“While differing widely in the various little bits we know, in our infinite ignorance we are all equal.”― Karl R. Popper
The setup is fairly simple. You are told by a job interviewer that a condition of getting a job you really want depends on getting the facts right on one of the issues of the day. Further, the context is today’s race for President of the United States. You are given 24 hours to sort out fact from fiction and explain yourself to the interviewer.
The question: what is your fact-based conclusion on how to best restore calm and order to American cities?
As you begin your research where do you go? Customarily, you read your local newspaper and check out several digital news feeds. Are those reliable sources, do their writers consider both history and current events? Remember, the job you want depends on the grader’s conclusions.
Of course you have some opinion writers you follow. Are their opinions well-informed and also shaped by facts? They certainly assert facts; can you rely on them? And you have only 24 hours, or say 18, if you get your normal six hours of sleep.
Since you depend principally on advertising-supported news feeds and what your Twitter and Facebook friends are posting, can you start and stop there? Echoing: the job is dependent on getting the facts right.
And then you pause—what does the interviewer think? He/she will determine whether you pass the test. Is the interviewer biased? Maybe you should spend the bulk of your time researching the interviewer but where to start? LinkedIn? Facebook? Twitter?
Today the nation, not a job interview, hangs on getting the facts and conclusions right. Presumably those voters who have not already decided their vote and are curious face just this kind of dilemma.
Daily I look at a range of news sources. Mostly I know the predispositions of their reporters and pundits. And increasingly I find the presentation of “facts” enveloped in a pre-judged narrative. Narratives unfold predictably; it is hard to find unpredictability.
Yet, events are leading, not politicians. Trump and Biden are not in control. As a practical matter, if you are undecided, follow the action, not of politicians, but of the pandemic or “street protests.” If you are more ambitious, take a broader look at the candidate’s plans to match revenue and programmatic expenses or how he will orchestrate the problematic relationship with China.
Today and tomorrow’s opinion about the importance of the debates will not change. It is and will be said that the debates are crucial. That is probably true, but if you have no background on the issues and attendant facts, then the debates will probably turn on stage presence and verbal agility.
The job seeker needs to go beyond facial expressions and the nation needs the swing voters to go beyond debate theatrics. But if the interview is up and up, then the prospective employee has the burden of proof. Are the “facts”, fact. And turning back to the Presidency, if a leader has the facts wrong, he will probably blow the conclusion.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.