“Most history is guessing, and the rest is prejudice.”
~ Will Durant, 20th century American philosopher & historian
The same is true with the news of the day. In the best of times, it’s hard to get a straight story. It’s even more difficult when commentators pose as journalists and facts are inconveniences to be ignored.
Most of us make an effort to balance opposing stories honestly, even if we ultimately throw up our hands, admit we’ll never sort it out, and settle for believing whatever’s most comfortable. Some people don’t even make that pretense.
Because we can’t be everywhere and experience everything, we depend on intermediaries — those who are there, those who gather information, those who report it. But each is interpreting and distilling through his own lens, refracted by his own beliefs. Which, if any, are above reproach? Which have axes to grind?
In the Libyan civil war and the first Arab Spring uprising in Egypt, there was an assumption that every claim by every dissident was true. The media hailed Twitter — the newest toy on the block — as a reliable source for the “truth” about what was going on.
But it was short-lived. Facts that ultimately came to light were far different than the Twitter feed. The media realized they’d been played. Gossip and rumors had been used to sway the public and other nations.
Trust in social media is now relegated to the basement. Note the relative absence of Twitter as a news source in Egypt’s current turmoil.
But there’s something bigger and ultimately more important at play: The power to shape our perception of the world, as media ownership becomes more concentrated and journalists’ traditional search for facts is replaced by commentators espousing anointed opinions.
English novelist George Orwell foresaw this trend more than half a century ago and warned darkly about it in his dystopian novel 1984: “Those who control the present control the past, and those who control the past control the future.”
A sobering prospect. Especially for those in Crisis PR whose job it is to make sure your story gets heard and believed.
“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”
Gillott Communications is a Los Angeles-based public relations firm that specializes in high-stakes Crisis & Reputation Management. If you don’t already subscribe, please sign up for our blog Insights on High-Stakes PR. You can reach Roger Gillott directly at 310-826-8696.