Col Jessup: I’ll answer the question. You want answers?
LTJG Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to them.
Col Jessup: You want answers?!
LTJG Kaffee: I want the truth!
Col Jessup: You can’t handle the truth!
A lie, by any other name, is still a lie.
As we enter into the 2020 elections, I am reminded of how easily information can be packaged as impartial news but presented to sway opinion toward a specific position. The news isn’t the news at all; rather, it is editorial.
Editorial: A statement broadcast on radio or television that presents the opinion of the owner, manager, or the like, of the program, station, or channel.
If this weren’t the case, it wouldn’t matter which “news” station you turned on; they would all be reporting the same facts.
Instead, we have two different sources reporting the same “event” but be from drastically different perspectives, i.e. Fox News’ perspective on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death and succession. vs. CNN’s perspective on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death and succession.
Same fact pattern; different perspectives.
Making matters worse, the different “perspectives” aren’t necessarily grounded in objective truth. Instead, these perspectives are grounded in subjective truth.
This is in stark contrast to real investigative reporting that occurred in the 1960’s and ’70’s covering Vietnam, etc. The type of reporting that was raw, real, and told a story grounded in facts. These journalists took the concept of burden of proof seriously.
Burden of Proof: the obligation to prove one’s assertion.
The facts were the facts and journalists acted as if the burden of proof fell on them. They vetted the information they shared and cared deeply about reporting the facts.
They would make an assertion and then prove it.
They reported the news.
Today, this has been flipped upside down. Now, instead of the journalist having to provide their assertion, they are forcing all of us to prove their assertion isn’t true.
They make an assertion and it falls on the audience to either prove or disprove it.
This may appear seemingly nuanced; however, what has happened is that they shifted the burden of proof onto you.
The burden of proof should fall on the person making the statement, not the recipient of the information. The person making the statement should provide evidence to support their statement. It should not fall on everyone else to provide evidence that the statement is false.
When you add authority to the equation, i.e. public health officials speaking on COVID, things get really dicey. The more authority one has, the harder it is for others to shake the unproven idea.
There is a painful fact for all of us to accept:
Just because you believe strongly in something doesn’t mean that it’s true.
You can believe whatever you want, but if you want to pass your beliefs on to others, it shouldn’t be on the rest of the world to disprove those beliefs.
Stating things as fact that aren’t actually facts is harmful to everyone. Instead, saying “We don’t have much data yet, but I think this is a good bet for us to make,” or “I have my theories about this, but I haven’t seen enough evidence to say for sure,” is a much better play.
“Real” investigative journalism is dead.
This means the onus falls on the consumer of information—YOU—to vet the information before making any decisions.
As a police detective, it was my job to get the facts. Investigate. Connect the dots. Understand the story from the perspective of victims, witnesses, and suspects. I had to piece together information and evidence—sometimes conflicting—to arrive at the most likely story.
Remember this, the truth usually lies in the space between; however, that doesn’t mean that it lies directly in the middle.
It is an incontrovertible fact; we are weeks away from a contentious national election. We are going to be confronted with a slew of information from both the Democrats and the Republicans. Some of it true. Some of it bullshit.
It isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that most career politicians are assholes who lack intellectual honesty.
Intellectual honesty is about having high standards for the truth.
Since the burden of proof has fallen on us, I want to give you some tools from my detective days to help you vet this information. When someone makes a claim, I want you to ask yourself a few questions:
- What do I want the truth to be? Why? What is this grounded in? These questions help us account for some of the unconscious biases we have.
- Does this make sense at face value? If something seems farfetched, it probably is.
- What is the threshold of certainty we want to achieve? Is it absolute, like lives depend on it? Is it beyond a reasonable doubt, i.e. there is no other reasonable explanation? Is it a preponderance of the evidence, i.e. 50% + 1? Fundamentally, this explores what are the risks of getting it wrong.
- What are the facts? What are the things that we know to be true and are generally accepted? What does “science” say?
- Consider the source. How reliable is the source or claim? Do they have a motive to lie? What are their affiliations? Who are they aligned with? What is ultimately behind what they are saying (or their claim)?
- What do other sources say? How reliable are they? Do they have a motive to lie?What are their affiliations? Who are they aligned with? What is ultimately behind what they are saying (or their claim)?
- Have the claims or facts been verified or validated by another source?
- What happens if I am wrong?
These tools are now yours with the hope that you use them to vet the information you receive from both the side you don’t support and the side you support.
But let me be clear, the purpose of all this isn’t to tell you who you should believe. IIt is to tell you how to better vet information from different sides—even the one you support.
Especially the one you support.
I am not writing to attack modern media. It is what it is.
I am not writing to attack either side of the political aisle; this is the beast that evolved over time.
I am not writing to attack social media; there is little we can do about what information is presented and how.
However, there is something we can do to cut through the bullshit.