Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Earth Moved (part 2)

Sometimes I forget that truthiness is the order of the day.  I forget my skepticism when presented with amazing incredible oh wow did you hear that reports and sometimes, Dear Readers, I pass along the truthiness because it just sounds so cool.  I don't do it on purpose, honest I don't.  But I admit that I am ashamed when I consider that I own just a little bit of the nonsense that passes for facts these days.

Let us consider the confluence of world events and related posts which have brought several strands of The Burrow's ramblings to truthiness.

TBG watches the NBC Nightly News and I've had issues with their reportage before.  I cancelled my subscription to the NYTimes when I became unable to distinguish between the Editorial Page and the news, and I've only been able to listen to MSNBC while Keith Olberman (a fellow Cornellian) and Rachel Madow and I were sharing our Obama-Love-Fest in the run-up to the 2008 election.

Bias is an unpleasant injection in what I expect from my journalists, regardless of their medium.  I remember Uncle Abby explaining that he and Daddooooo read the New York Post because it was a less sensational paper than The Daily News.  Of course, those were the afternoon papers, when tired commuters wanted great sports reporting and something to ease the transition between Penn Station and the clunker car at the local stop.  In the morning, everyone read The New York Times, once The Herald Tribune stopped publishing.  The Grey Lady, The Paper of Record, All the News that's FIT to print...... there's a setting of standards and an implicit promise to be truthful. 

And then I read Saul Friedman and bias all of a sudden took on a more adorable hue.

I suppose I should admit to a certain naivete.  I really and truly did believe that if something was printed in the newspaper it had to be true.  The paper was written and copy edited and then there was a city desk editor and a managing editor and a publisher and they all couldn't possibly agree to print falsehoods.

Then I saw Citizen Kane.  But what about Woodward and Bernstein? I was interviewed for the local edition of The Chicago Tribune and was unhappy with the results. I read The Last Lecture and found out that the Encyclopedia Britannica accepted his article without question, revision, or review.  The truth must be hidden somewhere, wouldn't you think?

Not-Kathy was extolling the virtues of Wikipedia.  In addition to speed, the meta-universe's many voices enforce a clarity and specificity and general agreement which led me to more thinking and confusion. After cruising through Wikipedia Is Not a Democracy and Wikipedia is Not a Bureaucracy I began to think about truth in a different way.  In Ball of Fire, Gary Cooper and his colleagues sit in a large open room and create an encyclopedia; they are up to the letter S when Barbara Stanwyck falls into their laps as their work comes to Slang.  She and the trash collector and assorted other street folk fill the professors' notebooks with facts - after arguing about the exact permutations of each and every phrase.  It's funny, it's colorful, and it's exactly what Wikipedia is doing.  It seemed like a logical way to create an encyclopedia in 1941, and here it is, once again, albeit somewhat larger in scope, in 2010.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.

What does this have to do with today's news and my shame?  I'll tell you right now. 
On Tuesday, I told you that, as a result of the earthquake in Chile,  the Earth had shifted 3" off its axis and that this change had shortened the length of the day by several millionths of a second. This afternoon NPR told me that it's really impossible to quantify the changes to that degree of specificity and that the length of the day changes more often than you'd imagine.... or that I'd imagine.... and that this time it was about 1/1,000,000th of a second.
So, what do I do?  I could link this post to that post, though I love the wonderfulness I felt while I was writing that post, which, in its own way, represents a truth.  I could combine both posts into one geo-physically-correct post, but they are so much more than that.  At least I hope that they are.   I could stop obsessing and move on, which is probably the sanest solution..... so obviously that won't be happening.

I think I'll ruminate silently for a while before I act.  There is much to consider.  Was I wrong then?  Am I wrong now?  Did NBC know and delude me?  Why do I trust NPR's naysayers more than Brian Williams's purveyors of earthly delights?  Am I an idiot still to be awed, even after gathering more facts about the truth of the matter?   Are there always this many earthquakes, or is earthquake simply the flavor of the month in the media so they're reporting what always-happens-but-is-now-timely?

And I find myself going to Wikipedia to start.

Interesting.  Very Interesting.  ..... do I finish the quote?.... is it Stupid?????


  1. I've lost hope of finding old-fashioned, fact-based reporting. I think my system, now, is to look for intelligence and professionalism (or as close as I can get to that) in the vehicle, and then use gut reaction or intuition to provide additional data points on the Truthimeter. Then, I doubt the result, sigh hugely, and fold some laundry. I keep meaning to seek out a reasonable range of bias (Newsweek, Time, NYTimes, UTNE Reader, The Atlantic, etc.), but there isn't enough time in a day and I like to hear my opinions echoed back to me...comfort food for the complacent. Blogs are intensely personal, so these I read for a visit with the writer.

    And I think there are a LOT of quakes out there right now!

  2. "Did NBC know and delude me?" - you're seriously asking if NBC of all places did something wrong and or stupid? Really?

    In general I'd take NPR as a better arbiter of truth than most of what's available out there. And no, as Nance said above, these days the best way to go is to get as much information from as many sources as possible and try and be your own filter on what's truth and what's truthiness.

  3. I don't have enough laundry to get me out of this dilemma, Nance. I try to stay open to input, Billy, but sometimes I just want SOMEONE to tell me THE RIGHT ANSWER. Life was easier when I was young and knew that I knew it all.


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