Just the Facts Please

(From deep out of the Bunker Archive – understanding fake news 2004)

Don’t believe anything you hear and only about half of what you actually see. – My Dad (and other wise people)

Wise man, my Dad.

I’ve been doing some more research.  I know.  Stop yawning.  I intended to provide you with an extensive list of examples to support my argument but I won’t.  Instead, I’ll equip you with what’s needed to do your own brain exercise.  Besides, those of you inclined to agree with me will do so without references.  Those of you who aren’t so inclined have probably already switched the channel.  But, wait…  You may want to stick around for a few minutes.  If you do, I promise to give you something useful that’ll help you to dissect before digesting that which you hear and see each day.

I hauled out my dictionary.  I needed us to understand the actual definitions for propaganda and journalism.  Since we are busy rewriting definitions these days, I thought this was important for the discussion.

Propagandaideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause.  Journalism –writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation.

In our world of 24/7, instant worldwide news coverage, we have a problem separating propaganda from journalism. Is propaganda too harsh a word for you?  Hey, I didn’t write the definition for it, but if it makes it a little more palatable for you, we’ll discuss it as the difference between an opinion commentary and a newscast presentation of events or facts without interpretation.  Just remember what Willie Shakespeare said, “You can call manure a rose if you want to, but it’ll still stink…” or something like that.

I read and listen to quite a bit of news and listen to many of the popular radio and television commentators.  If I want the liberal slant to the actual news, I watch CNN, listen to NPR (your tax dollars at work) or one of the networks – ABC, NBC or CBS.  If I want the conservative perspective, I’ll tune in to Fox.  Although considered by most as conservative, the actual Fox newscasts (not the Fox talk shows) provide, in my opinion, more facts without interpretation than do the others.  But, that’s a judgment you can make for yourself once armed with my rules for news dissection.  When it comes to listening to commentators, I prefer the conservative perspective.  I listen to the liberal commentators too.  I like to hear both sides of the debate, but I do not like the extreme position on either the left or the right.  Considering both helps round out my perspective.  However, I’d as soon gouge my eye out with a stick as to listen to some of them.  James Carvel and Pat Buchanan come to mind.

Last year in April, I was out of the country for a while.  The only English speaking newscasts that I could get were CNN International and the BBC.  Al Jazeera has nothing over these guys.  Listening to what passed for actual news was interesting, but frightening.  The BBC for example, could always produce one American opposed to the war and present them as the representative voice for all Americans.  There wasn’t one single success to report according to their spin and America was clearly the bad guy bully.  Their opposition to America was obvious in how they presented (slanted) the news for world consumption.  Following two weeks of that, I too was concerned about how we were doing.   When I returned home, I was much more observant of what was presented to me as news by alleged newscasters.  What I discovered is that we have our own little BBCs and CNN Internationals filling America’s airwaves.  To get at the real news, I started mining the facts for myself.  In doing so, I developed three simple rules that have helped me see the world and the news, a little more clearly.  Here are my rules.  Feel free to use them, they’re free and they work.

  • Peel away the commentary.  Focus on the facts.

Example: “Job growth was a major disappointment this month with only 21,000 new jobs created.

The commentary: “Job growth was a major disappointment this month with only…

The fact:  …21,000 new jobs created.

Focus on the facts and form your own opinion about what’s good or bad.

  • Apply JD’s bovine scatology detection formula to all statements made by alleged newscasters.  If the number of descriptive terms in a statement from a newscaster equals or exceeds the number of facts in the statement, then it’s commentary and not a presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation.

Our Example Again:  “Job growth was a major disappointment this month with only 21,000 new jobs created.

This statement activates the BS-ometer.  The opening statement, Job growth…disappointment is descriptive.  The words with only appearing just before the one fact, is the second descriptor.  Both have a purpose of telling us our opinion (or how we should think).  Two descriptive phrases used to present one fact.  Does this more closely fit the definition of propaganda or journalism?  Time to flip channels.

  • There is something positive that comes out of every story.

If you listen to a newscast and you never hear a positive point reported about (or as in our example positive facts consistently reported in a negative vein), for example, the economy, the government, the war… your BS-ometer should go off as well.  This also works in reverse, everything isn’t always rosy either.

Our quandary is this.  Too many of us focus on the commentary while skimming past the facts.  We do that, because our most prominent and trusted newscasters are actually commentators and because we are a bit lazy at times.  Our “newscasters” subtly infuse their opinions into the news giving us ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause more often than they give us direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation.

There are only a couple of conclusions I can draw from this.

  • They believe that I (and you) am too stupid to consider facts and decide for myself their significance or:
  • They have a motive.  The only motive I can think of is to cause me (and you) to think a certain way – their way.

If the first is true, it tells me much about many of the people who claim to present the news.  If the second is true, that’s simply propaganda.

A truth that’s told with bad intent Beats all the lies you can invent. – William Blake, 1803

Copyright© JD Pendry, 2004