Even more fake news

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me you ears;
I come to bury fake news, not to praise it.

Whenever you have war, whenever you have conflict, whenever you have disagreement the first casualty is the truth. This has been the case since the start of civilization but we are now more conscious of the issue since the American president started using the term “fake news”. Not only has he become a master of using it but he also claims others use it against him. He is not the first to distort the truth but he may be more blatant than his predecessors. His success is sickening.

It may be the challenge of fake news is to use the truth to overcome emotions.

police-clip-art-1194984609285255522police_man_ganson.svg.medA lot of us dislike being lied to and a lot of us dislike hearing the truth, especially if it is not what we want it to be. This provides opportunities for those people whose desire for power over people is stronger than their ethics.

Most politicians quickly learn to use distortions of the truth to avoid upsetting people. My experience is that municipal politicians are less likely to say untrue things than those who stand a chance of being elected at a provincial or national level. As a journalist I frequently voted for the candidate with the least chance of winning because they were the most honest.

When a politician is as blatant with distortions of the truth as is the current occupant of the White House it is tempting to hold him responsible. But there is a more serious problem in that a lot of people are believing his distortions. He is saying what a lot of people want to hear. When so many people want to hear and believe things which some of us believe are not true there must be a serious problem facing our society. Rather than criticizing the messenger we should be trying to identify and correct the problem.

In my days as a reporter I tried hard to be accurate and was sometimes in trouble for being too accurate. They mayor did not like being quoted as referring to the Queen of England as “Liz”. Most of my reporting was for small town newspapers.

An issue for me was the accuracy of what people said. A British Columbia cabinet minister said the gypsies from Quebec were sent to B.C. to encourage separatism. I did not believe it but I reported it and the editors wrote an editorial criticizing the minister who later went onto become the premier. I still feel guilty for my very small part in helping him become premier. I would not want to be covering the White House.

In our society court cases are the ultimate situations of conflict. Most witnesses in court cases take an oath to tell the truth and the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I never heard a lawyer take a similar oath. Frequently they try to hide the truth. In Hereford, England, the prosecutor in the magistrates court was a police inspector and was much admired for ensuring the magistrates knew anything in favor of the defendants. He once told us he kept quiet until he became an inspector. After that there were no more promotions.

Distorting the truth is an ancient activity. We know that because we have the word sophistry. On a day-to-day basis I hear lots of arguments which are good examples of the art, often from the female of the species. I figure most of the arguments presented by feminists are highly sophisticated. Google logical fallacies.

The Economist points out that some publications reflect the beliefs of their readers rather than their owners. This is because some owners are more interested in profits rather than the truth.

Maybe there is a market for fake news because we are all emotional people and we do not like things that will cause us suffering. With the economy on a down trend it is likely a lot of people are going to experience unemployment and suffering and maybe even hunger, There will be fertile ground for politicians who promise things they cannot deliver.

It is our responsibility to evaluate the truth of what other people tell us. A part of the evaluation should be asking what are the special interests of that person. Will they benefit by distorting what they say?

Most of us feel betrayed if we discover somebody has lied to us. Probably the best defense is a commitment to tell the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Truth: An impossible request

Dear Santa Clause,  For Christmas this year I ask you to give all the people around the world a sense of truthfulness to themselves and all others including young children.

There are two problems in this request: People believe in different versions of the truth and many people have an interest in distorting the truth.

There are many things about ourselves and this world that we do not and can not know from rational observation.  A lot of people fill in the gaps with differing religious knowledge but it is difficult for an observer to say which version is the truth.  A person who claims to speak or write only the truth is playing god with his/her religion and values.  Who is to say there is no Santa Clause?  A philosopher could define Santa Clause as a concept and maybe make the case that he is real.

Deliberate distortions of the truth go back to the dawn of civilisation.  I have read that ancient story tellers quickly learned to make their stories show their patrons in favourable lights.

There are a lot of distortions of the truth in our own civilization including war reporting, the courts and most politically correct issues.

Distortions of the truth in war reporting were documented in 1975 by Phillip Knightly in his book The First Casualty.  War correspondents are called upon to distort the truth for the sake of their part in their country’s war effort. The first casualty of war is he truth

I would suggest this happens where ever there is conflict.

Courts put some emphasis on  “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.  But how much injustice has resulted from prosecutors with holding  evidence which shows a person to be innocent.  The adversarial process is a strong incentive to avoid the truth.

There are also distortions in most politically correct issues.  Feminists are mistresses of the ancient art of sophistry, North American natives are a conquered people and police do not care about the color of the people they shoot.

Politicians and business people often have a vested interest in hiding the truth.  Political leaders who say the economy is on a long-term down trend are unlikely to get many votes, or at least they think that.  Every banker in the world would lie to avoid a run on his bank.

Donald Trump challenged the media with his untruths and won.  As a former journalist I was very happy not to be working the election.  If the press had not reported his distortions he probably would not even have got the nomination.  Mostly I worked on small town newspapers where most of the politicians were basically honest.

News people like good stories and when famous people say stupid or ridiculous things, it is usually a good story.   I once quoted a school trustee because I wanted to show how stupid he was.  The next day some lady phoned the local radio talk show and said,  “Did you see what Dr. P….. said at school board.  Wasn’t that great?”

What about the responsibility of the media to report the truth?  Publishers have the right to decide what goes into their publication and some specialize in fiction. There are ethical issues in claiming fiction as fact.  It is also hard for a reporter or editor to ignore a statement because he knows it is not true. Most reporters, editors and publishers do not want to upset their friends.  In general advertisers to not much  care about the editorial content so long as their advertising brings in customers.

How do we as consumers of news know if something is true?  We have to evaluate if an item makes sense and that depends upon our values, religion and knowledge base.

As I have worked on this post I have wondered a little if untruthfulness is an essential part of surviving human relationships.  That might be best left for another reincarnation.

 

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Responsitibilty for the financial crisis

A news report suggests there will never be any criminal prosecutions from the financial crisis.

This is because we are all to blame.

We all want/have wanted the highest possible returns on our investments and pension funds and the people higher up the line have taken advantage of our own greed to line their own pockets.

I suspect that a lot of what happens in courts has more to do with revenge and scapegoats than it does with justice.

Calling for a royal commission on justice

Following is a copy of a letter to the editor to be submitted to the Vancouver Sun.  The column was printed on Monday, April 11, 2011 on page A3

Columnist Ian Mulgrew is correct in saying the entire legal system is “gummed up” and that “public money is lining lawyers’ pockets”.However, one fears putting “more money – a lot more” into the legal system will only line the pockets of even more lawyers.

As an alternative I suggest a royal commission on justice to evaluate all aspects of the legal system with a mandate to improve justice and reduce costs.

Here are some things at which a royal commission should look.

First, it should evaluate the laws themselves for justness. Some laws are unjust because they are applied to situations the law was never intended to cover and others are unjust because they try to force the values, morals or sexuality of some people on everyone.

A royal commission should also do a serious evaluation of the use of legal tactics and procedures. Lawyers use these to get around the weaknesses in their cases. Not only do they lead to unjust decisions but they also add considerably to costs.

A third thing to look at is the attitude of police and their training especially regarding force. Police should be trained to use people skills before they are trained to use force. Hardly any of the people police deal with are so dangerous they need to be tasered or shot.

I believe justice is more important than the rule of law and that our society is in urgent need of a royal commission on justice.

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