Things To Act
Saturday, July 10, 2004
 
Credibility
Human beings are hopelessly dependent on others to filter information for us. Various sources--mainstream media, informal media, word-of-mouth/gossip, etc, endlessly filter information and try to put it in context. We can't research everything ourselves, and inevitably must depend on the work of others. However, all sources of information are not created equally--some are far more reliable than others. How to decide which sources are worth trusting? One easy way is to see how effectively the source handles something on which you already know a fair amount. For instance, look up "Mormon" in the index of a book/encyclopedia that mentions the Church and see what it says--chances are, the factual accuracy and editorial slant on the material presented will give you some idea of how reliable the work as a whole is. Alternatively, for mainstream media, see how accurate the source is when it addresses something you already know about. I've always been amused at the following Heinlein quote:
TIME magazine probably publishes many facts ... but since its founding in the early 1920's I have been on the spot eight or nine times when something that wound up as a news story in TIME happened. Not once--not once--did the TIME magazine story match what I saw and heard.
In any event, Thursday's Daily Disappointment provides two classic examples. The first:
However, Amy Naccarato, state elections officer said the group failed to get at least 10 percent of signatures from voters in 26 of 29 counties, only making the cut in 24 counties.
The Utah initiative county-signature requirement was actually struck down two years ago as an unconstitutional violation of the one-man, one-vote rule. The law, as amended in 2003, actually calls for 10% in 26/29 state Senate districts, which other Utah media sources managed to get right with minimal difficulty. Now, the DU reporter claims to be paraphrasing a state elections official, who might herself be confused--but that seems far less likely, and doesn't excuse the reporter from doing basic fact-checking.

The second example:
The bill, Resolution 30, sponsored by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., and Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo, supports amending the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Legislation/resolutions receive different numbers in the Senate and the House, which, after all, operate independently. In the House, the Musgrave amendment is H.J.RES.56. In the Senate, the FMA is introduced as S.J.RES.30.

In any event, it was immediately obvious to me, in reading these stories, that the reporter couldn't get basic details correct, at least in a subject I know something about. This does not give me cause to trust any of the reporting on subjects about which I am comparatively ignorant.

UPDATE: THOMAS URLs fixed, updated.

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