At the end of my last post I used this example: In the 1960’s there was a series of bilateral track meets between the Soviet Union and The U.S. In the mile run there were two participants, one U.S. and one Soviet. The American won but Pravda (the Truth) in Russia printed the headline, “Soviet Runner Finishes Second in Mile Run; American Finishes Next to Last. Now Pravda printed the truth, the American runner did finish next to last and the Russian finished second. It wasn’t a lie and some would say it wasn’t the whole truth, but it was still true. Now a skilled reader practicing legit cave would quickly understand the situation. The Russian did not win nor did the American lose. What Pravda did was what I call being a media prestidigitator and the lessons of Pravda have been well-learned by those in today’s world-wide media.
Sometimes it isn’t what you say so much as how you say it. Some people can tell a joke and others, using the exact joke, cannot elicit even a groan from their audience. But if you tease the subject in a manner that suggests something salacious has happened listeners, watchers and readers will be on the edge of their seat expecting some type of behavior that will titillate their senses and appeal to baser instincts. Sometimes the actual action being reported is such that even the most licentious of consumers will be disappointed but too often the news readers will continue with that tone of innuendo that implies there is more to this than is being reported and thus the subject of the report is somehow tainted with the truth when the truth is that nothing illegal, salacious or even mildly out of the ordinary happened.
Let me give you an example of how this might be done using the true story of a friend. Headline, “Mr. X’s tax returns indicate he has claimed no deductions for charitable contributions for the last ten years.” Then the talking heads opined that Mr. X must not care for the poor, has no sense of giving back and must be a pretty odious type of person. So, you see they’ve taken the truth and used it to attack, not just the actions of the subject, but his moral and social character as well. Now, the headline is true but the reason Mr. X does not claim charitable contributions on his tax returns is that he does not believe it is charity if you derive a benefit from the action. He gives plenty to charity but he doesn’t report it on his tax return. But the damage has been done. There are those who will now have no truck with Mr. X because of the media reports.
In a world of instantaneous communication where beating the other cable news channels to the punch with a story is what pulls in advertisers and pumps up ratings, seldom do we see the in-depth reporting that should be required when reporting on people. Too often now, this is not because reporters don’t want to do it but they knowingly don’t do it for they might actually discover their story, while true, isn’t salacious in nature but in fact shows the subject in a manner worthy of praise and even emulation. In politics, where ad hominem attacks are the bread and butter of campaigning, telling outright lies can be useful because the news cycle moves so fast few will catch you out, but if you have a truth that you can spin into an attack so much the better because you can keep that attack going through multiple news cycles because, after all, it is TRUE.
So, when you read, hear or watch the news beware. Whose truth are you experiencing?