09/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Protester Does Shocking Thing": The Tyranny of Anecdotal Evidence

Anecdotal Evidence: (def.) (2) Evidence, which may itself be true and verifiable, used to deduce a conclusion which does not follow from it, usually by generalizing from an insufficient amount of evidence.

There have been guns at health care town halls. Possibly rocket-launchers. There have been people waving signs comparing Obama to Hitler, people shouting "Heil Hitler" and some unconfirmed goose-stepping. Well folks, it sounds like the bloody revolution has arrived. Americans will not stand to have better health care imposed on them by this dictator who is both a fascist and a socialist and who may or may not have been born within these United States (having most likely been smuggled from Africa as a baby inside a barrel of drugs and Communist Manifestoes). The American people simply will not have it and they will fight and bleed out their uninsured blood to avoid getting it.

At least that's what you might think the situation were, if you paid attention to mainstream news.

The fact is, the majority of Americans want health care reform and most of them want that reform to include a public option .

But flip on CNN and you wouldn't know it. You'd hear about "birthers", town-hall vigilantes and death panels. You'd hear the loud voices of the few -- loud because they've been amplified by the news media echo chamber. (The blogs, with their reliance on parroted information from these outlets, are hardly innocent in this regard.)

How many town hall meetings have gone peacefully, constructively and without a hitch?

We don't know.

What we've heard about again and again are these scattered incidents cherry-picked for their shock value and presented as genuine and meaningful patterns. After a man showed up at Obama's town tall with a gun and a darkly suggestive sign, a quiet addition to the Secret Service watch-list should have been the end of it. But suddenly there he was on MSNBC, Mr. Liberty Tree himself, talking, not about health care, but about gun rights. Add to this the sad truth that anyone willing to compare Obama to A) Hitler or B) The Antichrist gets a guest-spot on FOX News. And then there's Orly Taitz, self-styled spokesperson for the so-called birther "movement", who's had a depressing number of appearances with major talking heads, in which she waves around various pieces of paper and makes wild, Russian-accented claims about Obama's citizenship, or lack therof.

The day is only so long. We have a limited amount of time. If we continue to let the Orly Taitzes of the world gobble up national airtime with their gobbledygook, if we let fringe groups steer and define the national debate, we risk making movements out of molehills. Good ideas will be drowned out and the shrill voices of a few will be amplified into a cacophony that deafens the many.