Reality, News Perception, and Accuracy

                                                                         

By WALTER BRASCH

 

She quietly walked into the classroom from the front and stood there, just inside the door, against a wall.

I continued my lecture, unaware of her presence until my students’ eyes began focusing upon her rather than me.

“Yes?” I asked. Just “yes.” Nothing more.

“You shouldn’t have done it,” she said peacefully. I was confused. So she said it again, this time a little sharper.

“Ma’am,” I began, but she cut me off. I tried to defuse the situation, but couldn’t reason with her. She pulled a gun from her purse and shot me, then quickly left. I recovered immediately.

It took less than a minute.

The scene was an exercise in a newswriting class, unannounced but highly planned. My assignment was for the students to quickly write down everything they could about the incident. What happened. What was said. What she looked like. What she was wearing. Just the facts. Nothing more.

Everyone got some of the information right, but no one got all the facts, even the ones they were absolutely positively sure they saw or heard correctly. And, most interestingly, the “gun” the visitor used and which the students either couldn’t identify or misidentified was in reality a . . . banana; a painted black banana, but a banana nevertheless. The actual gun shot was on tape broadcast by a hidden recorder I activated.

It was a lesson in observation and truth. Witnesses often get the facts wrong, unable to distinguish events happening on top of each other. Sometimes they even want to “help” the reporter and say what they think the reporter wants to hear.

Reporters are society’s witnesses who record history by interviewing other witnesses, and they all make mistakes not because they want to but because everyone’s experiences and perceptions fog reality.

Of the infinite number of facts and observations that occur during a meeting, reporters must select a few, and then place them in whatever order they think is most important. Which few they select, which thousands they don’t select--and, more important--which facts they don’t even know exist--all make up a news story, usually written under deadline pressure. Thus, it isn’t unusual for readers to wonder how reporters could have been in the same meeting as they were since the published stories didn’t seem to reflect the reality of the meeting.

But there are some facts that are verifiable. We know that a South American country is spelled “Colombia,” not “Columbia.” We know that Theodore Roosevelt was a progressive Republican. And we know that the current World Series champions are the St. Louis Cardinals not, regrettably, the San Diego Padres.

But, for far too many in my profession, facts and the truth are subverted by a process that has become he said/she said journalism. We take notes at meetings, recording who said what. If there are conflicting statements, we try to quote all the opinions, even the dumb ones, believing we are being “fair and balanced.” If  a news source says the world is flat, we write that, and then see if we can find someone who will say that it is round—or maybe square.

When we write features and personality profiles, we tend to take what we are told, craft it into snappy paragraphs, and hope the readers don’t fall asleep. If someone shyly tells us he earned a Silver Star for heroism during the Vietnam War, we don’t demand to see the certificate—or question how a 50 year old, who was wasn’t even in his teens when the war ended, could actually have served during the Vietnam war.

At the local level, although we’re trained to be cynical, we aren’t. If a mayor or police chief tells us something, we attribute the quote, figuring we did our duty. Maybe we ask a couple of questions, but we tend not to pursue them—we have far too many stories to write and far too little time. Besides, if the facts are wrong, we believe we’re “protected,” since it’s not we who said it but someone else. Legally, of course, we’re still responsible for factual error even if someone else said it and we accurately quote that person, but we don’t worry about the technicalities.

Adequate reporters get their facts from people in authority; the great reporters know truth is probably known by the secretaries, custodians, and other workers. We just have to find the right sources, dig out the facts, and verify them.

And now comes another presidential election, and we continue to perpetuate lies by not challenging those who spout them. Rick Santorum says California’s public colleges don’t teach American history—and we write down his lie. Mitt Romney claims he never said the Massachusetts health care plan was a model for the entire country, that Barack Obama never mentioned the deficit during his state of the union or that the President is constantly apologizing for America, and we write that without challenge. Newt Gingrich, like most Republican candidates for president and Congress, wants us to believe he’s an “outsider” and a fiscal conservative, and we go along with the fiction. Barack Obama said he’d be a leader for defending Constitutional rights, yet willingly signed an extension of the PATRIOT Act, which curtails civil liberties. Pick a candidate—any candidate, any party—and we think we’re “fair” because we record what he or she said, even of it’s a lie, a half-truth, an exaggeration, a distortion, or a misconception. Perhaps American politicians have internalized the wisdom of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who said “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Quoting people isn’t journalism—it’s clerking. We’re merely taking words, transcribing them, and publishing them. Journalism demands we challenge our sources and find the truth. As one grizzled city editor said in the late 19th century, if your mother claims to be your mother, demand a birth certificate. It was good advice then; it is even better advice now.

[In a 40-year career as a journalist and professor, Dr. Brasch has won more than 200 awards for excellence in journalism in investigative reporting, feature writing, and for his weekly column. His current book is the critically-acclaimed novel Before the First Snow, which helps explain the rise of the Occupy and anti-fracking movements. The book is available in both ebook and hardcover formats.]

 

 

Reality, News Perception, and Accuracy

                                                                         

By WALTER BRASCH

 

She quietly walked into the classroom from the front and stood there, just inside the door, against a wall.

