Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mark Steyn (and others) Call the MSM On Another Fiction

Mark Steyn's OC Register column today is about the NY Times recent (and apparently ongoing) series about the number of war vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who have subsequently killed people. Is this bad? Yes, but as he points out, with the help of Powerline (here, here and here) and Iowahawk (here) he provides something the NY Times sorely lacks; Perspective.

The whole times series is just another example of the MSM cherry-picking statistics, omitting key information and using mis-direction to create lies from whole cloth. Bill Whittle showed us how it's done in Magic. "This is how you lie by telling the truth. You tell the big lie by carefully selecting only the small, isolated truths, linking them in such a way that they advance the bigger lie by painting a picture inside the viewer's head." Here is his example of how it's done:

"Now to show you how this works in the real world, I need to tell you a story about a real man named Robert Wayne Jernigan. I guarantee you this story will make you very angry, but this is the kind of world we live in today.

Robert Wayne Jernigan is now 28 years old. People who knew him said he was quiet, somewhat stand-offish. He was not widely liked in high school. Four years ago, a witness reported seeing Jernigan enter a building in a remote suburb of Dallas with an axe. Four people were found dead at the scene, including a nine year old girl. No charges were filed. Less than two days later,Jernigan turned up again, this time at the scene of a suspicious fire in a day care center. Miraculously, no one was injured. But it was just a matter of time.

During the next several weeks, it is possible to place Jernigan at the scene of no less than thirteen suspicious fires. Eleven people died. Eyewitnesses were unshakable in their determination that Jernigan had been on the scene. And yet the police did nothing.
Jernigan had long been fascinated with fire. A search of his apartment revealed fireman-related magazines, posters and memorabilia. Despite the deaths of fifteen people, despite repeated eyewitness accounts and photographic evidence placing Jernigan at these fires, no criminal charges were ever filed against Robert Wayne Jernigan. He remains a free man to this day.

And rightfully so. Because Robert Wayne Jernigan is an ordinary fireman for the Dallas Fire Department.* He is not a serial arsonist at all. Now re-read the previous paragraphs and tell me where I lied. Everything I told you was factually true. But the spin, the context, the misdirection. The press always reports serial killers with all three names. Robert Wayne Jernigan sounds a hell of a lot more ominous than Bobby Jernigan. Quiet, stand-offish, not widely liked, instant psychopath, if you read the papers. Entered the building with an axe, oooh! That ought to get the blood boiling. That the people had died from smoke inhalation I decided was irrelevant to the story.

And so on. And so on."

(*I made up Robert Wayne Jernigan only because I do not have, at hand, a real fireman with real stories to tell. If I had, I could have sold the story even better by adding the real-world details such an interview would have provided. The more data points I have to choose from, the better I can build the lie.)

It all illustrates just one more reason not to put too much more stock in the New York Times than the National Enquirer.
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