We live in an era where information is becoming more and more available. That is a great thing -- most of the time. It can be very powerful and liberating. It can also be very dangerous if the information is wrong, miscalculated or misrepresented. When an article is published or a story broadcasted with inaccurate or incomplete information, it does not necessarily mean a malicious agenda on the part of the publisher, author or journalist. Whether purposeful or accidental, however, does not make it any less irresponsible.
Why does it matter? I suppose it doesn't matter that much if we, the readers, are cognizant and aware of the fact that information printed in articles or broadcasted on the nightly news is not always right. The responsibility lies with both parties, and it starts with due-diligence. Due-diligence by both to know the facts and know what is false and true. The authors need to accept the responsibility that what they write holds weight and all too often assumed truth, and therefore, have potentially tremendous implications.
What we read is as important as the opinions we form. As a reader, it's not just about what we read, but about how we read it. If we continually read, listen or watch our news or opinion pieces from the same source with a preconceived opinion on what the facts are and what they mean, we stand very little chance in actually learning something and gaining an unbiased viewpoint. We need to stop being Fox News or MSNBC zombies and start thinking for ourselves, albeit utilizing multiple of those sources as resources. Challenging a notion and asking why or how, we must take the information with a grain of salt and accept the possibility, a fact may be skewed, left out or plain fabricated.
It's a two way street. The writer owes it to the reader that the published facts will be complete and not skewed to fit one argument or the other -- the goal should be complete objectiveness. Persuasive writing will inherently lean to one side or the other, and in such cases, the author should clearly state just that and make it clear what is being written is an opinion and not factual. Likewise, the reader owes it to themselves to keep an open mind, research, check facts and educate themselves not from one source but multiple sources. Reporting news and facts should facilitate us to form our own opinions, not dictate what our opinion should be.
A few years ago, Thomas Ricks, best-selling author of Fiasco and The Gamble, wrote a 2009 opinion piece in the Washington Post, "Why We Should Get Rid of West Point," arguing against the existence of the academies. His main premise was that West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy all are significantly more expensive than Reserved Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs at civilian schools yet turn out the same, if not, less caliber officers. His points were well structured and we are not arguing for or against the merit of that opinion piece (that's for another article).
And granted, I may be slightly bias myself because of where I went to school, and I recognize that -- I openly acknowledge that his points were well structured. What I am concerned about is not Ricks' journalism or his opinion, and not something unique to Ricks -- he is merely an example. He leaves out an important piece of information, and almost seems to do it intentionally in order to validate his point, making our point that far too often the news or bloggers write with an agenda and leave out information -- which is wrong. Ricks defiantly closes his article and says "just ask David Petraeus, a Princeton Ph.D." The article never mentioned the famous retired four-star General before in the article and never states the fact Petraeus graduated from West Point with his undergraduate degree -- that fact was left out of the article all together. And Ricks knows Petraeus is a West Point alum, he mentions it specifically in his other books, but for this opinion piece with a clear agenda, he doesn't reference that key fact.
Our point is simple. Authors have the responsibility to write objectively, and if they are writing persuasively, owe it to the reader to be forthcoming with that. Secondly, readers owe it to themselves to do secondary research, read multiple sources and listen to differing voices. Read, check facts, get other opinions and then formulate your own opinion. Stopping yourself from being force-fed information in a framed fashion and digesting that information yourself is quite liberating. Without this due-diligence from both parties, the power of information goes from empowering to imperiling.