There Aren't Always Two Sides to Every Story
Nuance is needed more often these days, but definitely not all the time
OK, so I’ve mentioned more than once that the news media and ourselves need to acknowledge the multiple sides to every story. So many stories are so complex that there is no one way to look at and examine them while still seeing the entire picture.
But I said “so many stories”. I did not say all.
That is because there are some that do not call for multiple angles, and never could.
Take a look at the cartoon above. Should anyone from the Flat Earth Society be interviewed for a news article or a news report on a NASA event or a major solar eclipse? Or should someone who promotes the 9/11 conspiracy theories be invited on a cable news show to discuss how Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda arranged for the attacks to happen, alongside someone like former ABC reporter John Miller who interviewed bin Laden back in 1998?
Better yet, should anyone ever sell the idea of teaching the Holocaust in schools from the perspective of the Nazis?
You may say, ‘of course not! Who would do something like that?’ But the thing is, there are lawmakers in Ohio who are trying to do just that.
Yes. I kid you not.
House Bill 327, which is co-sponsored by two State Representative Republicans, aims to “prohibit school districts, community schools, STEM schools, and state agencies from teaching, advocating, or promoting divisive concepts.” This includes teaching about the Holocaust. One of the lawmakers behind this bill, Sarah Fowler Arthur, told a Cleveland news station: “You should talk about these atrocities that have happened in history, but you also do have an obligation to point out the value that each individual brings to the table”.
Later on, Fowler said: “What we do not want is for someone to come in and say, 'well, obviously the German government was right in saying that the Aryan race is superior to all other races, and therefore that they were acting rightly when they murdered hundreds of thousands of people for having a different color of skin…Maybe you're listening to it from the perspective of a Jewish person that has gone through the tragedies that took place. And maybe you listen to it from the perspective of a German soldier."
Many in Ohio’s Jewish community were obviously appalled by Fowler’s comments, and news of her comments made to Israeli news media. She is sadly not the only one in the American education world coming up with the idea of giving balanced views of history that have no opportunity to give balanced views. Last Fall, a Texas school leader said teachers should give students, who are learning about the Holocaust, a book that would give an opposing viewpoint. At the beginning of this year, an Indiana lawmaker presented a bill calling for teachers to be impartial while teaching about Nazism, Marxism, and fascism. The lawmaker later explained: “I have no problem with the education system providing instruction on the existence of those isms…I believe that we've gone too far when we take a position on those isms...We need to be impartial.”
Sure, a need to be impartial comes in handy a lot of times. But when it comes to ideologies, like Nazism, which killed millions of people, you’ve gotta be kidding!
That same Indiana lawmaker also said, “I’m not sure it’s right for us to determine how that child should think and that’s where I’m trying to provide the guardrails.”
And what is really the motive behind all this? Is it backlash against educators encouraging to teach American and even world history from beyond the perspective of Eurocentrism? Because if so, these bills and ideas are only making fools out of the people who come up with them, and there’s no logic behind providing balanced views on something as terrible as the Holocaust. Also, note that there’s no way such ideas would get very far in places like Germany.
Even when it comes to news reports, there isn’t always room for two sides of a story. Following the death of George Floyd in May 2020, there were many who tried to blame his death on a drug overdose. But autopsies by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner and Floyd’s family both found he died of asphyxiation and cardiopulmonary arrest; drugs were a minor part of his death. With that, there is no other way to call Floyd’s death none other than homicide.
The same goes for scientific facts. In fact, this especially goes for scientific facts where there is no room for nuance at all. Now of course, with all those out there who are highly skeptical of science, medicine, vaccinations, and so on, there seems to be plenty of room for two sides to a story. But not when scientists and anyone in the medical field spends years of their lives devoted to their studies. What do they have against someone who browses Google and watches YouTube videos in their spare time?
When the clear facts come rolling in and are put together, there is no room for nuance or two sides to a story. The story itself is either too small, simple, or straight to the point that there can’t be any balance - not without making a fool out of one’s self or an entire group of people. In other words, creating a false balance, when there is no need for it, doesn’t help in the reporting.
In an op-ed with The Guardian in 2016, physicist and cancer researcher, David Robert Grimes, wrote: “When the evidence is clear-cut, the assumption that good journalism requires mutually opposed views to be treated as equally valid simply doesn’t hold.”
Fairness and balance are a must in journalism, and even in a history classroom. But there are times when that simply cannot happen because there is no room for it. Unless you want to see someone give a history lesson that is sympathetic towards the Nazis or have a Flat Earther give commentary on a NASA event or another solar eclipse.
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