“General” Knowledge!

Thursday, November 15, 2012, 14:06 by

But do you know what I learned from this? Nothing. I learned nothing. It’s just something that happened (and it just so happens that it happened to me). Life is crazy. But I already knew that last Thursday, and so did you.

Chuck Klosterman writes a New York Times advice feature as The Ethicist. Here, he is brushing of the “rumours of rumours” that a letter that had appeared in his column recently had been written by the husband of the woman who, together with him and several others, have given J.A,G., Covert Affairs, Pensacola, Homeland, et al a run for their money.

It took him over 2,000 words to tell us that it was not what we think it was, all the while being careful to maintain the illusion that it could well have been.

Then there was Jon Stewart, who tongue firmly lodged in his cheek, reprimanded himself for being the worst journalist in the world because he did not twig to the fact that the author of a quasi-hagiography was having a ball when she was being interviewed by him, for reasons that came to light soon after.

We have had flow charts, a pentagon-like diagram, cartoons, dramatis personae-style lists and ‘for dunces’ explanations about the whole caboodle. I await the ultimate pie-in-the-sky chart graph.

It is not my intention to judge any of the players in this complicated chain-reaction story that appears to be to be a wall of dominoes set off by a fall guy.

What I find intriguing is that, depending which newspapers I have read, with a view to compiling this blog, I find facets that other media would not have touched.

Some sources have gone back to events that happened in a different time, in a different country, with different persons involved, and flushed out miniscule details that put a whole new spin on the current turn of events, although prima facie they appear to be unconnected.

Self-styled opinion makers with axes to grind, and the exposure in which to do it, may succeed in persuading the Great Unwashed that their way of thinking is the correct one, despite evidence to the contrary.

Not all of us have been lucky enough to learn media studies, which teach us how to analyse technical, verbal, and symbolic codes, structure, character and narrative conflict, all of which have a bearing on how the viewer or reader relates emotionally and otherwise to what is being presented.

It is obvious that people will react differently to different things, according to their religious, family, sexual, national and other baggage. If they have their blinkers on they will not ask the obvious That’s interesting – tell me more usual conversation starter.

I bet some journalists gleefully tick bullying; character assassination; confusion; diversion; misrepresentation; panic- mongering; pop psychology; populism ; projection; religion; rewriting history; saturation and scapegoating off a list before they file their stories.

When it comes to coverage – for the moment I will not mention those who filch news reports off the internet and edit the work ever so slightly after using an online translator, or not at all – it behoves all of us to look and listen well to what we are being asked to believe.

Let us take, for instance, the current reportage of an actual war. Mothers of one nationality are show weeping over slain children; blood-stained sheets cover dead bodies, and ambulance sirens shriek along the streets, their drivers trying to pick their way amidst the rubble of shelled buildings. Children are brought to us in before (beautiful) and after (maimed or dead) pictures.

On the “other side” it appears to be business as usual – a wisp of smoke from a burning building far away could well be coming from a chimney. Children, in this place, laugh and play in the streets, which as a corollary, are deemed by us to be “safe”. Pedestrians, bags bulging with shopping, stop to talk with acquaintances; they are in no hurry to return to a safe place because it seems that the next air-strike will never happen. What we do not know is that this place is as far away from rocket range as possible.

Information is not chewing gum, or elastic, or Plasticine. It is not bubble wrap of which we can burst bubbles at random. We must realise this if we want to keep ourselves well-informed and not allow well-crafted words to influence us.

One recent news story that comes to mind to illustrate this is the handling of how a pregnant woman “in a Catholic hospital because her baby was not aborted”. The terminology chosen, of course, was intended to serve as a red rag. The three keywords – Catholic, baby, and aborted, are deliberately dangled before us to cause a knee-jerk reaction.

The hospital staff, for unknown reasons, chose to ignore the Double Effect principle of the Catholic Church. Intent on painting the blackest picture possible, not one journalist bothered mentioned this (Operations, treatments and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted…even if they will result in the death of the unborn child…) and chose instead to lambast, quote, obdurate Catholic Bishops and cowardly politicians who did not change the laws.

I have noticed a similar dismal lack of General Knowledge in many local journalists too; they assume that “because it was on the internet” it is (a) either true or (b) they need research not further because someone else’s elbow grease will do.

The more conscious you are of these practices, the less likely you are to be taken in by them. If you have nodded at least once while reading the above, you may be one of the few who are not susceptible to hoop-la.

Don’t allow wilful ignorance to let these people hush-hush murder, if not actually get away with it.

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