Monday, January 5, 2009

Watching Mary Lazich's Receptionist Rig His Own Game is Kinda Sad

Kevin Fischer, always willing to put in the hard work to hear the sound of his own voice prove a point, is out to try and prove that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is a bastion of leftist propaganda. Fair enough, if Fischer operated under the precepts of the scientific method, this would be called the hypothesis ... now let's move on to the experiment!

The problem is that the experiment Fischer has set up is so laughably rigged to essentially prove whatever nonsense he feels like spouting at any given moment. Instead of going over the MJS with a fine-toothed comb on a regular basis, Fischer decides to arbitrarily pluck a sample from the paper's editorial content for scrutiny. Here are the ground rules he establishes for his little exercise:

*** He will only examine the Sunday "Crossroads" section of the MJS. Quoth the Fischer: "What about Monday through Saturday? Sorry. I’m going to concentrate on the Sunday pages. If others want to take on the task of monitoring the other days, God bless them."

This seems less than thorough to me. Could it be that the 'balance' of the MJS is spread out over the week? If it is, Fischer would presumably never know because he's only looking at one day of the week. In fact, if Monday through Saturday the MJS printed nothing but right wing vitriol, while reserving the Sunday edition for effete leftists, the paper would still be considered "liberal" by Fischer's estimation.

So there appears to be a massive coverage gap in the sample Fischer has selected ... but Fisher seems to think that his sample size is still too big! So he cuts it further:

*** Secondly, Fischer "will not count pieces by Journal Sentinel columnists or Journal Sentinel editorial writers, short Quick Hits or Advisory Hits."

This is interesting because it presumably exempts conservative columnists like Patrick McIlheran, Nike Nichols or the guy he calls his "top guest blogger," J. Gravelle (How convenient!).

Fischer isn't studying if the MJS is biased, he's looking to see if a particular section of the paper that appears on only one day of the week skews one way or the other and basing his entire judgment on the result of that analysis.

Why isn't he looking deeper into the paper? "I have a life," he says. Fair enough, but if Fischer isn't going to put in the work to make a genuine good faith assessment of the paper, then no one should accept his results as anything other than the shoddy workmanship of someone who is contorting the rules of the game to clearly manipulate the results in his favor.

This is called cherry-picking.

Now "Kevin Fischer the blogger" is welcome to engage in as many logical fallacies as he sees fit to embarrass himself with; unfortunately, Fischer is also "Kevin Fischer the State Senate Staffer" and therein lies what transforms this episode from simply embarrassing to troubling. If this is the kind of tortured reasoning a public official is relying on to make decisions than how can anyone be confident that said public official is receiving good counsel?

One can't.

Maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. Perhap Lazich's office is actually breaking new ground in the field of government transparency by demonstrating just how incompitent her staffers are? If that's the case, then I say "Bravo!" But what's more likely is that Fischer is only interested in arguing with evidence that supports his original claim, no matter how dubious the source of that evidence may be. It's like watching a kid change the rules in the middle of the game to ensure that he wins -- it's just pathetic that the kid in this case is a middle-aged man.

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