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Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Just the facts, ma'am?

Regarding inaccuracies in journalism, I guess they bother me some, but perhaps not as much as they should. Here's my rationale. I read everything skeptically. When facts are presented, I don't necessarily accept them as valid. If it's important enough, I'll try to check on them -- but who's to say that the place I check is accurate either. The important point, though, is I don't read to accumulate facts. I used to -- I'd even write them down (and sometimes still do) -- but I never could remember them. Then I realized I mainly read for the ideas, the intentions, the meaning, the message. Of course, writers present facts to support their ideas. And, by weaving in a few inaccuracies, they can develop ideas that are pretty far from any truth. That's why I'm skeptical. No matter what facts are presented, I'm always asking myself, "Does this feel right? Does it jibe with the way humans act and systems operate? Does the thread of logic make sense? Regardless of the facts, what are the underlying motivations for this to be happening, and for this author to be writing about it?"

So, why do I like reading Michael Moore? (By the way, I'm going to see him in person this Saturday at Berkeley.) Because he presents new ideas, a new perspective on the events of our day. Yes, I think it's unfortunate that his work is so full of inaccuracies - it reduces the seriousness of his ideas. But, he does have an incisive and funny way of pointing out disconnects between core values and the actions of our leaders. Whether every fact he presents is correct about how Bush stole the 2000 election from Gore is not that important to me. His portrayal, though, of Bush and his campaign team as people who would do almost anything to win, including, if necessary, cross ethical lines, seems to me to be reasonably accurate. On the other hand, his views on trade relations just seem ignorant, no matter how many facts he presents.

I think my approach would only work for those who have done a considerable amount of reading. The background information -- with various inaccuracies cancelled out and reduced in relation to the larger body -- acts as a template against which new information can be judged. If you're the kind of person who reads Mary Baker Eddy for the first time then becomes a Christian Scientist, then you're probably pretty susceptible to inaccuracies. I doubt that you have that problem. No doubt, though, that everything we read will have some effect on us - so it's worth choosing carefully.

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