Wednesday, April 17, 2019

One Sided Stories, Yet Again

Image result for one-sided story
People love one-sided stories.

One way to get people to believe a lie is to embellish the lie with incredible details. This has long been known as a technique that liars used to convince people of their lies. The more you can embroider the fabric of your lie, the more people tend to believe it.

If you're going to tell someone a lie, you never want to come right out and just say it. You want to build up to it slowly, feeding in all sorts of background information - which is really irrelevant - in order so that the lie goes by unnoticed.

The media loves a good story, particularly one-sided stories. And the latest trend with streaming services is to put up a made-for-streaming series arguing that some prisoner is innocent and was wrongly convicted. You may recall the Netflix series, "Making of a Murderer," which convinced a huge portion of the population that a guy who was convicted of murder actually was railroaded.

When, your uncle shows up with a dead body in the back of his pickup truck and asked you to help bury the corpse, you're kind of complicit in the deal whether or not they made a TV series about you. People seem to forget that salient fact - along with others.

Since that series came out, a number of other series have come out (or are coming out), giving prisoners everywhere hope that maybe, they too, will be profiled on television and found not guilty after murdering dozens of people. I think the people who put on the series get off on convincing people that guilty murderers are actually innocent.  It's like they enjoy pulling the wool over people's eyes, having that power to manipulate public opinion. It's kind of sick really.  It has taken trolling to a whole new level.   It is one reason I am less enamored of Netflix.

A recent article in the New York Times is sort of a case in point. The article essentially is about a young man in high school who was "unjustly deported" after it was alleged he was a member of the MS - 13 gang.  But we know he wasn't a member of the gang because he told us he wasn't, and also his mother said he wasn't a member of the gang.  So that sort of settles the issue right there, doesn't it?

No need to investigate further, right?

As I was reading the article, I could tell I was being bullshitted from the get-go.  These type of articles don't just set forth the facts - the who, how, where, when, and so forth.  Rather, they set off to embroider and embellish the story to get you to feel sympathetic and sorry for the person profiled.  Then, in the middle of story, they drop the bomb on you.  But by then, you've identified so much with the subject of the story, you tend to let those details go.

So instead of a story that begins "Little Joey was wrongly convicted!" we get something along the lines of "It was cold that day as little Joey pedaled his bicycle 10 miles to school, hoping that he would be in time for his Algebra test, so he could make his mother proud!"

Articles like this go on for paragraphs before they finally get around to the main point. I don't know if it's just poor writing or if it's by intent.  But I suspect it is the latter. They want to build up a sympathetic profile of the subject of the article before they start bringing in nasty little details like accusations of gang affiliation.

It is sort of like how you can spot a raw deal in the marketplace - by how it is presented.   Raw deals have loud ads and lots of fine print and too-good-to-be-true terms.   One-sided stories are easy to spot as they pad the front-end of the story with lots of weepy details before they get down to the facts, and then present facts only from one perspective.   You can spot this sort of shit from a mile away, once you know the pattern.

The young man of the article is actually not a young man but an adult.  At age 19 he enrolled in high school as a freshman.  If you ever been to high school, which I assume you have, you know that it's awkward when somebody is several years older than the other students.  Having adult students in the high school is not a good influence on the other children.  It can be downright scary to have a 19-year-old in the same classes as 14-year-old girls.

So right off the bat they slip lie number one in on us. The kid in question is hardly a kid but old enough to be in the military or even be married and have children. He's old enough to be working, and one wonders why he would be in high school, much less a freshman at age 19.

At that point you move on to a GED certificate and move on with life, rather than trying to walk around in high school with people five years your junior.   At that rate, he would have graduated by age 23.   Is that even allowed?  (I had a friend who finally had to quit high school at age 21.  He was set back several years as a result of mental health issues.   I think they finally had to let him go, as it wasn't helping him - or the school - to have adults in classes with children).

The young man was accused of defacing school property by drawing gang symbols. He claims this was when he doodled on a calculator - which seems like a very odd thing to do. I can't imagine where on a calculator you would actually draw things, as it's mostly buttons and display. Maybe they have huge calculators there that have big blank spots on them you can draw things on, but I kind of doubt it. And why the hell would you draw on a calculator?

But of course, we don't see or hear the other side of the story. It could be that he drew gang symbols in the wall, but the school isn't saying - they can't comment on these cases.  It could be he was a hardcore gang banger, but of course his mother said otherwise so obviously he isn't.  We have no way of knowing as we only hear one side of the story.

Myself, I'm skeptical of the story.  Why?  Because of the way the story is presented.  Rather than giving us a straightforward recitation of the facts and also presenting evidence from both sides of the case, we are given a lopsided, one-sided story it starts off with a lot of emotional garbage about poor little Gomez and his attempts to become a U.S. citizen and make it big in America.

This isn't journalism, it's propaganda. They're trying to tug at my heartstrings and get me feel sorry for this kid before they are willing to even tell me the facts of the case.  When the facts of the case are finally told, they are either muted or qualified.  For example, the young man in question signs his own deportation order, saying that staying in detention for a year forced him to do so. But on the other hand, one would think that someone who is innocent would want to appeal the order, which they were entitled to do, rather than just acquiesce to being deported to their home country.

