledging their legitimacy.

Why would anyone bother to learn about the ideas of that monster Scalia? That is just wasted time you could spend attacking people for cultural appropriation. It is enough to know that he is wrong, and his ideas are evil.

The same reasoning is why most universities no longer require Western Civilization courses....why learn about evil?

Chuck said...

I wonder, Professor, if it is merely hard for you to be a law school faculty member on a campus like UW-Madison, and hold some conservative/Republican sympathies.

If you were a maxed-out donor to the DNC, a board member for the local ACLU, and had an Obama bumper sticker on your Audi, no one would notice. Among the flock of law profs. It only gets tough when you have the guts and the integrity and a mind flexible enough to ask hard questions of anti-Walker protesters at the Capitol.

Sebastian said...

"I explained his position and never said one word about whether I agreed or disagreed with any of it, and I was treated as if I were defending him and advocating for him. I found that very annoying, especially since there are a few Scalia-haters in the vicinity" What, they don't teach'm to think like lawyers in your vicinity?

"You know, I also don't like having opinions on legal questions that I teach about. I like opening up the discussion from all sides, taking them all seriously." This is very nice of you, but it means that you don't teach con law as it actually works.

"I'm just picking the one that seems best" Of course, in the real world, that one has a side, so you're always also picking a team.

Chuck said...

I wonder if the truth with Anderson Cooper goes something like this: 'Of course, I'll never vote for a thing like Trump. But he is so radioactive, and his supporters so unhinged, and the whole campaign so toxic, that it's much easier for me to sit it out. Not go the route of articulating or explaining my anti-Trump vote. And because the fact of my voting/not voting is public, I will have conclusive evidence that I truly did not vote...'

mockturtle said...

You made him sound reasonable. For that you must expect hatred, if not outright attack and ridicule.

Exactly. If you are prepared to hate all things Scalia [or all things Trump], the last thing you want to hear is a reasonable presentation of his views.

Anderson -- I've watched you a few times on CNN. Here's a clue --I bet you are a Democrat. I bet you support gay marriage.

Yes, he probably is in favor of gay marriage because he is gay. And while he is no doubt on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me, I still respect his integrity.

Ann Althouse said...

"I wonder, Professor, if it is merely hard for you to be a law school faculty member on a campus like UW-Madison, and hold some conservative/Republican sympathies."

I get annoyed, being treated as if I am there to be the conservative. I'm just there being the one taking the arguments and statements of the conservatives seriously and handling them with respect. For that to count as conservative is embarrassing.

holdfast said...

My sense it that our hostess is quite open-minded and fair on most issues, so long as it does not involve feminism or gay rights. I also get the impression that she viscerally dislikes Ted Cruz, and that she dislikes elements of Trump, but is fascinated by others.

It's pretty easy to tell when she is being fairly neutral, and when she's taking a side. I imagine that she generally teaches from the "neutral" position. Unfortunately, many of today's students seem to be physically and psychically repelled by opposing (conservative) viewpoints and they demand the establishment of Safe Spaces to shield their delicate sensibilities. Thus to those poor, sheltered hothouse flowers, the neutral presentation of the opposing view must feel like harsh advocacy. Since lefties own the culture and the conversation on campus, it's easy to reject and oppress any dissent.

Witness said...

"For that to count as conservative is embarrassing."

Amen.

Gahrie said...

For that to count as conservative is embarrassing.

Given the behavior of the Left, it is understandable however.

mikee said...

I like to start discussions of politics with a pre-discussion about what might change someone's mind on a political issue.

If they can't describe something like a null hypothesis test for deciding if their opinions are factual, I don't discuss anything with them, because just hearing someone's beliefs is usually boring and of course, irrefutable with facts, logic, rationality or tested hypotheses.

Anderson Cooper? I found his bio of his mom, the heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, quite entertaining in a "look how the rich differ from me" sort of way.

Chuck said...

I get annoyed, being treated as if I am there to be the conservative. I'm just there being the one taking the arguments and statements of the conservatives seriously and handling them with respect. For that to count as conservative is embarrassing.

Oh I completely agree. How many times have you expressed your mystification at being referred to as "the conservative blogger Ann Althouse"? More than I can count.

Thorby said...

'I explained his position and never said one word about whether I agreed or disagreed with any of it, and I was treated as if I were defending him and advocating for him.'

You are referring to an attitude that has degraded our political and civic system. There is a difference between a debate or a discussion about opposing ideas, and an argument or advocacy of the same ideas. The former has room for rationality and calm conversation. The latter promotes confirmatory bias, shouting, and division. In the latter, people are forced to take simplistic sides and orthodoxy is imposed. There is a loss of nuance and diversity of thought. This is what has poisoned our politics.

Michael K said...

I would never question Anderson Cooper's expertise on tea bagging.

Ann is more libertarian, I think as am I.

She is emotional about gay marriage but other than that I think pretty objective.

Rick said...

CJinPA said...
Declining to vote because it may bias you, while perpetuating the blatant pro-Democrat bias of CNN, really isn't strengthening your professional integrity, Anderson.

Keep the former and ditch the latter, and you'll come across as more sincere.


Obsess over minutia and people will presume anyone down to that level of detail must have handled the bigger issues beforehand and consistently. I see this is business management all the time. Certain people are more image than substance, but they're often very good with misdirection.

tim in vermont said...

