Why You Should Believe Nothing You Read or Hear in the News!

news-icons (1)I want to make an argument as to why most of what you hear or read is biased, prejudiced and based on narrow minded thinking.  Most of what you read will not lead you to the truth but will take you down a path away from the truth.  My argument will also apply to what you are about to read.  I am biased, narrow minded and prejudiced.  So why should you read or listen to what I am about to write?  Well, let’s start at the beginning.

Like many of you reading this, I consider myself somewhat of a truth seeker.  Although, I believe few if any “absolute” truths actually exist.  Nevertheless, I read a wide variety of books and magazines.  I listen to many different sources including TV, Radio, Podcasts, TED Talks, documentaries, and YouTube videos.  I attend training sessions, conferences, and talks by noted experts whenever possible.  I also scan many different news sources each day to find a variety of perspectives concerning political events and popular news.  My friends consider me well informed and very knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects.

maxresdefaultI have been seeking the truth or what might pass as “truth” for most of my 75 years on this earth.  I was considered the “smartest” guy in the room in many of my high school and college classes.  The authorities or those that are supposed to be good judges of truth and knowledge gave me two undergraduate degrees, one master’s degree and a Ph.D. Degree.  Once upon a time, I belonged to many different professional associations and was also a member of MENSA, the so-called high IQ society.  None of my qualifications or associations prepared me any better than anyone else upon this earth to find the TRUTH.  Like most of you, I am still looking and hoping that the “Truth will set me free.”  If only, I can find it.

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A few days ago, I noticed seven different editorials on Google News concerning the Ukrainian War.  Each of the editorials was written by a professional journalist and each espoused some very critical ideas.  Some of these ideas would carry weight with readers and no doubt influence public opinion for good or bad.  Six of the journalists’ names were listed and one was not.  Now most stories we get in the news whether on TV or print are written by journalists.  Less frequently it will be some “policy” expert or high-ranking government official who will be doing an opinion piece or some type of interview.

I started to ask myself a few questions:

  • What are their professional qualifications?
  • How much influence or weight do these journalists carry?
  • How much slant or bias do these journalists carry?
  • Are journalists and the media really qualified to tell us what we should or should not be doing?

I looked up each of the journalists to see what their qualifications were.  Basically, they were professionally trained journalists and most of them had extensive experience in foreign relations.  Neither of these attributes makes them an expert on the Ukraine but it is conceivable that they might have more knowledge in some areas of foreign policy than the general public.  Again, more knowledge does not mean less biases. Here are the news sources and brief bios for the six journalists I researched:

The Washington Post- Liz Sly and Dan Lamothe

Liz Sly (born in the United Kingdom) is a British journalist based in Beirut.  She is currently a correspondent with The Washington Post covering Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East.   She graduated from the University of Cambridge.

Dan Lamothe is an award-winning military journalist and war correspondent.  He has written for Marine Corps Times and the Military Times newspaper chain since 2008, traveling the world and writing extensively about the Afghanistan war both from Washington and the war zone.  He also has reported from Norway, Spain, Germany, the Republic of Georgia and while underway with the U.S. Navy.

NPR – Greg Myre

Greg Myre is an American journalist and an NPR national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community.  Before joining NPR, he was a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press and The New York Times for 20 years.  He reported from more than 50 countries and covered a dozen wars and conflicts.

The Wall Street Journal – David Henninger

Mr. Henninger was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing in 1987 and 1996 and shared in the Journal’s Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of the attacks on September 11. In 2004, he won the Eric Breindel Journalism Award for his weekly column.  He has won the Gerald Loeb Award for commentary, the Scripps Howard Foundation’s Walker Stone Award for editorial writing and the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for editorial writing.  He is a weekly panelist on the “Journal Editorial Report” on Fox News.

The Atlantic – Eliot Cohen

Eliot Asher Cohen (born April 3, 1956, in Boston, Massachusetts) is an American political scientist. He was a counselor in the United States Department of State under Condoleezza Rice from 2007 to 2009.  In 2019, Cohen was named the 9th Dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, succeeding the former dean, Vali Nasr.  Before his time as dean, he directed the Strategic Studies Program at SAIS.

