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Be informed to know rhetoric versus reality

By Dan Pool
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    On Sunday we were out of coffee so I made an early morning Starbucks run to our local Kroger. While there I picked up a Sunday edition of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
    Growing up in the newspaper business, I remain a huge fan of “papers.” Though I read news online, there is no comparison to the accumulated stories packaged together. While it does seem a little strange to buy a Sunday paper produced in another state to get news on Georgia, it works okay – especially since our flagship newspaper the AJC doesn’t offer home delivery in Pickens County and is fairly hard to find.
    One of the big advantages of reading a newspaper versus surfing for news, is with a printed product in your hand, you tend to read (or at least skim over) more stories on subjects you would bypass online. We all miss out by doing this, as studies have shown we naturally seek the news that reinforces what we are already interested in, rather than expand into areas we are unfamiliar with.
    Several articles in the Sunday Chattanooga paper really emphasized how you  need to dig below the rhetoric and venture into new areas.
    First was an article cleverly subtitled, “Surly electorate poised to ‘keep the bums in’” – while Americans constantly grouse about how bad government is, incumbents keep winning re-election. In fact this article by the Associated Press noted that 365 incumbents out of the 435 member House and 18 of 28 senators are poised for another term.
    Second, an article on the Common Core quoting our former Republican Governor Sonny Perdue expressing surprise by how the program has gotten such an unearned rap as being a federal initiative. Part of Perdue’s surprise stems from him being involved with a group of governors who worked on the new testing standards with the idea of keeping the federal government out of state education.
“It’s just a situation that I don’t think should have become political,” the former Georgia governor said.
    Third was a great opinion piece “Friends, donors and countrymen” comparing campaign financing to a period in ancient Rome when those seeking to be emperor got the seat based on who could raise the most money to give to the Praetorian guard. They skipped all the in-between work of politics like websites and the endless piles of junk mail and literally bought the seat.
    Fourth, and I am not sure how this falls in line with the rest of the rhetoric, but everyone has heard that old warning that half of the marriages in America end in divorce. It has actually never been true. A researcher thought that number looked out of line. And if you think about it, are half the people you know divorced? A lot are, and the divorce rate is high, but it is closer to one in four first marriages end in divorce, according to later research. This research found that the earlier 50 percent divorce rate only looked at high risk groups.
    On a normal day reading news online I would probably not have read any of those articles except the one on ancient Rome -- I like history. I would more likely read some news and then check to see how the Braves wild card chances are looking.
    Now am I any better off having learned that a clean sweep of Congress will assuredly fail or that America’s marriages were given an undeserved black eye? Probably not on a daily basis.  But in the long haul, it is important being able to say, “hold on a second I don’t think that’s quite right,” when confronted with punditry and over-hyped commentary.
    With all the yelling and outlandish statements made online and on television these days, it’s important to recognize that much you hear is largely, in the words of Shakespeare, “It is a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.”