A slight follow-up to my post from yesterday, where I rationalised how much I whine about people being wrong
on the internet in a newspaper.
The Heresiarch is one of the most insightful and thought-provoking bloggers on my RSS feed, but something else he said about the Daily Mail business is still sticking in my craw.
For so-called skeptics, the mere fact a story appears in DM is proof it must be untrue.
I’ve had conversations with people here who’ve said, in effect, it’s in the Mail, so it’s rot. Many times.
If people are really taking the approach described here, then it sounds like their rationality is being blinded by their rage, and they’re getting carried away. Obviously the Daily Mail is not a tissue of utter lies from start to finish, and it’s not a fair assumption that absolutely everything printed in it is unquestionably false.
I’ve seen them be right about some things. Verifiable events they report as occurring often have genuinely occurred. Their main page currently has a bunch of links to stories the veracity of which I neither know nor care. Is this kid a millionaire at 16? Probably. Are there lots of sunflowers? Pictorial evidence would suggest so. Does LeAnn Rimes have legs? I have no reason to doubt it.
And I imagine they cover sport, too. They’d better get the results right on those pages, or there really would be hell to pay.
The thing is, while this extremist anti-Mail position is definitely unjust and irrational, it’s also not fair to characterise tabloid critics in general in this way, which is what it kinda seemed like the Heresiarch was doing. I’m not at all convinced that the extremist position he describes is a majority one, or even a significant one, and so declaring that this is how “skeptics” think is a disingenuous dismissal of any real points the skeptics might have. (Even with his later clarification of “some” skeptics, this isn’t much of a concession.)
And anyway, I have to wonder how likely it is that the people from whom he’s drawn this conclusion actually take the stance that bothers him.
Perhaps they were a little sweeping in the way they stated their position, as I have a tendency to be sometimes. Consider the measured care and reasonableness of “There seems to exist insufficient evidence supporting the hypothesis of any kind of creator being, and ample counter-examples such that any such hypothesis is untenable,” against the provocative, approximate, and far more succinct “There is no God”.
So, these people the Heresiarch finds so irrational. Did they really say – and would they stand by the claim – “It’s in the Daily Mail, therefore that proves it’s untrue”? Or did they say something more along the lines of: “I don’t trust anything I read in the Daily Mail”?
Because that latter point, allowing for the nuance lost to brevity, is an entirely reasonable position. I’m not sure I trust the Mail to get a single damn thing right without bringing some kind of bias or distortion into their reporting of it, and I’d want to check their facts with at least one other source before I took anything they say seriously.
Arguably, yes, this should be the approach with all news sources, but it’s not trivial to suggest that some media have been more egregious than others in promoting untruth and prejudice, and deserve to be granted even less credibility as a reliable voice.
I’ve seen tabloids grossly distort facts, so I often distrust them. It’s not impossible that they could accurately report a factual story, but the Express has lost all credibility when it comes to reporting on, say, immigration issues with compassion or respect for the truth.
Is this ideological of me? It seems just sensible to take many tabloid stories with several large handfuls of salt, given their track record. And I’ve not seen anyone suggest anything further.