Cohen was one of the first neoconservatives to publicly advocate war against Iran and Iraq.  In a November 2001 op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Cohen identified what he called World War IV and advocated the overthrow of Iran’s government as a possible next step for the Bush Administration. Cohen claimed “regime change” in Iran could be accomplished with a focus on “pro-Western and anticlerical forces” in the Middle East and suggested that such an action would be “wise, moral and unpopular (among some of our allies)”

The New York Times – Cora Engelbrecht

Cora Engelbrecht is a contributor to the RIGHTS blog.  She recently received her BA in nonfiction writing from Wesleyan University, and now works in New York as a freelance writer, researcher, and graphic artist.  Her interest for human rights and global conflict stems from her time spent researching and writing abroad in Tanzania and South Africa.

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I next turned to the question of how much influence do journalists carry?  The story of John Revelstoke Rathom (1868–1923) is very informative in this regard.  He was a journalist, editor, and author based in Rhode Island at the height of his career. In the years before World War I, he was a prominent advocate of American participation in the war against Germany.

c9713250-e5eb-46c7-8ea9-2810435084fa-9781643139364“Rathom campaigned for the U.S. to enter World War I in support of the British.  Under his management, the Providence Journal produced a series of exposés of German espionage and propaganda in the U.S.  In 2004, that same newspaper reported that much of Rathom’s coverage was a fraud: ‘In truth, the Providence Journal had acquired numerous inside scoops on German activities, mostly from British intelligence sources who used Rathom to plant anti-German stories in the American media.’” –  Wikipedia

It seems logical to assume that since we did enter the war and since the Brits did go out of their way to bias American policy that the efforts of Rathom and others had a major influence on our decision to enter the war on England’s side. America was persuaded by the media that we should enter the war when there was substantial public opinion to stay out of the mess that Europe was in.  My own reading of WW I shows a totally different scenario than from WW II.  I have little doubt that we should have entered the war against Hitler.  However, the picture from WW I is quite different.  I think that each side had equal claims to legitimacy for their war efforts.  But the media heavily influenced our eventual entry into the war.

Next I wanted to see if anyone had opinions about the bias or prejudices that the typical journalist might have.  I found the following comment in a recent article by Politico, “Why Journalists Love War”, by Jack Shafer  03/17/2022

“NBC News reporter Richard Engel, a veteran foreign war correspondent, dropped a tweet a few days after the war began that appeared to lament that U.S. forces hadn’t strafed the huge Russian convoy approaching Kyiv, seemingly unimpressed that such a strike might launch World War III.  Reporters didn’t call in bombers at White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s Monday briefing, but the tone of their repeated questions almost made it sound like they were advocating a no-fly zone and fresh jets for Ukraine.  And the New York Post left no ambiguity about where they stood with its super-partisan “Fight Like Zel” cover headline.”

“The overwhelming majority of U.S. journalists have taken a more subdued position on the war, identifying with Ukraine against the aggressor Russians, but stopping just short of cheerleading. Even so, journalists can’t hide the seductive draw of the bloodworks.  They can’t help themselves. They love war.”

Photojournalist,Documenting,War,And,Conflict

Of course, this is only one opinion.  However, it fit well with my observations.  I have noticed every day calls by journalists for increased efforts to support Ukraine that might well lead to a Nuclear War.  As I read these brash comments, I sit wondering where were the calls to intervene in Nigeria, Rhodesia, Yemen, and Cambodia?  Why are the news outlets pushing a narrative that implies world disaster if the Ukraine falls to Russia?

Listen please!  I would like to see the Ukrainians kick all the Russian asses back to Siberia or some other cold place.  However, I am not willing to start a Nuclear War over the Ukraine.  There have been too many missed opportunities by the West during the past five years that would have avoided the present war.  What is it that brings out the desire to have a nuclear confrontation with Russia?  Nothing I can see except a Democratic Party that needs to look tough and a cadre of journalists pushing a narrative for more and more support by our country for a nation that we do not even have a treaty with.

“The link between safety and ethics may not be immediately obvious, but the same ambitions and economic factors that pressure inexperienced and poorly prepared freelance journalists to enter battle zones also pressure journalists to present the news as they think that their paymasters most want to hear it.”  — https://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/ethics-safety-solidarity-journalism — Originally published as a chapter of “Conflict reporting in the smartphone era – from budget constraints to information warfare”

A book that I am reading is “The Science of Fear” (2008) by Daniel Gardner.  The following  insight by Gardner is quite pertinent to this discussion.

