Back in the old days of high school debate, I was somewhat of a ‘go for the throat’ kind of guy. Cross examination was my favorite part. It was the one time you could interact with the other team and get direct answers from direct questions. And of course if you didn’t get a direct answer, you pretty much said so during your next speech. It was incredibly effective.
My favorite technique was to attack what I called “power tagging.” Both teams were expected to read evidence that supported their position or proved the other teams position wrong. Almost all teams would put a “tag”, or title, to their piece of evidence summarizing the claims that they wanted the judge to understand as the take home message. Well, it didn’t take long for industrious debaters to realize a bit of liberal tagging could go a long way to making a survey or study say something that wasn’t in the evidence.
This is why cross examination was my favorite part of the debate. You sat and listened, waiting for the inevitable power tagging that was to come. Then you got up, asked to see the evidence, read the part that was taken out of context or, what was even more fun, ask the other team to read their own evidence and then read the tag again and ask how the two mesh. Incredibly effective, incredibly discrediting. After our first cross-ex, you new whether you were going to win or not.
Well, the media is no different. My friend in class yesterday pointed out a little industrious power tagging between news stands. One right next to the other had headlines that left completely different impressions and yet they discussed the exact same poll. How many read the headline and got an immediate impression? If my debate days are any indication, quite a few.
We have become a power tagged nation.