I continued my lecture, unaware of her presence until my students’ eyes began focusing upon her rather than me.

“Yes?” I asked. Just “yes.” Nothing more.

“You shouldn’t have done it,” she said peacefully. I was confused. So she said it again, this time a little sharper.

“Ma’am,” I began, but she cut me off. I tried to defuse the situation, but couldn’t reason with her. She pulled a gun from her purse and shot me, then quickly left. I recovered immediately.

It took less than a minute.

The scene was an exercise in a newswriting class, unannounced but highly planned. My assignment was for the students to quickly write down everything they could about the incident. What happened. What was said. What she looked like. What she was wearing. Just the facts. Nothing more.

Everyone got some of the information right, but no one got all the facts, even the ones they were absolutely positively sure they saw or heard correctly. And, most interestingly, the “gun” the visitor used and which the students either couldn’t identify or misidentified was in reality a . . . banana; a painted black banana, but a banana nevertheless. The actual gun shot was on tape broadcast by a hidden recorder I activated.

It was a lesson in observation and truth. Witnesses often get the facts wrong, unable to distinguish events happening on top of each other. Sometimes they even want to “help” the reporter and say what they think the reporter wants to hear.

Reporters are society’s witnesses who record history by interviewing other witnesses, and they all make mistakes not because they want to but because everyone’s experiences and perceptions fog reality.

Of the infinite number of facts and observations that occur during a meeting, reporters must select a few, and then place them in whatever order they think is most important. Which few they select, which thousands they don’t select--and, more important--which facts they don’t even know exist--all make up a news story, usually written under deadline pressure. Thus, it isn’t unusual for readers to wonder how reporters could have been in the same meeting as they were since the published stories didn’t seem to reflect the reality of the meeting.

But there are some facts that are verifiable. We know that a South American country is spelled “Colombia,” not “Columbia.” We know that Theodore Roosevelt was a progressive Republican. And we know that the current World Series champions are the St. Louis Cardinals not, regrettably, the San Diego Padres.

But, for far too many in my profession, facts and the truth are subverted by a process that has become he said/she said journalism. We take notes at meetings, recording who said what. If there are conflicting statements, we try to quote all the opinions, even the dumb ones, believing we are being “fair and balanced.” If  a news source says the world is flat, we write that, and then see if we can find someone who will say that it is round—or maybe square.

When we write features and personality profiles, we tend to take what we are told, craft it into snappy paragraphs, and hope the readers don’t fall asleep. If someone shyly tells us he earned a Silver Star for heroism during the Vietnam War, we don’t demand to see the certificate—or question how a 50 year old, who was wasn’t even in his teens when the war ended, could actually have served during the Vietnam war.

At the local level, although we’re trained to be cynical, we aren’t. If a mayor or police chief tells us something, we attribute the quote, figuring we did our duty. Maybe we ask a couple of questions, but we tend not to pursue them—we have far too many stories to write and far too little time. Besides, if the facts are wrong, we believe we’re “protected,” since it’s not we who said it but someone else. Legally, of course, we’re still responsible for factual error even if someone else said it and we accurately quote that person, but we don’t worry about the technicalities.

Adequate reporters get their facts from people in authority; the great reporters know truth is probably known by the secretaries, custodians, and other workers. We just have to find the right sources, dig out the facts, and verify them.

And now comes another presidential election, and we continue to perpetuate lies by not challenging those who spout them. Rick Santorum says California’s public colleges don’t teach American history—and we write down his lie. Mitt Romney claims he never said the Massachusetts health care plan was a model for the entire country, that Barack Obama never mentioned the deficit during his state of the union or that the President is constantly apologizing for America, and we write that without challenge. Newt Gingrich, like most Republican candidates for president and Congress, wants us to believe he’s an “outsider” and a fiscal conservative, and we go along with the fiction. Barack Obama said he’d be a leader for defending Constitutional rights, yet willingly signed an extension of the PATRIOT Act, which curtails civil liberties. Pick a candidate—any candidate, any party—and we think we’re “fair” because we record what he or she said, even of it’s a lie, a half-truth, an exaggeration, a distortion, or a misconception. Perhaps American politicians have internalized the wisdom of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who said “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Quoting people isn’t journalism—it’s clerking. We’re merely taking words, transcribing them, and publishing them. Journalism demands we challenge our sources and find the truth. As one grizzled city editor said in the late 19th century, if your mother claims to be your mother, demand a birth certificate. It was good advice then; it is even better advice now.

[In a 40-year career as a journalist and professor, Dr. Brasch has won more than 200 awards for excellence in journalism in investigative reporting, feature writing, and for his weekly column. His current book is the critically-acclaimed novel Before the First Snow, which helps explain the rise of the Occupy and anti-fracking movements. The book is available in both ebook and hardcover formats.]

 

 

The biggest danger of the early campaign...

It is now a very long time before the Democratic and Republic National Conventions, and the dates for the primaries are now set to be earlier than ever. By the time Labor Day rolled around, the candidates had already had a handful of debates and had been attacking the media for several months.

All of this emphasis on the early campaign is forming a release valve of sorts for the concern of the public. We are already encouraged to push one candidate or another and we spend less time watching the substantial issues of war and economics which the Bushies are actively pursuing.

