Why it’s hard to report “the truth”

Paul Dughi
Nov 14, 2016 · 4 min read

It’s a tricky thing, this truth stuff. What may seem truthful to some people is rubbish to others. And vice versa.

Being in the news business, I’m amazed at the calls and emails we get from people claiming we are skewing the news to one side or the other. Often, people will send links to obscure websites with alleged truths the media has “failed to cover”. Usually it’s accompanied by swear words and — sometimes — threats of bodily harm. It’s typically stuff you’d find in the tabloids at the supermarket and are completely baseless.

I know the people that do local news at my TV station. I can tell you first-hand there’s no conspiracy or attempt to skew the news. If it comes off that way sometimes, it’s because somebody made a mistake — not because there is some great plan behind it.

The fact of the matter is that telling the truth sometimes pisses people off. These days, I find that people are more interested in validation of their arguments than hearing another side or in hearing the truth.

Not only do we get anger when we report something that’s wrong (and we should), but we often get criticized for NOT reporting things — whether they are true or not.

Ask yourself these questions that the Fairleigh Dickerson University pollsters asked:

Yet, none of these allegations have ever proven to be true… although some people will say I’m lying just by not admitting they are true.

Making sure fake news isn’t reported sometimes means not allowing items that a majority of people think are true — even if they are not. See the problem? Sometimes, by not reporting on rumors or items we can’t independently confirm, people say we are hiding the truth or spreading lies… even if we aren’t the ones reporting it.

Or try these on:

“Believing that Sandy Hook was faked is the most outrageous of all the conspiracies we asked about. Yet, roughly a fifth of Americans think it’s at least possible.” — Dan Cassino, professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University and an analyst for the PublicMind poll

Here’s another one: Is the US government letting drugs flourish in inner cities as a way to control or imprison minority groups?

Fairleigh Dickinson University poll

You’d think truth would be easy. It’s not. Often, we don’t know the truth. What we know is what we’re told by the experts… and even they disagree. The real truth is that in many cases, the answer is in shades of gray and there may not be agreement. People, however, want definitive answers. I do, too. But life is messy and sometimes, it’s not as simple as yes-it-is or no-it-isn’t. And sometimes, we just don’t know.

Is global warming real?

If you think the debate’s settled, why are there more than 4.5 million entries on the internet debating the subject?

Like I said, the truth is a tricky thing. Just ask the 12 million people who think we’re being ruled by lizard people or the 21 million who think the moon landing was faked.

I’m not naive enough to think the media doesn’t get it wrong on occasion. I’m sure I’ve shared things on social media that wouldn’t pass the truth test. But if you believe the lizards are in control, I can’t help you. Or maybe I’m just saying that to make our lizard lords happy. Your call.

Taking on the problems and challenges in journalism. Spreading ideas, passions and new ways of thinking about media. A publication run by Media Lab Bayern.

Paul Dughi

Written by

VP/General Manager at WAAY-TV & AudiencePop, named one of Broadcasting and Cable’s Digital All-Stars “On the front lines of transforming the broadcast industry”

Thoughts On Journalism

Taking on the problems and challenges in journalism. Spreading ideas, passions and new ways of thinking about media. A publication run by Media Lab Bayern.

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