The High Cost of Half an Argument
If all you know is your side, prepare to be humiliated.
Purely personal: Tense times. Thursday (March 18) I asked one of my mentors what to do to feel better. She said, "Help people. Don't think about the business side of it, just focus on giving people something they can use. See where it goes."
So here's my spur-of-the-moment decision: free access to my new project, The Magic Show. Memberships are not for sale. While we're all at home, I've decided to give them away.
I don't want your credit card. I won't jam you with emails.
I'm grateful to the folks who've helped me get this far, including so many who read the newsletter. So here's this, from me. I hope it helps you.
The Magic Show is filled with stuff to help you write/present/think better, and to move you closer to your goals.
Free for everybody. Share the link. It's all good.
Looking for something to stream while we're all inside? Check out the phenomenon of the 2015 holidays, Making a Murderer. It’s a ten-part Netflix documentary on Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man apparently falsely imprisoned for two decades and who, on his release, is framed for murder – at least, that’s what everyone who sees it says.
On its release, the filmmakers were almost universally hailed as heroes exposing small-town corruption. They had made their argument and they had won.
Of course, it’s pretty easy to win an argument when you pretend nobody’s going to argue back.
A few weeks later, those filmmakers weren’t looking as correct or as honest. In that is a lesson for any writer making a controversial argument.
Making a Murderer is compelling entertainment. Celebrities tweeted about it. TV news shows did features about it. I was riveted. If you watch it, you probably will be, too.
But the program was also a knowingly misleading piece of work to promote a particular point of view. The filmmakers failed not only to address but even to acknowledge highly persuasive – in some cases perhaps dispositive – arguments of the other side. It’s as if they imagined their program would be so compelling that no viewer would bother to follow up.
More likely, though, they fell prey to a more common malady. After spending so much time “living” one side of the argument, they lost the ability to consider that they might be wrong.
The result was ugly. Fair-minded viewers who executed no more than a google search found evidence that exposes the filmmakers as mistaken in some cases, dishonest in others. Their sins of omission are many.
For a writer tasked with making an argument in a highly emotional matter with more than one reasonable side, this is the worst possible outcome. It’s okay to be wrong or to make a mistake, but to leave out key arguments that demand response suggests pure disrespect for the audience’s intellect -- or that you're trying to pull a fast one. That smashes one’s reputation as an honest broker, and a professional writer or public figure can’t afford it.
Don't disrespect the audience by ignoring their strongest objections.
To avoid this, the formula is simple: Make your case, then consider the strongest charges that can be made against your position, and take them on, too. If it’s a forum in which the sides take turns making statements or writing replies, it’s not necessary in every case to raise the other side’s points yourself. You can wait for them to do it. But if you get one solid chance to make your case, get everything out there while you have the chance.
The makers of Making a Murderer may be right, Steven Avery may be innocent or his trial may have been tainted by a set-up. But concealing key evidence from a fair-minded audience is wrong -- and it can be reputational suicide.
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