Thinking, fast and slow; or, Nancy Grace and Dan Abrams

fast and slow thinking


In his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman posits that we humans, as mammals/primates, have two different decision-making systems in our brains. There’s a “fast” system, which does quick evaluations on the basis of likelihood and present evidence, and makes a quick decision. There is also a “slow” system, which takes time and evaluates more carefully.




The “fast” system is useful for emergencies. The “slow” system is useful for – well, just about everything except emergencies.




Sadly, most of us use the “fast” system for everything, which means that – for us – the obvious reason seems always to be the right reason. Even more sadly, we rationalize these “fast” decisions: we take our quickly-drawn conclusions and try to justify them mock-logically.



Sometimes it works. Sometimes it’s just silly.




Which brings me to Dan Abrams and Nancy Grace.




For whatever reason, ABC’s “Good Morning America” often uses these two as tandem commentators on court cases in the news. Dan is reasoned and careful and takes the law into account. Nancy, on the other hand, always knows immediately who’s to blame and mocks Dan for not following her lead.




See? Dan is slow-thinking. Nancy is fast-thinking.




It’s sickening to watch, sometimes. Dan is reasoning through a case, and Nancy will accuse him of “sitting in his ivory tower.” Obviously (for Nancy), the guiltiest-looking person in the room must be the perpetrator. Right?




No, Nancy. Not right. Lots of innocent people are in jail right now because of thinking like yours.




Nancy used to be a real court prosecutor. Now she’s just an imaginary prosecutor, allowed by ABC to pontificate on cases about which she (and the rest of us) know next to nothing. I’m glad she’s not in the real legal system. She’d do a lot of harm there. I’m sorry, however, that ABC gives her a platform on “Good Morning America” to hold forth on these “he looks guilty, so he must be guilty” views. I’m sure there are viewers who consider her an authority, and think: if Nancy Grace says/believes it, it must be true!




But it ain’t.




She’s a dimwit in love with her own opinions who has forgotten how the law works. She wants opinion to be law.




That’s a creepy thought.




“Good Morning America” really shouldn’t give her this kind of exposure. Except, I’m sure, that she’s good for ratings, because fast-thinking quick-judging viewers like to hear her expound on her ill-judged beliefs, which agree with their own.







George Stephanopoulos, Ewan McGregor, journalism, and casual homophobia


I hate to sound like an old man, but here goes: journalism was better in the 1960s when I was young.

There are a few good and reputable newscasters on TV. I especially like Brian Williams and Scott Pelley: they are mostly impartial, and they manage to relay the news without noticeable bias. (Also they are both pretty cute.)

Then there are the rest. I won’t even try to list them. You know the ones: the ones who confuse opinion and fluff with news.

Here’s one who caught me by surprise: George Stephanopoulos of “Good Morning America.” He wasn’t really a journalist to begin with; he was one of Clinton’s guys, who resigned after four years because the stress became too much for him. He wrote a book. He turned into a pundit. And now he’s on the morning news.

I recently saw this wonderful clip – from 2010 – online. It’s only thirty seconds long. Enjoy it, and then rejoin me, please:

George really wants this to be an issue. Ewan calls him out.

Makes you see Georgie in a different light, doesn’t it?

I used to hate just the right-oriented journalists. Now I find that I hate most journalists.

Please, people. Kardashians are not news. Men kissing are not news.

News is news.

Ponder on that awhile, and then let’s try to get on with our lives.

Morning TV

On “30 Rock” a few seasons ago, Tracy Morgan came charging in and asked Tina Fey: “Liz Lemon, who’s crazier: me or Ann Curry?”

Well, Ann Curry is gone now, crazy or not. She giggled a little too much, and she was definitely a lightweight. But she was definitely a morning-show person, god bless her, no matter how crazy she might have been.

Morning-show people always seem to become part of the family.  While I’m in the bathroom on weekday mornings, getting ready for work, I can hear Partner laughing at George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts and Sam Champion on “Good Morning America” in the bedroom.

Before George, of course, there was big ugly/handsome Chris Cuomo (brother of the current Governor of New York), who mostly seemed to enjoy getting into ticklefights with Sam Champion.

Then there was the gorgeous CBS weekend host Chris Wragge, big and blond, like your handsome athletic cousin. He actually hosted the CBS weekday morning show for a while, but left this past January. He won’t be soon forgotten hereabouts.