Koppel was a real straight arrow, as every life long republican knows.

http://www.mrc.org/biasalerts/couric-shares-levins-frustration-hindrances-leaving-iraq-11162006#2

traditionalguy said...

Poor Anderson Cooper. He has to do this because he has trouble restraining his reaction to the persons he is interviewing, try as he may, his likes are usually apparent and his dislikes too in his voice tone and smile.

That was fine at CNN until the biggest deal suddenly became stopping The Donald, and Anderson really likes him.

Confirmation bias is a human soul's reaction. And it will show to trained observers.So the best you can do is admit it.

Bay Area Guy said...

AA: "I get annoyed, being treated as if I am there to be the conservative. I'm just there being the one taking the arguments and statements of the conservatives seriously and handling them with respect. For that to count as conservative is embarrassing."

I hear ya. It's sad when really smart educated professionals, simply employ "my team, your team" analysis. Even more sad, this tactic is used primarily by the Left in all major universities.

tim maguire said...

People with opinions worth listening to wrestle with the questions. Even after they've "picked a team."

I don't back people, I back ideas. To the extent that I back people, it's as vehicles for promoting ideas I like. Anyone who would compromise on the ideas because they want to see the person win SHOULD stay home on election day.

Curious George said...

"probably"

Wow, that's the kind of conviction you can trust.

Tim said...

Anderson Cooper is neutral? That is as believable as Obama's sky high grades.

amielalune said...

Please. He's a big lefty. His inner turmoil is only whether he should vote for Bernie or Hillary.

You, Professor, at least occasionally surprise us -- enough to keep us guessing.

Big Mike said...

@Tim, nice to see that someone else agrees with me: Cooper is lying through his teeth about his neutrality.

n.n said...

Cooper is pro-choice. He may or may not vote for his favorite candidate.

Titus said...

Cooper is naturally liberal-a NYC fag, please.

He has been fair to Trump though, not like bloody Megyn Kelly.

boycat said...

All of us will be better off without him voting.

aritai said...

Out on the Rim of the crater where there are no curtains and everyone knows everyone else's thoughts it just doesn't matter. Soon we'll see Panama type dumps for everyone, every person, everything they said everything they wrote, every check, even said privately. A fair approximation of being able to see thoughts. Makes all this factionalism where someone tries to misrepresent their position not a problem. You either believe or don't. And nobody cares, and it means you don't have to waste your time trying to convince those that can't be convinced or educated or swayed to your point of view. I think your pTb has this some of our ability to read minds like a book. Else why haven't any of his deals gone south? Around the world with no army of lawyers. He can't be that good of a lawyer with only a Wharton education, so he must be a mind reader. And why are all of his ladies so happy? Even after a change of scene. Same as out here on te forth planet. Probably scares the he!! out those that think they can keep a secret. Wait until Crooked Hilary meets all those FBI agents that resigned in disgust when they couldn't prosecute the Clinton's for their taking of Chinese bribes.

Lance said...

"I explained his position and never said one word about whether I agreed or disagreed with any of it, and I was treated as if I were defending him and advocating for him."

Oh the horror. Imagine if you'd been explaining Thomas.

Titus said...

David Gergen is my neighbor.

tits

JAORE said...

I have decided to eat pizza, thus proving my neutrality.

Geez Cooper. Forgoing your vote, especially in a DEEP blue district, can't get more proofier than that!

damikesc said...

Know what I don't get?

Journalists, by every poll I've seen, are 80+% Democratic.

We know conservative journalists are out there. They write on conservative sites regularly.

Can anybody think of a job where the media would look at it being 80+% white, have evidence that minorities want to do it, where they wouldn't bitch about discrimination?

tim in vermont said...

One of the key tenets of liberalism is the refusal to engage the arguments of the the other side.

"Reject first! Ask questions later!" Is how one researcher put it after conducting experiments where he asked conservatives to summarize liberal arguments, which they were quite capable of, and liberals to summarize conservative arguments, which liberals seemed to find impossible. I have done my own experiments in comment threads here and there to try to goad, coax, inveigle, whatever liberal commenters to recapitulate a conservative argument, even to allow them to explain what is wrong with it. I have never succeeded and have given up trying.

tim in vermont said...

Sorry, that should have been "Reject first! Ask rhetorical questions later!" - Dr Jonathon Haidt, a liberal himself, though not really in good standing any longer since he published his research.

SeanF said...

Althouse: You can vote without ever taking a side or joining the team.

More importantly, you can take a side or join the team without ever voting. Refusing to vote proves nothing about one's bias or lack thereof.

Tom said...

Here's what I appreciate about blogs, your blog in particular, and what I've grown to not like about the mainstream media - you examine your biases and the underlying assumptions our brains are making in order to take action. While you're biases are not the same as say, Glenn Reynolds, you both put them out there for examination and consideration to the reader. I appreciate that and factor it into my own thinking as I consider yours. Anderson Cooper claims he's remaining objective and we all know he's not. He has a clear point-of-view and it's obvious to anyone watching. Now, at times, he'll take an counter-intuitive or opposite point in an effort to appear objective - but it's rarely convincing. Personally, I'd rather he admit he has biases, share what he believes those biases are, and asks the listener to factor it into his reporting. I prefer all news folks do this. Let's lose the mantel of objectively that's really a Trojan horse for ideology and let's spend time time really examining our biases.