Our analysts have long been fans of School of Thoughtfounder Jesse Richardson’s logical fallacies andcognitive biases infographics, which are designed “to help make the world a more rational and thinky place.” These cognitive errors can limit the way we think about and approach situations, especially one as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We applied some of The School of Thought’s descriptions, as well as other distinctions, to four articles on President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Here are some examples of how the articles slanted the information to promote one of two viewpoints: Trump was right to make the decision (National Review and Fox News), or he was wrong (Bloomberg andThe Atlantic). You may notice more examples from National Review and The Atlantic; they had the lowest Total Integrity scores of the four we analyzed (14 and 15 percent, respectively).
The anger about a change in U.S. policy won’t stem from its supposed negative impact on peace negotiations but from a desire to destroy the Jewish state. (National Review)
Richardson describes this logical fallacy as, “You presented two alternative states as the only possibilities, when in fact more possibilities exist.” Is it also possible that, more than destroying the Jewish state, Palestinians have a desire for self-determination?
President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital divided his top advisers and at best complicates an effort to restart peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians that’s been directed by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. (Bloomberg)
There are many possible outcomes, but Bloomberg focused on a single, negative outcome. That’s called a negativity or “pessimism” bias, which The School of Thought describes as overestimating the likelihood of negative outcomes while also discounting potential positive outcomes.
For Donald Trump, Muslim barbarism is a political strategy. It inspires the fear and hatred that binds him to his base. Muslim barbarism is so politically useful, in fact, that, when necessary, Trump creates it. (The Atlantic)
Here’s how The School of Thought explains this fallacy: “You attacked your opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument.” This is in part what The Atlantic did in its article. What it didn’t do was examine Trump’s reasons for the decision, and whether or not those reasons are valid. The Atlantic also didn’t disclose to readers that the above statements, which are stated as fact, are the outlet’s opinion.
… the main reason why a Palestinian state has not been created is the Palestinians’ refusal to accept such a solution. (National Review)
This fallacy assumes there’s one, simple cause of an outcome, when in reality it could have been caused by a number of factors. It takes two to tango — what about Israel’s role in the situation?
In what must now be conceded as the unlikely prospect that the Palestinian Authority will ever agree to peace with Arab neighborhoods in the city serving as a capital for a second state, what possible reason could anyone have for opposing American recognition that western Jerusalem is Israeli? (National Review)
This one’s tricky. While not technically a logical argument, the question implies a conclusion that there’s no good reason for opposing the U.S.’ recognition of Jerusalem. Many individuals and countries may find Trump’s decision problematic — are all their reasons invalid?
Any way you cut it, logical fallacies and cognitive biases distort the way we perceive and understand information. And saying the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was right or wrong is partial, premature and an oversimplification of a very complex conflict that also happens to have a long history. Trump’s decision will likely have positive and negative consequences. None of the outlets we analyzed weighed both possibilities equally and backed them up with data.
Jens Erik Gould
Jens is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News