Premature Expostulation

In my last post, I put out a call for possible names for the phenomena of people erroneously asserting that some ideological opponent hadn’t commented on a story without properly verifying that this was true. Between Facebook and the comments section I got a few good options, but the overall winner was set up by bluecat57 and perfected by the Assistant Village Idiot: Premature Expostulation. I have to admit, expostulation was one of those words I only sort of knew what it meant, but the exact definition is great for this situation “to reason earnestly with someone against something that person intends to do or has done; remonstrate:” Therefore, the definition for this phrase is:

Premature Expostulation: The act of claiming definitively that a person, group or media outlet has not reported on, responded to or comment on an event or topic, without first establishing whether or not this is true. 

Premature expostulation frequently occurs in the context of a broader narrative (they NEVER talk about thing X, they ALWAYS prioritize thing Y) , though it can also occur due to bad search results, carelessness, inattention, or simply different definitions of what “covered the story” means. If someone is discussing a news outlet they already don’t like or you are not familiar with, be alert.  It’s easy to miss a statement from someone if you don’t frequent what they write or don’t keep up with them.

To note, premature expostulation is a specific claim of fact NOT subjective opinion. The more specific the claim, the more likely it is (if proven wrong) to be premature expostulation. Saying a story was “inadequate” can cause endless argument, but is mostly a matter of opinion. If you say that a news outlet “stayed silent” however, showing that they ran even one story can disprove the claim.

I think there’s a lot of reasons this happens, but some of the common ones I see seem to be:

  • Search algorithm weirdness/otherwise just missing it. Some people do quick searches or scans and just simply miss it. I have speculated that there’s some sort of reverse inattentional blindness thing going on where you’re so convinced you’ll see something if it’s there that you actually miss it.
  • Attributing a group problem to an individual. I can’t find it right now, but I once saw a great video of a feminist writer who was on a panel get questioned by an audience member why she had hypocritically stayed silent on a particular issue it seems she should have commented on. It turns out she actually had written columns on the issue and offered to send them to him. Poor kid had no idea what to do. Now I suspect at the time there were feminist writers being breathtakingly hypocritical over this issue, but that didn’t mean all of them were.  Even if there were hundreds of feminist writers being hypocritical, you still should double check that the one you’re accusing is one of them before you take aim.
  • Attributing an individual problem to a group Sometimes a prominent figure in a group is so striking that people end up assuming everyone in the group acts exactly as the one person they know about does.
  • Assuming people don’t write when you’re not reading When I had a post go mini-viral a few months ago, I got a huge influx of new people who had never visited this blog. I got many good comments/criticisms, but there were a few that truly surprised me. At least a few people decided that the biggest problem I had was that I never took on big media outlets and that I only picked on small groups, or that I was never talked about statistics that might challenge something liberals said. Now regular readers know this is ridiculous. I do that stuff all the time. For whatever reason though, some people assumed that the one post they read of mine somehow represented everything I’d ever written. That’s a personal anecdote, but we see this happen with other groups as well. During the gay marriage debate I once had a friend claim that Evangelicals never commented on straight divorce. Um, okay. No. You just don’t listen to them until they comment on something you are upset by, then you act like that’s all they ever say.
  • The emotional equivalency metric If someone doesn’t feel the same way you do, they must not have seen the story the way you have. Therefore they can’t have covered the story until they mirror your feelings.

I’m sure there are other ways this comes up as well, feel free to leave me your examples.