Tuesday, December 18, 2012
The News Story
When there's a breaking new story the facts can be hard to sort out. Things are messy. Reporters jump the gun and sometimes the reported story is just plain wrong. It's normal to be confused during chaotic situations: wars, natural disasters, horrific accidents, mass shootings, fires, and the like. Even in calmer times the desire to be first to report can result in errors. Fox and CNN got the Supreme Court decision on Obama Care exactly wrong.
Then later we have what I call “The Narrative.” The news gets woven into a coherent story. At best, it's a story that has some close relationship to the truth. There is a problem with turning news into narrative. Things that don't fit the neat story are ignored. Perhaps it's the witness to the crime who claims the perpetrator was 6 inches taller than the man in custody. Maybe it's the reports of a second gunman -on the grassy knoll. Could be reports from firefighters of explosions in a building. Giving too much attention to these reports would cause doubt in the neat story.
Worse is when “The Narrative.” has political value. The “story” becomes the justification for government action. When that happens there's serious pressure to cast that tale in stone. Anybody remember Iraq's weapons of mass destruction? That was supposed to be the main reason for going to war. When that was found to be false, we said sorry Mr. Saddam, here's your country back. Wait, that didn't happen now did it?
When there is a breaking story I assume that many of the facts will be wrong. However, I also look out for facts that might prove inconvenient and disappear down the rabbit hole. Once a story is picked up for a political agenda, alarm bells go off in my head. Horrific news elicits an emotional response in people. That emotional reaction is used to push through a political agenda in the heat of the moment. The next thing we know we have The Patriot Act, or other laws just as bad.
From the time we are infants we are told stories. All the stories have a beginning, middle and end. If things are not neatly tied up in the end, it's a badly writing story. Life is not a neat story tale. There are uncomfortable truths, senseless actions, bad characters, and things are not tied up with neat endings. Are we grownup enough to handle the truth, whatever it is?