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Truth v1.0

"But as rational beings it is worse than shallow to generalize at all about comparative behavior until there is a measurable similarity between the environments to which behavior is a response.

"This this, will be the clue to our inquiry. We shall assume that what each man does is based not on direct and certain knowledge, but on pictures made by himself or given to him.

"But public opinions deal with indirect, unseen, and puzzling facts, and there is nothing obvious about them. The situations to which public opinions refer are known only as opinions. ... Instead of taking for granted an environment that is readily known, the social analyst is most concerned in studying how the larger political environment is conceived, and how it can be conceived more successfully. The psychoanalyst examines the adjustment to an X, called by him the environment; the social analyst examines the X, called by him the pseudo-environment.

"For the most part we do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see. In the great blooming, buzzing confusion of the outer world we pick out what our culture has already defined for us, and we tend to perceive that which we have picked out in the form stereotyped for us by our culture. [Bold emphasis added.]

"What a myth never contains is the critical power to separate its truths from its errors. For that power comes only by realizing that no human opinion, whatever its supposed origin, is too exalted for the test of evidence, that every opinion is only somebody's opinion. And if you ask why the test of evidence is preferable to any other, there is no answer unless you are willing to use the test to test it.

"But in spite of its fundamental importance, civil liberty in this sense does not guarantee public opinion in the modern world. For it always assumes, either that truth is spontaneous, or that the means of securing truth exist when there is no external interference. But when you are dealing with an invisible environment, the assumption is false. The truth about distant or complex matters is not self-evident, and the machinery for assembling information is technical and expensive. Yet political science, and especially democratic political science, has never freed itself from the original assumption of Aristotle's politics sufficiently to restate the premises, so that political thought might come to grips with the problem of how to make the invisible world visible to the citizens of a modern state.

"This insistent and ancient belief that truth is not earned, but inspired, revealed, supplied gratis, comes out very plainly in our economic prejudices as readers of newspapers. We expect the newspaper to serve us with truth however unprofitable the truth may be. For this difficult and dangerous service, which we recognize as fundamental, we expected to pay until recently the smallest coin turned out by the mint. ... Nobody thinks for a moment that he ought to pay for his newspaper. He expects the fountains of truth to bubble, but he enters into no contract, legal or moral, involving any risk, cost or trouble to himself.

"This casual and one-sided relationship between readers and press is an anomaly of our civilization.

"It would seem from this that there exists a body of known truth.

"Usually it is the stereotyped shape assumed by an event at an obvious place that uncovers the run of the news. The most obvious place is where people's affairs touch pubic authority.

"Were reporting the simple occurrence of obvious facts, the press agent would be little more than a clerk. But since, in respect to most of the big topics of news, the facts are not simple, and not at all obvious, but subject to choice and opinion.

"They [the facts of modern life] must be given a shape by somebody, and since in the daily routine reporters cannot give a shape to facts, and since there is little disinterested organization of intelligence, the need for some formulation is being met by the interested parties.

"The hypothesis, which seems to me the most fertile, is that news and truth are not the same thing, and must be clearly distinguished. The function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them into relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act.

"He [an ambassador] did not understand that the power of the expert depends upon separating himself from those who make the decisions, upon not caring, in his expert self, what decision is made. The man who, like the ambassador, takes a line, and meddles with the decision, is soon discounted. There he is, just one more on that side of the question. For when he begins to care too much, he begins to see what he wishes to see, and by that fact ceases to see what he is there to see. He is there to represent the unseen.

"It is necessary to live as if good will would work. We cannot prove in every instance that it will, nor why hatred, intolerance, suspicion, bigotry, secrecy, fear, and lying are the seven deadly sins against public opinion. We can only insist that they have no place in the appeal to reason, that in the long run they are a poison."

Excerpts from Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann, c1922, 1997, Simon & Schuster Free Press, pp. 15-17, 54-54, 80-81, 202-203, 212, 215, 218, 226, 241 and 262. Get it at
Special Books.


 

...hell in a handbasket...
By Paul Harris
YellowTimes.org Columnist (Canada)

(YellowTimes.org) or CBS, or NBC, or any other of the major American communication networks. You might see it tucked away in the back pages of Canada's CBC or Britain's BBC or any number of small independent media sources. Increasingly, though, you are seeing it on the Internet on sites such as the one you are reading right now.