More time is spent watching New Hampshire and Iowa right now than watching what is happening relative to Iran, for instance. We will hear Petraeus' report on Iraq and, believe it or not, it will include something about Iran as the supplier of terrorists and weapons. Iran will be necessary to add the twinge of added fear to a fear dominated war strategy.

Our Senatorial candidates will not be carrying out their overview of the Administration because they are more concerned with getting nominated. This is particularly troublesome in the case of Dodd, who we really depend on to debate foreign policy, and Clinton and Obama, who represent major states, are not focused on Washington, either.

Let's face it... the press is distracted enough with Wide Stance Larry and the White House resignations of minor characters... when you add it to the campaigns, they're not watching the pending creation of an Iran conflict, either.

Perhaps it is not too late to veer toward impeachment - as long as it is of BOTH Bush and Cheney - as a method not of getting them out of office, but to keep them occupied instead of aimed at Iran.

Under The LobsterScope

There's more...

Black Political Bloggers and Political Advertising

Will Black Bloggers be part of the presidential and congressional advertising mix in 2008?

Money's Going to Talk in 2008 - washingtonpost.com

AAPPundit says: 4 years ago I read a Washington Post article which talked about bloggers and a particular political campaign in Kentucky and how during a special election campaign for the House, a Kentucky Democrat spent $2,000 on ads on 11 blogs.

The article went on to point out; it was, at the time, a novel idea. Howard Dean, and later most of his Democratic presidential rivals, had developed campaign blogs, or Web logs -- essentially, online journals of their comings and goings. But few, if any, candidates had tried advertising on other people's blogs.

Chandler's campaign picked 11 sites that focused on politics, each of which featured a running commentary on the news of the day. The sites, conventional wisdom said, amounted to little more than obscure soapboxes for amateur pundits -- hardly a good place for candidates to spend scarce campaign dollars. Chandler's campaign manager, Mark Nickolas, had proposed the idea. But he was so unsure it would work, he later said, that he planned to personally reimburse the campaign if it was a bust.

It was not. The candidate recouped his money in online donations the first day of the campaign -- and went on to raise more than $80,000 over the next two weeks. The money came, mostly in small donations -- about 1,700 in all. Few of them, Nickolas said, came from within the Bluegrass State. Chandler quickly plowed the windfall back into more traditional advertising -- television, radio and newspaper spots -- and finished the race on top and with money left in the bank.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of such blogs, each offering its own, usually partisan, take on the nation's politics. But a handful have attracted somewhat sizable followings. On the left, there is, for example, DailyKos.com, TalkingPointsMemo.com and Atrios.blogspot.com. On the right, there are, among others, InstaPundit.com, RightWingNews.com and LittleGreenFootballs.com/weblog/.

AAPPundit: Note no Black political Bloggers listed.

Fast forward March 2007

AAPundit wonders if Black Political blog sites may be the new "ripe fruit" for political advertising. Black Political bloggers now reach hundreds of thousands of black folks who are clearly interested in politics, and whose political leanings can also be readily surmised. "This is a new campfire to gather around."

Now in 2007, there are dozens of such black political bloggers, each offering its own African American observation, and equally partisan, take on the nation's politics. A number of black political bloggers have attracted a somewhat sizable followings. As the 2008 campaign ramps up, more black voters will be reading these black bloggers views and opinions. There are Progressive and somewhat left leaning black political bloggers such Jack and Jill Politics, Afro-Netizen,Black Commentator, Black Agenda Report Blog, Black Races, BlackProf, BrownFemiPower, black electorate, Field Negro, keithboykin.com, Mirror on America, Negro Please, NegroPhile, Oliver Willis, Prometheus 6, Republic of T, Skeptical Brotha,Steve Gilliard's News Blog,Terrence Says,Where Is The Outrage?,Francis Holland, African-American Political Pundit, and don't forget the Angry Indian - Voice of a Native Son, (check out his blog) who is a brotha too. Provide something that the white group Netroots don't seem to connect with; black bloggers, black readers and black voters.

On the Black Moderate side there is Anderson@Large, BlackProgress.net - D.C.,Dell Gines, Booker Rising, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Cobb, Reid Report, Michael Fauntroy and Politopics, on the right of moderate there are Black Conservative bloggers :-( , Baldilocks - Los Angeles, Black America's Political Action Committee - D.C., Black And Right, BlackConservative.net, Black Informant, Joseph C. Phillips, Project 21 - D.C.

AAPPundit says: One can reasonably expect Republican Congressional and Republican presidential candidates to buy for advertising space on Black Conservative web blogs.

Let's see if leading presidential candidates, including Edwards, Hillary and Obama buy advertising on black progressive and moderate political web blogs. Or will they miss out on new "ripe fruit" of political blog advertising and just advertise with the other side of the blogsphere? Now there will some bloggers that won't allow advertising on their site for whatever reason. Staying independent, etc.

I will be watching to see where the millions in political advertising (including blog advertising) get's spent. Will you?

Remember, The road to White House may cost $1 billion.

There's more...

Diaries

Advertise Blogads