Wednesday, January 03, 2007

How do you get your facts?

A few days ago I was talking with a rather well known state politician. She made a statement of fact about a local issue, something that she really didn’t deal directly with so we were outside her normal expertise area.

I was surprised about the fact and without thinking asked, “How do you know that?”

Being an intelligent woman, she stopped and thought about it for a few seconds. Then realized she didn’t have a good answer. We got into a discussion about how we absorb information and translate it into fact in our minds.

My contention is and was, that we get the bulk of our knowledge from the media. We are steered, shepherded and corralled by the media. Much of what we tout as fact is actually recycled media speak.

Take one of your steadfast beliefs in regards to say, the war on Iraq.

Think about it for a while. Think objectively and honestly. Cite sources other than television, newspapers and blogs for your belief about how the war is going. If you name others who have influenced your feelings, think about where they might have gotten their knowledge.

How much time have you invested in studying the issue for yourself? Maybe you know a soldier or two who are in Iraq so you have a tiny bit more insight than most of us. Your feelings and beliefs may be shaped somewhat based on your concern for them, or your pride in what they are doing.

If you listen closely to what people are saying for and against the war and then you look at what is being touted by the media as fact, you’ll see that most – and I’m not saying all – are mimicking what has been written or said by someone or some grouping of media members.

This morning I was looking through all the alerts I get. One struck me. It was an article from a newspaper in Texas. The headline read “US Soldiers Weary of More Sacrifice.” Balanced? Obviously not to my way of thinking. It they were writing an objective story the headline might read “Some US Soldier Weary, Some Emboldened” or something to that affect. It would probably be a more accurate portrayal of the overall war. Now, they aren’t incorrect in their headline. We know there must be soldiers who are weary of more sacrifice. However, there are probably just as many, or maybe more, who think they are doing the right thing who are proud and want to stick with the war.

I would bet that whoever reads that newspaper will absorb the title and maybe some of the content into their mind and glom it onto whatever else they’ve seen or heard. In a few days they’ll be experts on all the reasons we should leave Iraq (or they’ll use it to support existing thoughts on the war).

There is another consideration when thinking about the influence of the media. I think most of us will find, on both sides of the issue, that our belief on how the war is going are rooted in which newspapers, radio shows, television programs, etc. that we CHOOSE to read, watch or listen to. If we have a strong core belief system, say we’re hawks or true doves, then we’ll discard whatever doesn’t conform to our belief system.

However, most people are somewhere in the middle of the extremes. We go about our daily lives and don’t have time to study issues in depth. Most wouldn’t even know where to start (chances are the Internet is the first place many would go… and get lost!). The average person listens to talk radio, listens to the news, reads the local papers, maybe reads on-line news media and possibly watches the Sunday news talk shows. The average person absorbs what they hear, mashes it all together in their mind, and then, voila, opinions are formed.

I’m not exempt, so don’t think I’m preaching. I am concerned. I don’t like the idea that some big collective group out there is leading me, and most of America, by the nose. But I certainly don’t have time to get to the bottom of the issues.

I just have to muddle through when it comes to the big issues and hope that the media choices I’m making are the right ones. I also have to continue to make sure I read both sides of issues and keep challenging my own beliefs about various issues.

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