Assuming Opinions Are Facts

There’s a new issue of City Weekly in the boxes this morning in Salt Lake City, but until yesterday the extant issue’s cover story had this headline: “Biting the Bullet.” It had this subhead: “How a peace-loving British journalist ended up shopping for a gun in Utah.” It’s an excellent story by Stephen Dark, well worth reading. But my point is the subhead, not the story.

City Weekly - Biting the Bullet

Often our words reflect or even promote unspoken biases. We may or may not be aware of this. We may or may not be attempting subtly to persuade people of our unspoken views. We may or may not notice a problem when it’s done to us — but it would be nice if we did.

Careful writers and careful readers do well to consider what’s between the lines.

The subhead plays on the presumed contradiction between being “peace-loving” and shopping for a gun. But this is only a contradiction if you believe than peace-loving people don’t shop for guns, or that gun-shopping people don’t love peace.

This belief might locate you in a certain part of our political spectrum. It’s not the part I inhabit. The gun-toting — let alone gun-shopping — people I know love peace. A lot of the peace-loving people I know carry guns. For me this is not a contradiction.

So, in the parlance of the courtroom — or the courtroom drama, where I’ve spent far more time — I object to this subhead. It assumes facts not in evidence. In fact, I don’t think they’re facts at all. They’re opinions I do not share, packaged with the suggestion that I unreflectively embrace them as facts and read on. (I did the “read on” part.)

And I wonder if the subhead doesn’t trivialize the complexities which the article addresses thoughtfully and at length. So the subhead is not just subliminal politics. It’s questionable writing too.