9780226567198“The media are among those that profit by marketing fear – nothing gives a boost to circulation and ratings like a good panic – but the media also promote unreasonable fears for subtler and more compelling reasons.  The most profound is the simple love of stories and storytelling.  For the media, the most essential ingredient of a good story is the same as that of a good movie, play or tale told by a campfire.  It has to be about people and emotions, not numbers and reason.  Thus, the particularly tragic death of a single child will be reported around the world while a massive and continuing decline in child mortality rates is hardly noticed.” — Pg. 294

Ever since the decline of print news and the rise of the internet, the media has become a cesspool of click bait headlines, gross news reports about inane subjects, media celebrities touted as royalty and increasingly bizarre stories designed to spread fear.  There is no more morality or ethics in the news than there is in a cartel, mafia, or mega-corporation.  It is all about the money and there never seems to be enough these days.  Is the media biased is actually a very stupid question.  Right, left, central it does not matter.  They all have one agenda and that is to sell advertising for their corporate sponsors

My final question was, “Are journalists and the media really qualified to tell us what we should or should not be doing?”  My answer is that they are no more qualified than anyone else on the street or even one of your friends or relatives.  A study done several years ago and published in a book called “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” (2005) by Philip E. Tetloc examined the link between experts’ opinions and how often they were right.

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Tetloc in his heavily researched study found that experts are often no better at making predictions than most other people, and how when they are wrong, they are rarely held accountable.  Kahneman and Tversky in their book “Judgment Under Uncertainty” (1982) identify dozens of cognitive biases that impact the thinking ability of human beings.  They both later won a Nobel Prize for their work in behavioral economics.  It is often the most highly educated people who suffer from these biases the most.

Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (1962) dealt with the biases that the scientific community held regarding theories and principles.  Kuhn showed how difficult it was for the scientific community to let go of “old paradigms” and adopt new paradigms.  This was true even when all the evidence showed that the new paradigms did a better job of explaining the subject under study than the old paradigm.  Science history is full of many theories that took fifty or more years to be accepted simply due to the biases and resistance to change that is prevalent among scientists.  This is as true of scientists as it is of journalists, politicians, and the average person.

What is the answer:

A friend of mine said that the most important thing we have to do is to teach our children to question everything.  To question is the heart and soul of critical thinking.  However, we must be cautious lest we raise a nation or world of nihilists.  There is a difference between rejecting everything and questioning everything.

I am not a nihilist though I see a fine line between my thinking and nihilism.  I do not believe in absolute truth, but I think there are approximate truths.  As we learn more and more about anything, our truths get closer to the absolute, but we can never reach it.  I think the same way about meaning in life.  Meaning exists but only in our minds.  It will change many times during our lives.  The same is true for morality and values.  They exist but only in our minds.  Like the Velveteen Rabbit, they become real when we make them so.

Purchasing-Power-of-the-US-Dollar

I used to hold up a dollar bill and ask my students how much was it worth?   They typically replied one dollar.  I asked them why it was worth a dollar?  Answers varied, but the truth or close to it is that it is because people believe that it is worth a dollar.  In terms of labor, ink, and paper, it costs the Federal government 6.2 cents to print a dollar.  In terms of buying value, a dollar in 1926 is worth only 15.58 cents today.  However, this is not an absolute either since the current value of a dollar actually varies from state to state.  The value of a dollar varies about 30 cents from the lowest to the highest state across the USA.  In Mississippi, a dollar is worth $1.16, while in Hawaii, the dollar is only worth 84.39 cents.

So, seeing is believing or is believing seeing?  Is there a difference between perception and reality or are they the same?  Can we ever escape the Rashomon effect?  The biases in perception created by our own desires to protect our egos or the egos of others.

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There is little I have learned in my life that supports my willingness to accept anything as 100 percent factual, 100 percent truthful or 100 percent valid and reliable.  The solution is to question everything.  Do not accept anything as absolute.  When it comes to politicians, lawyers, salespeople, and journalists, we all need to be on guard.  Their built-in bias is not for the truth but for the dollar or at least 84 cents on the dollar.

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 Update:  4/29/22

Just read the following on CNBC.  This “brilliant” analysis by a guy who writes regularly for a variety of news outlets and is listed as a “Tutor” notes the following:

“I think it’s outside the realm of possibility right now that there’s going to be a nuclear war or World War III that really spills over that far beyond Ukraine’s borders,” Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst and associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told CNBC.

