Thursday, July 29, 2010

Truth and Lies

A couple of years ago I was in Moscow visiting at a university where a friend teaches English.  At that time the rehabilitation of Stalin as the all-wise, all-knowing all-benevolent Uncle Joe was in full swing.  I asked a couple of students who were in the office what they thought of Stalin coming in second in a "Greatest Russian of all time" competition sponsored by a TV station.

They gave me the answer I expected from a culture that has learned the hard way to keep their heads down and mouths shut - they weren't interested in history, they were interested in the future.  But one of the teachers had a question for me - how do you know what and who to believe?

When it comes to the events of the day, what and who do you believe?  How do you know if you are being lied to?  That is no easy question and there are usually two choices - watch Fox News Channel and believe everything or believe nothing and suspect everything.  Even the cut and dry is not always as it seems.

Back in March, the South Korean Corvette Cheonan sunk after some kind of explosion and 46 sailors were lost. North Korea was the obvious suspect and indeed after an investigation by an international team, it was concluded that a North Korean torpedo from a mini-submarine had sunk the Cheonan.  They even dredged up the remnants of the torpedo.  North Korea vehemently denied it but what would you expect?

So today, I ran into this article  in CounterPunch which raised a whole pot load of issues that never made the 6:00 news.  There is a great possibility that the data was fudged to make it match South Korean expectations and that the ship actually triggered a non-contact mine of which there are several in the shallow water area where it sank and which may even have been south Korean in origin. Truth remains the first casualty of war.

I made up a check list for the teacher in Moscow and would welcome comments and additions:

What is the agenda?
Who benefits?
What evidence?
Who is funding it?
Historical facts – incontrovertible or new evidence? Files available or closed?
Language – rational vs. emotional/hate filled
Official government policy?
How independent is the media?
How free is the country?
What is currently “politically correct”?


  1. Too many questions to answer all at once.

    But, as a journalist, I'd say that they are all excellent questions. Problem is most people don't want to be bothered hearing or reading that much information. Plus answering those questions would take a repoter way too long to write a story (from the editor's position).

    In commercial radio, a story (OK, a long story) is 100 words. End every hour each reporter is expected to churn something out. You start at the beginning knowing nothing about the item on which you re to report.

    I call the phenomenon "Zero to 100 in 60 Minutes." And that, in my estimation, is not particularly good reporting. And as story length shrinks, the situation gets worse.

  2. you can apply those questions to a lot of things- but do you always want to know?
    sometimes knowledge requires response.

  3. I think the commenter above me has all the answers.....Honey, it's like the just can't believe everything you read even when your questions are being answered. Everyone speaks from their own perspective and the devil's in the details. As for Bear's comment, you have to lead with what will grab the reader's attention, then shut the hell up before he loses his concentration.

  4. The questions are to be answered mentally by you the reader from your own awareness, not in the story itself.

    E.g if it is official government position, it is likely a lie.

    Knowledge requires a response but most people don't know how to respond or are powerless to respond.

  5. Good point, Dana: "You have to lead with what will grab the reader's attention, then shut the hell up before he loses his concentration." Sad, but true. People have relatively short attention spans.

    More distressing, however is yours, BF: "Knowledge requires a response but most people don't know how to respond or are powerless to respond." I fear most people feel so bamboozled that they no longer know what they thought they knew, and are made even more powerless. Truly distressing.

  6. I would ask why and who do we blame for this "short attention span"? Certainly the news or any other "factual" based piece would fall on deaf ears and blind eyes if it did not have a good lead in. And being concise would certainly help in reader/listner/viewer retention. Maybe it's just me but there seems to be an inverse relationship between humanity's willingness to take in more information as the World and it's events become more complex and entangled. Sensory overload seems more insidious than ever before and I wonder if this apparent shorter attention span is not a kind of self preservation tool. TMI(Too Much Information) is more than a joke someone uses among friends.

    But that is not the point of Blog fodder's post. It is about truth v fact. We all absorb information the same way. And all of us have developed a set of collating criteria within ourselves by which we judge that information. Everything from information gathered through our senses as witnesses to information that has already been gathered, collated and then dispersed by others. It seems human nature to look favorably on information coming from sources we have chosen to trust and be skeptical of sources we have decided to not trust. The "truth" becoming what we perceive it to be.

    Damn, Blog Fodder - this fine post of yours is one of the big reasons I blog. Posts that get my juices flowing. Thanks.

  7. MCM, thank you for your compliment and thank you for reading my blog today. I have no idea where Dana and Rob-Bear are coming from with lectures on how to write news stories. At least you and PN understood what I wrote. Guess I need lessons in clarity.

  8. Some of us are just agreeing with you, BF, in detail.

    Mind you, Bears have small tails; just don't try to de-tail us!


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