Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Misinformation Highway



By Mark W. Danielson

“It’s a dangerous world we live in,” so everyone says. No doubt that’s true, but then name a time when it wasn’t. Just in my lifetime, the U.S. has been involved in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, countless “conflicts” in Panama, Somalia, Granada, Kuwait, and now Iraq, and Afghanistan. Of course, there are plenty of slaughters and terrorist acts occurring in other countries that don’t involve U.S. troops. But with many of these problems stemming from centuries of discontent, why is it that today’s world seems so gloomy? Perhaps the answer lies in today’s instant Internet messaging, or as I prefer to call it, the Misinformation Highway (MH).

The MH can breed stories of biblical proportions with lies and half-truths, and most readers are gullible enough to believe them. Why is that? Simply put, it’s because these readers tend to take whatever is published at face value and rarely check the sources. The Internet offers a wealth of information, but every reader must sort the facts from fiction.

The Internet’s biggest problem is it has few filters. Unlike journalism where the newspaper or magazine is held accountable for their story’s accuracy, anyone can post an Internet article on any subject, and people will believe it. Case-in-point on gullibility, a national car magazine recently ran a story claiming that our president was taking action against NASCAR sponsorships. But rather than its readers’ enjoying the magazine’s annual April Fool’s prank, they sent vile letters attacking the White House. The White House was in the dark until someone found a copy of the magazine. Soon after, the magazine issued a retraction.

Of course, correspondents can be irresponsible, too. Such was the case when I witnessed a news reporter make up a ludicrous story to justify the cost of chartering the airplane. You see, after landing on bare dirt in the Sacramento Valley as they had requested, I watched in amazement as this reporter talked to the camera about being surrounded by survivalists. His dramatic lies continued for a few seconds before he added how we couldn’t see the gunmen because they were wearing camouflage. Of course there were no survivalists, rattlesnakes, or even a jack rabbit, but mike in hand, he was completely serious while giving his bogus report. At the same time, I’m sure he knew his story wouldn’t be used for it had no merit. That event happened twenty-seven years ago, and yet I can still picture it as clearly it as though it happened yesterday.

Too often, our daily news is filled with emotion and mistruths. I was particularly disturbed by comments in a Wall Street Journal story about the recent FedEx MD-11 crash that claimed two pilots. While investigators tirelessly worked to sort out information gathered from the Flight Data Recorder, Cockpit Voice Recorder, and physical evidence, journalists, hell-bent on getting their story, sought out pilots willing to make statements that implied they knew the cause. Regardless of the story, no one wins from misinformation or accusations, so take whatever you read with a bucket of salt, and whenever you write something, make sure that your sources are credible. Anything less will come back to haunt you.

4 comments:

Pat Browning said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pat Browning said...

I'm trying to remove that porn message.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Mark,

I agree that there's a lot of misinformation on the internet, but there is also valauble information not available from the mainstream media. I've decided to do a takeoff on your theme for tomorrow's post.

Mark W. Danielson said...

You're absolutely right, Jean. As I said, everyone who obtains information from the Internet must be determine whether that information has merit. It's a wonderful tool if used wisely.

Pat, thanks for your screening:) The perp is another example of what I was speaking about in this week's blog.