Saturday, September 04, 2004

Fact vs Truth - Lies of Omission

Lie of omission - "A lie of omission is a method of deception and duplicity that uses the technique of simply remaining silent when speaking the truth would significantly alter the other person's capacity to make an informed decision."

The problem with American media became crystal clear in the recent exchange between John Stewart and Ted Koppel on ABC's Nightline(R). In explaining the difference between fact and truth, Mr. Koppel gave a hypothetical case of the president making a false statement about Mr. Koppel. The basic premise was as follows:

Joe says "x" about Pete. Pete's a newsworthy character, making Joe's statement newsworthy.

Reporting that Joe made that statement about Pete is reporting a fact. Even if Joe's statement is false, it's a fact that he made the statement. The falseness of the statement is separate from the fact of the statement.

My thoughts:
The problem is that the media, including Mr. Koppel, has come to treat reporting that "x" was said as the end of their obligation. It is assumed to be sufficient to report the statement without reporting its lack of truth.

What's missing is the understanding that the viewers/listeners/readers assume that if someone is reporting a statement, that the statement is or could be true, unless the inaccuracy of the statement is reported along with the statement.

In failing to report the inaccuracy, the reporter allows the audience to assume the statement's potential truth, and thus becomes complicit in the lie.

In order to avoid complicity, the reporter's obligation is to report on the veracity of the statement, or the lack thereof.

Anything less is dishonesty, a lie of omission, on the reporter's part. We must demand better from those who purport to bring us the truth.


Blogger rhetoretician said...

Some feedback I've received:

If the reporter does not know the veracity of the statement, and cannot determine it's veracity, the reporter must at least indicate that its truthfulness is open to question.

5:33 PM  

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