WASHINGTON, October 5, 2012 - The presidential debate gave me some hope: A citizen audience that was projected to be as high as 50 million tuned in to a debate that was largely substantive. Only a few days later, propaganda is back in full swing and sinking to a new low. Does anyone care about the truth anymore?
I’m not talking about the rants of the far left or far right ideologues who make up their minds as soon as the R or D appears next to a candidate’s name. Those people write headlines like, “Presidential Debate: Mitt Romney Shines by Pushing Lies, Obama Misses Mark by Not Calling Him Out“ or “Obama Experiences Epic Meltdown as Romney Crushes Him in First Debate.” You don’t really need facts—ideology is enough to write a headline or a blog. Then, you just quote other people who believe the same thing. That stuff is obvious enough (I hope).
No, I am talking about people like you and me who are trying to do the right thing. You know, like normal people—people who don’t view the future of our nation as a game. More than ever, we are left to our own common sense, informed by our faith and values. And, maybe not so much by the facts.
Most people think they can tell when somebody is lying, but research shows that is just not the case. Ulrich Boser at U.S. News has written several articles on lying. In 2009, he correctly summed it up this way: “The search for a way to detect a liar dates back at least to the Garden of Eden, where Satan lied to Eve about the forbidden fruit tree. Yet despite all the research scientists have conducted on lying and liars over the years, there is no surefire way of uncovering a half-truth.”
Take this favorite media trick: Report “facts” out of context and draw conclusions in the first paragraph or two. The top of the story, called the lede (that’s right l-e-d-e, a journalistic oddity), gives the reader the main idea of the story. It supports the conclusion the writer wants readers to make. To appear unbiased and credible, the writer will give some context of the facts or contrary view, but he buries it five or six paragraphs down—past where many readers have stopped reading the story and have moved on.
For full disclosure, let me say that I have been quoted fairly and accurately by more than one journalist at the New York Times. But, take this example by Catherine Rampell of NYT, “fact checking” Romney’s claim to help create 12 million jobs. In the lede, she states, “Mr. Romney promised to create 12 million jobs over the next four years if he is elected president. That is actually about as many jobs as the economy is already expected to create, according to some economic forecasters.”
In other words, the writer is saying Romney promises nothing. The next three paragraphs quote sources that reinforce that idea. It’s not until the sixth paragraph that Rampell acknowledges that a heavyweight credible source like the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects only 8.3 million jobs under the status quo. She goes on to say that the “CBO forecast implies that Mr. Romney would be promising an extra two million jobs, or a 40 percent bonus from what is already expected.”
Every activist, political operative, and public relations professional knows that “news” is more persuasive than advertising. How many readers had already moved on? Isn’t the difference between Romney’s promise and the CBO projection an improvement of 3.7 million jobs, not 2 million? Intentional bias or not?
Tammy Bruce, liberal turned conservative author, wrote in her book The New Thought Police, “What is pitched is different—a product brand versus an issue—but the method is the same. In each case, the critical thing is not to let the public know how it’s done.”
And that’s why I admit I have been dispirited of late. Let’s face it: Much of the media is not trying to help anyone make an informed decision.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of American Life League.
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