Even the local hosts are interesting.  Partner and I used to enjoy the oddball pairing of Mark Zinniand Michelle Muscatello on Providence’s Channel 12: they were always making each other laugh, and often came within inches of saying inappropriate things, which was exhilarating.  Michelle is still with us in Providence, but Mark is back in Cleveland, his home town.  I miss him.

Then there was the monstrous Vince DeMentri, who used to be the local Fox morning host.  He was big and blocky and handsome, but he gave off a kind of DANGER signal, like the abusive husband in a Lifetime movie.  The show had a meek little co-host named Sean Tempesta, who seemed to make Vince furious; after a while, Vince wouldn’t even share the set with Tempesta.

Then, suddenly, DeMentri disappeared.  I did a little research – wonderful place for research, the Internet! – and found that Vince had been a very bad boy in Pennsylvania before coming to Providence; he’d had an affair with another anchor, started doing stupid things (he hid her blow-dryer!), etc.  After he left Providence he went to New York City, where a few years ago he slapped the Bahamian ambassador’s driver for getting in his way.  Vince was acquitted, but lost his job in NYC. God knows where he is now.

I love morning television.  It’s like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re going to get.

The Jerry Sandusky trial


The Jerry Sandusky case has finally gone to trial. The testimony – descriptions of what Sandusky did to those poor kids – has been brutal. The defense, naturally, is trying to depict the victims as a cabal of greedy envious ungrateful liars, but I don’t think they’re having much success.



I was given pause on Wednesday morning, however, when I happened to overhear the following scrap of narration on “Good Morning America” (I paraphrase): “Present in court were both Jerry Sandusky and Mike McQueary, the two men who – more than anyone else – brought about the downfall of Joe Paterno.”



No. Sorry. Joe Paterno brought about the downfall of Joe Paterno.



Joe Paterno covered up a series of vicious violent crimes against children, because of his own vanity, and his overblown regard for his own reputation, and – maybe also a little – because of his (misplaced) loyalty to his friend Jerry Sandusky.



Paterno also tried (briefly) to portray himself as a victim. Remember those ugly Penn State campus riots protesting his firing? That’s another little nastiness that Joe Paterno brought about, and then did little to stop. I imagine him sitting home snickering about it.



Sometimes we have to separate people’s accomplishments from their failings. Everyone says Paterno was a great college football coach, and (because I know nothing, or next to nothing, about football) I can accept that. But Gandhi or Saint Francis he was not.



The more I think about this case, the emptier and more desolate I feel about it. Sandusky actually founded a children’s charity, which proved to be a rich source of little boys for him to prey upon. At least one victim was told that his accusations had to be groundless, since it was well know that “Sandusky had a heart of gold.”



I know that the trial isn’t over yet, and that I’m prejudging Sandusky.



Here’s the thing: I don’t think I’m wrong about this.



Here’s a sad fact about humanity, kids: when you assume the worst about people, you’re not often wrong.


Missing children, Nancy Grace, and Dan Abrams


Partner and I get up at 7:00 am or a little after. We have slightly different routines. I go into the living room, read my email and drink my coffee; he stays in the bedroom, reads his email, watches “Good Morning America,” and drinks his coffee.



Naturally I can hear most of the dialogue.



At 7:30am, “Good Morning America” almost invariably features a story about a missing child.  The child is almost always white, by the way. They usually have the irrational Nancy Grace and the mostly-imperturbable Dan Abrams doing Point Counterpoint on the subject.



Naturally there’s no real information.  Nancy always assumes the worst, and declares it, and announces that anyone who disagrees with her is a fool and an ivory-tower intellectual and a goddamned liberal.



Dan Abrams usually points out, mildly, that all the facts aren’t in, and more work needs to be done on the case.



Nancy explodes, calls Dan an ivory-tower intellectual and a goddamned liberal, and wants to know why more isn’t being done to bring this case to its (obvious) conclusion.



Some thoughts:



        I wonder how many missing children there are in the USA today. 

        I wonder how many of them are non-white. 

        I wonder why we so seldom hear about the non-white missing children on “Good Morning America,” and I wonder if it’s because they’re just not considered to be so angelically adorable.

        I wonder that they pair the astonishingly illogical Nancy Grace with the perfectly reasonable Dan Abrams, and allow her to snarl at him idiotically, just for the sake of TV entertainment.

        I wonder what percentage of these poor children are ever located.



And finally: I wonder that the TV doesn’t actually explode with the whole idiotic illogicality of the thing.


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