You know how it goes. You’re plugging along, reading a surprisingly decent article in a mainstream-y news source (for reasons that could be completely legitimate! get off my back!), but right as you’re getting to the end…what? Some comment from the ‘other side’ gets tacked on as the last word on the matter. Observe my inspiration, this example from the Denver Post:
[Colorado cannabis legalization] Amendment 64 — which polls showed hovering at around 50 percent support heading into Election Day — won with what even supporters said was a surprising amount of cushion. With roughly 1.28 million votes in its favor, it drew more support than President Barack Obama did in winning Colorado.
It passed in more counties than it lost — 33 to 31. It won in seven counties that voted for Republican Mitt Romney and lost in only one — Conejos — that voted for Obama.
“We are at the tipping point on marijuana policy,” [Amendment 64 proponent Brian] Vicente said. “This is an area where our voters and our citizens are really leading.”
Drug-abuse prevention professionals, though, said Wednesday that Colorado is going down a dangerous path. They predicted marijuana legalization would increase pot use, especially among young people, and lead to higher rates of drugged driving and substance abuse.
“We need to let people know it is not OK for youths to use marijuana,” said Christian Thurstone, a substance-abuse treatment doctor at Denver Health medical center. “We need them to realize it’s not OK for young people to drive under the influence of marijuana.”
This certainly isn’t the worst example I’ve seen, but it’s demonstrative of some of the major problems with this drop-in commentary style.
1. Because the article usually only includes a few sentences worth of the opposing point, there is very little engagement with the claims being made. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a citation of some text that isn’t really interrogated or examined for basic legitimacy. Often we are not lucky, and the claim is completely unsubstantiated. In the above example, someone only had to “predict” increased youth DUIs under legalization. Any actual studies that exist on that point are apparently irrelevant enough to be left out. Honestly, sometimes the difference in quality between the main article and closing opposition can be so vast that it feels like someone with vigilante aspirations and no knowledge of how to report things has creeped in while the writer was on the toilet and pounded off a few lines just before the scheduled publish triggers.
2. The final statement is often a rebuttal to something that nobody said. The above is a good example of that, with the abrupt introduction of legalization being dangerous because kids will suddenly think it’s okay to drive while high. [I gotta say, I didn't know much of a thing about drugs when I was a kid, but I think I'd have felt awfully patronized by that assumption.] This can let any number of bad arguments through, whether they have shaky premises to begin with (driving while high will automatically become more acceptable, because we think so) or appear to stir up controversy that doesn’t exist (as if anyone is for more DUIs–that is, as if legalization supporters don’t also care about health and safety).
3. It upholds the popular belief that arguments on ‘both sides’ of a reality-based sociopolitical issue are equally valid. They aren’t.
4. The last point sort of ties the other three together, and is the thought that led to this post. One of the more troublesome aspects of the last word drop-in is the placement itself. Regardless of how bad any of the above described problems are, the statement gains some legitimacy because it’s the last word. We learned that structure when we did five paragraph themes in middle school–argue your points from least to most salient. The closing opposition statement is the freshest piece of information in our minds when we’ve finished the piece and are mulling it over. It’s article aftertaste. When it’s particularly bad, it’s journalistic garlic that’s gone off. Look at me, I’m still talking about it, and I’ve moved on to bad metaphors! What did the rest of the article even say? Nobody knows!
Maybe the statement is so bad on purpose. Maybe the authors are pressured or forced to include a point they don’t see as legitimate, so they plop down something that’s obviously incongruous with the rest of the article. I don’t know. I’m not gonna play that speculation game, but I guess it’s a possibility. Anyone?
Feel free to add any other thoughts about this reporting tactic or to share especially egregious examples from your favorite Reputable News Sources.