Dr. Samuel Ramani’s credentials for this brilliant piece of optimistic analysis is that he is a tutor of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford, where he received his doctorate in March 2021. Somehow this makes him an expert in what Russia will do next in the Ukraine.  His “beyond optimism” comes at a time when Putin is starting to get more and more desperate in his bid to defeat the Ukraine.  Putin is becoming a cornered rat and NATO is pushing him into more and more of a corner.  Despite this, the genius who is less than two years since he finished his Ph.D. degree says “it is “OUTSIDE” the realm of possibility that Putin will launch a nuclear strike.  It would only be “OUTSIDE” if Nuclear weapons did not exist.  Questions I have are:

  • Why is CNBC relying on the credentials of someone with so little expertise to give us such an analysis?
  • How could anyone in their right mind say that something is impossible when that something already exists?
  • What is the “narrative” behind the focus by the Western news?
  • Why is NATO supporting a war when we have no treaty with the Ukraine.

 

Once Upon a Time, I thought I knew Everything.

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The older I get, the less I know.  Isn’t it supposed to work the other way around?  A friend of mine, Jerry, gave me this quote from Bertrand Russell the other day “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”  The Greek philosopher Socrates was once proclaimed to the wisest man in the world. The day before he died, Socrates declared that he knew nothing.  On that same day, the Oracle at Delphi was asked “Who is the wisest man in the world?”  She replied “Socrates is the wisest man in the world.”  This was reported back to Socrates who said “When I was young, I knew everything but now I know nothing.”  The Oracle, who was never wrong, was asked “How can Socrates be the wisest man in the world when he knows nothing?” She replied “Only the wisest man in the world would know that he knows nothing and have the courage and humility to admit it.”

Facts

We go to school to learn many facts and figures.  We study history to learn the story of humanity, we study physics to learn the theory of the cosmos, we study biology to learn how animals grow and develop and we study science so we will know how the world really works.  We learn more and more and are coerced into theories and opinions and positions.  We become more and more certain that we are wiser and smarter.

The more degrees that are conferred on us, the smarter we are supposed to be.  If we are really smart, we begin to feel that all of these facts and data bits are not really helping us to understand the world.  The older most of us get and the more learned most of us become, the more we suspect that there are no truths to the world.  We begin to see that there are always truths behind the truths that we think we have found.  Our profundities become curiosities as we age until at some point they wither away and become obsolete.  How many theories have you seen that were proven wrong?  How many times have you had to eat humble pie because something you were absolutely positively sure about was proven conclusively wrong?

horrible face

I remember seeing a picture in the paper the other day of a man accused of sexually molesting a young girl.  He was accused of pedophilia and charged with a felony offense.  I took one look at the visage staring out of the paper at me and promptly proclaimed “If there were ever a guy who was a pedophile, he sure is.”  A few weeks later, a more complete investigation proved him completely innocent of all offenses and the young girl admitted that she made the story up for some unknown reason.  I was beyond having egg on my face.  You would think that at my age, I would have learned to avoid a rush to judgment.  I can make no excuses for my blatant stupidity.

Every few months, the media finds some new tragedy or murder case to focus on.  A few years ago it was the Trayvon Martin case.  It seemed that every day we were confronted with some new facts that supported a change in who the media wanted us to think was guilty.  Trayvon initiated the encounter.  Zimmerman initiated the encounter.  Trayvon provoked Zimmerman.  Zimmerman provoked Trayvon.  Trayvon was a good kid.  Zimmerman was a good guy loved by all of his friends.  Trayvon was a racist.  Zimmerman was a racist.

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Tapes, witnesses, photo enlargements, medical information, acoustic information, video tapes, the entire gamut was presented daily with one expert after another telling us what they think.   This same scenario plays itself out over and over again in the media.  The “crime of the century” has been replaced by the “crime of the week.”

Right Way

Each day regardless of what news we read or what cable show we watch, it appears we know more and more about less and less.  What are we doing here folks?  Are they looking for truth or are they selling papers?  Are we voyeurs to some weird witch hunt?  Are we taking sides so we can become right?  If so, we will truly have become a Roman Circus instead of a civilized society of laws and courts and presumptions of innocence until proven guilty.

If we can somehow get pass this media circus that pretends to convey the truth,  there are lessons that we need to learn.  If you remember the famous story Rashomon, you may realize that truth is often a matter of perspective and not hard cold facts.

Time for Questions: 

What can you help do to overcome the types of bias and prejudice that the media often promotes?  How can you avoid your own “rush to judgment?”  What does it mean to “judge not others, less you be judged yourself.”  How often do we see the mote in others eyes but ignore the pole in our own?

Life is just beginning.

“We live in a culture where everyone’s opinion, view, and assessment of situations and people spill across social media, a lot of it anonymously, much of it shaped by mindless meanness and ignorance.”  — Mike Barnicle

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