Reading Between the Lines

Discussion in 'Current Affairs' started by Naval_Gazer, May 7, 2007.

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  1. At the risk of boring everyone to tears, like most serving and ex-serving Rum Rationers, I enjoy much of the ranting and mud-slinging in CA. Most of this arises from members’ genuine concerns but I can't help noticing that several discussions begin with spurious stories in the media, or other assertions based on false premises. Such threads are probably initiated by journos or some other mischief-maker to provoke reactions that can be used to justify, promote and exaggerate personal agendas, total fiction or half-truths. Discussions then grow like Topsy as various contributors express their support or outrage in a self-perpetuating ‘debate’. Eventually, the odd loony joins in and then the instigator gets a few nice quotes from the ‘Royal Navy’s unofficial website’ to add a veneer of credibility to the original premise, no matter how outlandish it was.

    This set me thinking about how we could apply a systematic approach to detecting BS on RR. The first thing is to establish the accuracy of any story or statement presented as fact, i.e. bowl out the BS and see what’s left, if anything. As we know, the media, particularly the tabloid press, use a variety of techniques to give questionable stories some foundation before dressing them up and sensationalising them to increase their circulations. If you've bothered reading this far, here are some I'm sure you will be familiar with:

    1. The first is based on what I call the 'Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife?†approach. This is where a reporter asks someone, usually a politician, a loaded question which is impossible to answer "Yes" or "No". Whatever answer is given can then be treated as evasion and an article can be based on the subject's apparently sinister refusal to give a straight answer, e.g. “Home Secretary refuses to say if ***** is the subject of ongoing anti-terrorist intelligence-gathering operation.â€. This absence of confirmation can be used in other ways to lend credibility to a story, e.g. “EXCLUSIVE - Palace refuses to deny that the Prince of Wales talks to plants / has six eggs boiled for breakfast but only eats one / believes he is really Elvis Presley", etc. Then of course there is the use of the question posed about hypothetical circumstances... "Yes, but if we were about to be invaded by country X, and if someone had kidnapped your family, and if someone held a gun to your head, and if you only had 10 minutes to live otherwise, then would you press the nuclear button?"

    2. Then there is the false credibility given by someone hinted at as having “inside information.†How many times have you seen a newspaper article or TV report starting with the words, “Sources close to the Prime Minister said late last night that…†or “An unidentified senior officer stated that…†or “A cabinet spokesperson hinted that…â€? or “Someone at the Palace who asked not to be identified said that…â€. My first reaction is to treat any such comments with extreme caution. For all I know, they could be made by a nasty piece of work with a personal axe to grind, or the butler, or the dustman, or (heaven forfend) the reporter him/herself. How can you tell? I therefore suspect anything said by anyone who can't or won't be identified.

    3. Although the press often shows its ignorance about the services, it is not averse to using deliberately misleading statements to sensationalise a story in the public’s eyes as in the Daily Telegraph’s recent headline, “Naval Officer Charged with Rapeâ€, when it was actually an A/CPO. Did you also notice how LS Faye, the coxswain of one of the RIBs, was initially presented as ‘The Leader of HMS Cornwall’s boarding party’ while AB Arthur was promoted to ‘The Navigator’? Incidentally, I always find it interesting how the exceedingly rare cases of sexual hanky-panky or drug-taking involving naval personnel make the headlines while the thousands of others happening in offices and factories up and down the country go unreported.

    4. The next technique is the quotation taken out of context. A prime example of this was the Pope quoting the words of someone who warned about the spread of radical Islam several hundred years ago. This was presented in many parts of the media as the Pope’s own view (or you had to read the small print to tell it wasn’t) and many people died around the world in the subsequent demonstrations and riots.

    Well done if you've read this far. You're halfway there ;-)

    5. Similar to the above is the alarmist approach where something is falsely presented by the media as a conspiracy or secret government policy we should all be worried about. A prime example of this is the often quoted 'Shoot to kill' policy. People with any experience of guns know that the fanciful notion of the good guy shooting the gun out of the bad guy’s hand or disabling the bad guy with a single well-placed bullet in a non-vital area only happens in the movies. Like all servicemen and armed police, I was taught that if (r) if you are forced to use a gun against someone to protect yourself or others in your care, then you aim at the centre of the target and keep squeezing the trigger until you are sure he/she has been neutralised. If you are a marksman using a powerful and accurate weapon like a sniper’s rifle, a single bullet in the middle of the forehead might suffice (I've seen it in 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Enemy at the Gates'!). However, if you are using a lighter and less accurate weapon like a handgun against a suicide bomber with nothing to lose, it is best to keep firing. Wounding is not enough to stop a determined individual as witnessed by the number of medals awarded to British servicemen (and those of other countries) for carrying on their attack despite sustaining hideous wounds. So what’s so special about having a ‘Shoot to kill’ policy? What other sort is there?

