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Read Between the Lines

Sometimes to get the whole story you have to reada bit between the lines. The information may be right there in front of you, but you have to look a bit more closely. For example, the other night on the evening news there was a story about the use of torture. That was followed by the results of a poll on the issue.

The question was, "Is water-boarding (an interrogation technique that simulates drowning of the prisoner) torture? The numbers were put up without much comment. Apparently 67% of Americans think that yes, it is torture. Perhaps most of the other 33% would think so as well if subjected to this "procedure," but that's not the point here.

The next question was put on the screen, "Should water-boarding be illegal?" 52% of those polled said yes, it should be illegal. What's most interesting, is that no further conclusions were drawn by the reporter.

Look at those numbers for a moment and you can read between the lines to get the rest of the story. I'll do the math for you. 67% think it is torture. Only 52% think it should be illegal, so the other 48% don't think so. Now, assuming that all those who say it should be illegal also say it is torture, that leaves 15% who say it is torture, but won't say it should be illegal.

This is the bare minimum, by the way, because that is the least possible overlap between the two groups. Without getting into the heavier mathematics, suffice it to say that there could be, and probably are, more than 15% who say it is torture, but won't say it should be illegal (the maximum percentage for this group is theoretically 48%).

In all likelihood, then, assuming the poll was done correctly, almost 20% of the American public won't say that torture should be illegal. Isn't that a newsworthy story? Why do we have to read between the lines to get it?

Another Example

Many years ago there was no law requiring drivers or passengers in cars to wear seat belts. Laws were proposed, so it became a story on the evening news. The public's opinion was sought. One reported poll in particular sticks in my mind.

First, I was surprised to see that something like 74% of the people thought we needed a law forcing all drivers to wear seat belts. (Don't hold me to these numbers, but they are close enough to the truth to make my point.) Then came the incredible second number. Apparently only 23% of the people in Michigan consistently wore their seat belts.

Again, you have to read between the lines to see something very interesting here. It is something that was never commented on or investigated further. 77% of people were choosing not to consistently wear their seat belts. Now if we assume that all of those who were against the law (26%) were in this group, that still leaves a minimum of half of the entire population who chose not to always wear their seat belt and yet wanted the government to force them to!

Does that seem strange to anyone else? Half the people want to be forced to do something that they can do whenever they want but choose not to do. They always had the choice to wear those seat belts, so why didn't they wear them, and why did they want a law forcing them to?

Have we become so infantilized as a society that we want to be told what is good for us - and forced to do it? This is a big story in my mind. What happened to the ideals of individual responsibility and freedom of choice?

When you do a little reading between the lines you discover some interesting stories.

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Read Between the Lines