Instapundit Looks at Facts

Instapundit links to two stories: his column on the 135 girls to 100 guys that graduate each year from college and the Times-Picayunes’s reporting of the inaccuracy of reports of violence & death in New Orleans:

That the nation’s front-line emergency management believed the body count would resemble that of a bloody battle in a war is but one of scores of examples of myths about the Dome and the Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the media and even some of New Orleans’ top officials, including the mayor and police superintendent.

And of course, I, too, was at fault – whipping out Melville far too quickly.

We tend to forget advocacy “facts” – like these – influence perspectives and these perspectives lead to policy; the policies have consequences. How much was our understanding of New Orleans defined by such news coverage, such statements by officials? We readily accept and even promote them because they support theories we accept. That is why some observe the readiness of this acceptance is racist – though I must say, one would expect the mayor to interpret the people he represents in the most rather than least positive light.

But policies based on these are untethered to reality. We can endlessly seek out & spin “factoids”; we can construct a city in the air from them. This is what liberal arts people do – at their best and worst. And the social sciences provide mushy & even untrue facts. The world constructed obscures the real one; in fact, it may be quite at odds with it. But, removed from reality, that very abstract nature of such a city can seem profound. Our imaginations (especially in our rebellious adolescence) are piqued by theories that seem counter-intuitive. And so, ersatz facts come to support ersatz theories that give rise to ersatz profoundity. Thus, as women of my generation move into retirement, they leave the consequences of such obscured truths to be borne by the men of the next generations. And even now, as the Summers incident shows, it is not they who are held accountable; instead those who observe that the theoretical world is made of air are left apologizing for pointing to the separation between theory and grounded reality. Just as it was not Rachel Carson who died of malaria.

7 thoughts on “Instapundit Looks at Facts”

  1. Simply “fog of war” for the media. They suffered the same problem during the 2003 Iraq invasion. One reason why the press has been kept out of battlefield situations, until their reporting could be vetted after things cooled down. Now, we get a direct line from the screeming “victim” to our TV’s with no chance to find out whether any of it was true.

  2. We err if we believe the MSM exist to inform us. They don’t. The MSM exists for two reasons:

    1. To make money for the owners. Does blood ‘n guts sell? You betcha. The more gruesome and horrific the better. Death and dismemberment and rape and cannibalism are sensational and they make great copy and show-stopping headlines. That in turn makes them money. Consider the cozy and symbiotic relationship between “journalism” and terrorism. They feed upon and reinforce each other. The terrorists need the media exposure and the media need and love the bloody victims. They provide well for each other and each side knows it. You can get a Pulitzer for getting good photos of bombing victims or interviewing a known terror mastermind. The associated “news” service gets increased brand recognition. Gotta make a living, right? This is their business.

    2. To enable the owners and staff to excercise political and cultural influence. When you control information, you control understanding, because you can frame the argument. Don’t like some nasty fact? Don’t report it. NPR tells me every day how “objective” they are in an effort to keep me from seeking out views opposed to theirs. Their influence is lessened when I do, therefore, from their perspective, they’ve failed in a part of their mission. Fox tells me they’re “Fair and balanced” for identical reasons. Each has a worldview they want to sell.

    Nowhere has “informing the public” or “the public good” or any other ethereal ideal entered into this. Any information that gets dispersed is purely by chance, not by design. The minimum amount of factual, in-depth background “reporting” necessary to prepare the ground for their real products, propaganda and sensationalism, is what gets delivered. Nothing more.

  3. I think the authorities would do well to forcibly kick the press out of such hurricane zones in the future. I’ve more than once wondered whether the press’ habit of staying in hurricane zones encourages others to stay who should’nt.

  4. To be kind, one could describe the MSM as foolish and uninformed. Someone described a “confederacy of idiots” recently and (if we don’t mind a bit of exageration) that seems apt.

    If one has a more paranoid turn of mind, their reportage is a cynical attempt to make money and drive an agenda.

    Actually it’s probably the money motive combined with stupidity that makes up the untruthful hash that is sometimes served up. The “agenda” factor is, I imagine, usually just an aspect of their political bent and largely unconcious on their part (and so might be lumped in with “stupidity”, I suppose, both for being unconcious and for the political bent).

  5. I think the media is simply overloaded by the complexities of the modern world. Reporters are ask to report on everything from accounting to genetic engineering to the politics of particular state to international trade to religion to warfare to fill-in-blank.

    It is simply impossible for a small handful of individuals to have a real understanding of everything that is happening. We are a civilization of specialist yet the media tries to convince themselves they are super-generalist capable of understanding the nuances of any facet of modern life.

    They can’t and don’t.

  6. All discussions of the MSM must be based on the following truths:

    The MSM’s customer is the advertiser. The MSM’s product is the audience. The MSM makes money by selling an audience to advertisers.

    The MSM does not exist to serve the audience; it exists to serve advertisers

  7. What MSM? The major media outlets are left wing, some more than others. Call them by their proper name, the LWM.

    Yes, the advertisers think that they are buying an audience. The LWM’s customers are the politicians, not the advertisers. If advertisers want to reach me, they will need to buy time on sporting events and the Weather Channel. I am talking about the ‘news’ shows and cable news channels, not the ‘entertainment’ shows and channels when discussing MSM/LWM.

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