Michael J. Salamon

Talking Heads

You would expect professional commentators working for major media outlets, whether aligned with the right or the left or firmly planted in the center, would present views based on incontrovertible truths. Sometimes they do, but only sometimes. I was impressed by David Brooks in the New York Times (, Joe Klein writing in Time magazine ( and David Horovitz in this paper ( because they all articulated a longer view awareness of the current conflict in Gaza, presented their impressions in a context supported by confirmed facts and did not over reach. I am sorry to say that most of the others I have read and seen create stories based on a great deal of confabulation.
You might think this is all about naiveté on my part. After all commentators make comments, they do not necessarily report findings using basic journalistic rules of corroboration and truth. They are supposed to look at a situation and present their special insight, how they understand things as they are unfolding and what they believe may be going on behind the scenes. Still, they often run amok with their conjecture and, in many cases now, with their rewriting of history. This is especially true of the younger commentators, those who state positions as if they were best of friends with important historical figures despite having only read about them in school books, or in archived columns from other, older commentators. The real issue though is that we are all easily deceived, even by ourselves, and professional commentators are not exempt.
It is true that most people, again regardless of their political affiliation, live their lives based on confirmation bias. We only easily accept information that confirms to our belief systems. So Hamas supporters will believe every wicked thing their commentators say about Israel, and similarly hardcore Israeli supporters will believe all the negatives about Hamas. Unshakable liberals will find every reason to vilify a victor and root for an underdog while conservatives insist that liberals are always pandering. There are pitfalls in a biased approach because it limits our vision, insight and decision making ability. But, this bias is exceptionally common if not universal. I see this in many people and in commentators frequently.
The only way to break out of this bias is to teach yourself to listen with clear intent and greater focus and with some universal truths. So here are a few pointers from my confirmation biased perspective;
1) Listen carefully when politicians are being interviewed. They use language very carefully. When an official from the Palestinian Authority is asked about Hamas he or she will almost always speak about Palestinian’s, not about Hamas. There is a clear message that is being conveyed, one that speaks to the issue of moderate politics versus the politics of terror.
2) Mark silences in reporting of critical information. Most of the Arab League is silent about the conflict in Gaza. Here too silence is conveying a clear message about Hamas and radicalism, and awareness that there is support for the notion of controlling terror organizations. Reporters are not making this into a big story because it is simply not as dramatic as war pictures. It is, though, an important fact.
3) Evil exists and anti-Semitism no longer resides just below the surface. It is pervasive and growing in Europe because of fundamentalism, but also because it has never been uprooted. It is the evil that keeps on because it is far too easy to use biases to scapegoat and religious fundamentalism to justify.
4) War is hell but sometimes a necessity. I dare any commentator to discuss any military conflict where there were no civilian casualties. It is just not possible to find that form of animal. The lopsidedness of casualties is not due to a worse evil or sadistic planning on the part of Israel’s military but to the carefully laid strategy of Hamas.
5) Duplicity is part of diplomacy. Sometimes politicians play a position to further a strategy. Diplomatic language is not always a true belief or desire for a specific negative outcome. It is important to delay judgment until there is more information coming from a variety of different sources before condemning for example, Obama or Kerry or Netanyahu.
6) In general, people are nice to one another that is unless they have been radicalized. It is much too easy to radicalize people and harder to teach moderation. If opportunities exist to create equability they should be seized and pursued with determination and advertised widely. If you are not seeing any in your media sources, change or add to what you are reading.
7) Commentators are paid to espouse views that give them and their outlets ratings. What provides ratings? Often nothing more than a foolish unsupportable comment that plays to the confirmation biases of followers. Sometimes the more ridiculous the comment the higher the ratings. The angrier they appear on television the more they are referred to as impassioned, as if that could be legitimately construed as a positive. If you are going to listen to commentators listen to all sides carefully and seek a real balance. Talking heads are funded. You might just find that they contradict themselves and, if you listen even more carefully, that they do not even believe what they are saying.
It is too easy to be biased. It is much more rewarding to be open to other positions and views. To do so requires hearing more than one side with just one agenda.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is an APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and Netanya, the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications), "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America) and "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."