    6. Survey results, scientific reports and statistics also provide grist for non-stories. The results of surveys can be particularly misleading if the questions are framed a particular way or the people surveyed don’t reflect a cross-section of society. Minority responses are often shown as representing the views of the majority, or the question is re-phrased or ‘simplified’ to give a false impression, e.g. “US soldiers believe torture is justified.†Scientific reports can be used to alarm people. The fact that some children who had MMR jabs also contracted autism led to a spurious connection between the two. The press panicked parents by implying that MMR vaccinations led to autism even though most, if not all, of the affected children would have become autistic anyway. What’s more, the press played down the fact that many more lives will be saved by keeping MMR at bay through mass immunity than would ever be affected by autism. As for the misuse of statistics, you know the old saying about lies, damned lies and statistics.

    7. Then there is what I call the ‘Dog down the Well’ syndrome. This is where the press feeds on and, in turn, builds on the disturbing growth of sentimentalism among the British public. The press will focus on a minor news event, perhaps involving a dog trapped down a well, a celebrity’s eating disorder, or maybe the sacking of a football manager and then manipulate the public into thinking it’s the most important issue since the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. In the meantime, service people and innocent civilians may be dying in Afghanistan and Iraq or there may mass deaths owing to natural disasters elsewhere in the world that are almost completely ignored, e.g. “5,000 killed in Turkish earthquake but Brit holidaymaker manages to save poodle.†I never thought the stiff upper-lipped British would be susceptible to the mass hysteria induced by the Nuremburg Rallies of the 1930s until I witnessed the widespread expression of grief for Diana a few years ago. In a nationwide dumbing-down mission, the media trumpeted that her death had touched everyone in the country. To my astonishment, a lot of people fell for it although I never met any among my own circle.

    8. Finally, most people are aware of the Tall Poppy syndrome. This is where the media help build someone up, normally a celebrity but it can be a politician or someone else in authority, then take great delight in cutting them back down to size. To achieve this, they will often employ character assassination, malicious hearsay and intrusion of privacy. The Cornwall 15 were cases in point for those papers that lost out on securing contracts for exclusive interviews.

    So next time you see a thread start with a news article, look more closely at it to see what the REAL story is, or even whether there’s any story at all. Provided I’m not banished from the boards for being too long-winded and serious, I'd like to share some thoughts, for what they’re worth, about identifying the source of a concern then determining what can be done to help solve it, instead of (or perhaps as well as) simply ranting about it on the website. But I’ll leave that dit for another day.

    P.S. If I appear to be preaching, blame RNSETT!
  2. Longwinded preaching may be one way to describe it, but for me, it smacks of the truth!

  3. janner

    janner War Hero Book Reviewer

    I think that N-G is a Journo 8) 8O :eek:
  4. a very well thought out and lucid post.... not something we have come to expect on RR :lol: :lol:
    and yes, we do get (still get) journos popping up and starting a fishing exped.
    As for the rest of it agree 99.9%. The only thing I disagree on was the "shoot to kill" phrase. there is, never has been, and never will be such a policy. The phrase we are given under training is "aim to kill", at the point where you have made the descision that your or your oppos life is under direct threat and have raised your weapon in order to fire it. The point of all the training is that you hit the target, nutralise the threat with the minimum of rounds in the shortest time.
    I can only guess, at the moment :? , as to how that feels and what my response would be. I would like to think I would do only what was necessary to protect myself or my oppos. But if the target was still a threat, would I shoot again? I intend to stay alive..... so yes.
  5. Pretty fair call, the first step in the con.

    And that is the real problem, any one can be the con merchant, and it always starts with a very reasonable proposition, and what better way to obtain our trust than to appear to be 'on our side'.

    Seriously though a very good description of the position we all find ourselves in in dealing with information these days and the only way not to be cnned is to isolate oneself from all sources of outside information, which is pretty boring, or live dangerously and be taken in from time to time which is generaly much more interesting even if one has the odd bad spel from time to time.
  6. Got me bang to rights janner. I am actually the defence correspondent for the Waterlooville Enquirer free paper, available under the counter from Keys the newsagent in Highfield Avenue and all good... no, that's about it really. Just ask Nick the proprietor for "the "good 'un" and wink twice. Don't forget to wear a dirty mac.

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