Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Truth vs. Fact

I recently read a newspaper article about a series of events that I had previously been privy to. I had probably heard and/or seen and/or experienced more about these events than the article writer had prior to writing the article. The article, based on the numerous lengthy, emotional comments left on the internet, evoked an polarizing and emotional response in its readers as well as all involved.
As I was thinking about the article and the responses, it reminded me of the old cliche, "Don't believe everything you read." I find it amazing that as untrusting a society that we are of others (in general), we tend to take newspapers for fact. We make a lot of (false) assumptions by doing so. We assume that the newpaper company, the editor, the writer, and all witnesses and quoters are all being 100% truthful. We also assume that all of those same people were given the right facts and have "done their homework" to attain all of the facts. We may also assume that all of the above are unbiased. (In the article I read, the writer definitely had more intention than simply writing the newsworthy. Its amazing how "reporting the facts" can look so one-sided depending on which facts/truths are reported and which facts/truths are omitted.)
More importantly, I realized the vast difference between Truth and Fact. I liken it, slightly, to the childhood game of telephone, whereas the farther you get from the "horses mouth," the more a message is distorted. The second to last person might be "telling the truth" based on what they heard, but that doesn't make it fact.
And so it is with a reporter or newswriter: unless they witness an actual event themselves (and even then there's no guarantee that FACT will be written, because it will subjectively written based on that writer's interpretation), a reporter/writer of the news is usually getting their information from someone else. When have two witnesses of an accident "remembered" exactly the same thing even though they had witnessed the same accident? So even though the "victim", witness, and reporter all honestly believe they are telling the truth - and maybe they are - that doesn't necessarily mean that what is written in the newspaper is fact.

What I took away from this is that I need to be careful how and what I judge. There have been many times while watching Dateline or 20/20 that I will judge the "villain" in the news story based on what has been shown to me; but I need to realize that I do not have all of the facts and my opinions are based solely on what has been reported to me and what has NOT been reported to me.

I also realized there are a lot of people in our "highly educated town of Madison" that are emotionally reactive, ignorant, and just plain rude, regardless of which side they took.
Here's to hoping I'm not one of them and never become one of them.