There is a feeling that the Internet is full of junk, and it is; but it is also full of free-thinking and spirited debate about the issues that affect us all. Even though much of the Internet has come under the watchful eye of the dominant corporate media empires, that free-wheeling and vigorous exchange of ideas and values is ongoing; the media magnates have not figured out, yet, how to stifle the obvious groundswell of people who are just plain angry about watching our world sliding into a toilet and who are increasingly convinced that everyone is lying to us about it.

Why should the media care? Because the people who are filling the Internet by writing all those news pieces, and opinion pieces, and publishing research and parsing the truth out of the lies or semi-lies spouted by government, are doing the job that most mainstream media long ago abdicated.

This is not about the awful things occurring in the world; anyone can see that. It's about the abysmal failure of the media to help us understand what is going on around us, to show us the truth, to point the blame and sing the praise where it is warranted, to challenge the comfortable lies we have come to accept as our reality.

Maybe it is nave to think that television, and newsprint, and radio can ever hope to provide honesty and integrity; in these days, they rarely even make the attempt. They are, primarily, entertainment vehicles and news is currently all about entertainment; it isn't about the current events of the day, or "what's been did and what's been hid." It is simply packaged gloss designed to fill a half hour or full hour (less the time needed to sell the sponsors' products). It always fits the allotted time; it rarely rouses the audience or challenges it to think, it never makes the people of the country telling the story think that they might be the bad guys; it just delivers the comfortable half-truths that keep the greatest part of the audience placid. And its truth seems to be directly proportional to the good looks or believability of the news reader.

Virtually all forms of news media are owned by corporations. Increasingly, those are huge corporations with rapidly diminishing numbers. "Media concentration" has been raised and discussed for several years but there is little understanding of just how pervasive it is -- and how perilous. In these days, honesty in journalism is a privilege rarely exercised in the halls of corporate media except in those benign stories about kittens trapped up a tree who scamper down in a display of cuteness just as the firefighter's ladder reaches them.

In an article by Howard Kurtz appearing October 5 on WashingtonPost.com, he opines that journalists "are the public's watchdogs, with special freedoms enshrined under the First Amendment. Reporters say they could not dig out vital information about government and business" without the ability to shield sources and print the truth. Mostly, they do shield sources but the printing of truth remains only an occasional adventure. In fact, reporters are so constrained by the interests of the corporations who pay their salaries that they can only nibble away at the edges of full disclosure of the facts they have gathered. Frankly, the vast resources that go into reporting such minutia as O.J. Simpson's case, or Heidi Fleiss's little book of customers, or whether Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck are still on speaking terms, can hardly be dignified with the concept of "public's watchdogs." Unfortunately, that is the depth to which the bulk of "news" has sunk.

There are serious dangers in the way journalists do their jobs. If they truly are the watchdogs of the public interest, then let them justify the findings of a recent study conducted by the University of Maryland. UM's Program on International Policy surveyed a group of polls taken at various times during 2003 in various parts of the United States and investigated the results to determine the effectiveness of the media. Specifically, the issue was the war in Iraq and UM found that 60% of Americans believed at least one of a small group of incorrect "facts" about the war. For instance, the results showed that 48% of Americans believed evidence of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda had been proved; 22% believed weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq; 25% believed that world opinion favored the U.S. going to war with Iraq. At least 60% of Americans believed at least one of these things and 45% of the viewers of one particular news network believed all of them. [For the record, all of these are incorrect.]

UM took these results a little further to determine just how Americans got to be so ill-informed and it seems the blame lies squarely with misinformation or disinformation spread by the mainstream media in the U.S. There are no prizes for guessing which news network did the poorest job of educating the audience, it should be self-evident. But the point is that these misconceptions among the American people developed out of the "public watchdog" function described by Mr. Kurtz. With respect, it ain't working.

This is not meant to be a slam about the education or public awareness levels of Americans. One of the most defining events in the history of Canada and one of its proudest moments was the large part it played in the D-Day invasion at Normandy in June 1944. In a recent poll, 47% of Canadians couldn't identify the event.

The truth is out there. But you're going to have to look for it because the "news" sources aren't free to give it to you.

[Paul Harris is self-employed as a consultant providing businesses with the tools and expertise to reintegrate their sick or injured employees into the workplace. Canadian businesses can reach him at paul@working-solutions.ca. He has traveled extensively in what is usually known as "the Third World" and has an abiding interest in history, social justice, morality and, well, just about everything. Paul is also a freelance writer and can be reached at paul@escritoire.ca. He lives in Canada.]

Paul Harris encourages your comments: pharris@YellowTimes.org

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