And then there's a lot of other details of the story which are not addressed.  Once back in Honduras, he goes to live with his aunt.  But he doesn't actually live with his aunt, she rents him a room in town. That to me seems rather odd.  Why wouldn't she want her own nephew to live with her?

The possibility that the government perhaps got this one right is not even discussed.  Maybe this guy is in fact a gang member and the reason why his aunt doesn't want him living with her is that she doesn't want a gang member in her house.  And maybe that's why his aunt rented him a room in town, because she was too afraid of him.  It does seem like an odd situation and one that was not addressed in the article.

The article also sort of skims over the horror of these MS-13 gangs.  People are being bludgeoned and hacked to death, and by people, I mean children. These are teenagers killing teenagers.  But the way the New York Times puts it, it is sort of like, "Oh yea, there's gangs and people hacked to death, blah, blah, blah, but whatever."

From the way they describe it, MS-13 is some sort of social club.

The idea that you have to have a strict and zero tolerance policy towards a sort of thing is played down by the New York Times. But the reality is a huge number of people have migrated into our country, particularly to places like Long Island, and most of them are here illegally, claiming amnesty.   And it is not a problem limited to the United States.   Europe and even Australia are seeing migration of thousands of desperate people trying to get to their shores, often after fucking up their own home countries by pledging loyalty to extremist religions or corrupt governments.  Ask anyone in France how its working out with a permanent underclass of Algerians in public housing, ringing Paris.   It isn't.  And this is the future of "migration" for the rest of us.

The point of the story is that Trump is bad and mean, and the New York Times went looking for a story to support that theory.   Granted, Trump is a jerk.   But this isn't reporting, it is propaganda, as I said before.   Reporting is going out and finding out the who, what, where, when, why, and how and then reporting these facts and then, perhaps, drawing a conclusion from them.    Propaganda is setting forth with a conclusion and then bending the facts of the story to suit the preordained conclusion.

The New York Times and Netflix are not alone in this, of course.  The right-wing press, particularly Fox News, does this all the time.  And we are even seeing this in terms of "science" or should I say, "Social Science" where people set out to prove a point and then do surveys to create data to prove the point they set out to prove.   Real science gathers data and then uses it to validate or invalidate a theory.  Junk science bends the data to the theory.   Both junk science and junk reporting are rampant today.

This nonsense has been going on a long time, too.  But in the past, such one-sided stories were largely limited to conspiracy theories and the like.  I recounted before how my brother, in Junior High School, became infatuated with Erich von Däniken, who wrote a book claiming that all the great wonders of the world were made by aliens, not mankind.  If you read only that book, and you were an impressionable Junior High student, you might believe it.   But what the author did is what any good conspiracy theorist does - tells a one-sided story.

To make a conspiracy theory, all you need to do is to make up some facts, disregard any facts that don't fit your theory, or if you address them at all, claim they are "unproven" or "controversial."   The Making of a Murder people do this, perfectly, claiming the blood evidence was planted, because blood in a sample vial was treated with a preservative, and if such a preservative was found at the crime scene, then the blood was planted!   Neat theory - but no such preservative was found at the crime scene.   By repeating this theory over and over again, most viewers, however, think otherwise.  And by not bringing up any incriminating evidence used at trial, well, as a viewer you might think this guy was innocent and the victim in the case just vanished mysteriously.

What is the danger in all of this?   Well, the danger is, one-sided stories and conspiracy theories are no longer marginal things in our society, believed only by kooks and other outliers.  They have gone mainstream.  And while you might expect Fox News to distort or slant the truth, it seems that the New York Times and the Washington Post are now in on the game as well.   Both have set out to destroy Trump - which may or may not be a good thing, but something a newspaper shouldn't be involved in.   Report the facts, let the public decide.   Doing otherwise is, well, what we used to run down Fox News for.

On a personal level, this abdication of truthiness is damaging as well.   We live in an era of prosperity, but signs of cracks in the facade are showing.   But no one wants to talk about them.   Once again, a decade after the largest real-estate crash in 100 years, we are hearing the happy talk about how "this time it's different!" and that housing prices will just keep going up and up and up (Folks in Vancouver, it seems, are learning a different story as of late, but that is the subject for another posting).

We all hear what we want to hear, and yes, I like to hear that my net worth went up by ten thousand dollars, even as I spent thousands on a vacation in Florida.    What isn't said, is that when a recession comes, all that phantom gain will evaporate and it will get scary, although there isn't much I can do about that, other that what I have already done - diversify my portfolio, divest of riskier stocks, and stay calm.

When truth becomes subjective, bad things happen in the marketplace.   Fraud occurs, on a small level and a large one.   Once again, we are seeing a slew of "tech" IPOs hitting the market, where most of these "tech" companies are just apps on your phone, doing things you used to do before you had a smart phone (like hail a cab) while hemorrhaging millions a week in cash.  People seem to forget the five previous tech IPO meltdowns, convinced that this time, it must be different!

Meanwhile, the time-share seminars and check-cashing stores are doing a banging business - denial of reality being so ingrained in people today that these things seem "normal" to them.   When it all goes horribly wrong, they wail that the rich "took their money away" when in fact, they willingly handed it over to them in these schemes.

One-sided stories won't go away, of course, unless people stop believing in them, clicking on them, reading them, and watching them.   The boffo ratings of  "Making of a Murderer" have insured that copycat series will proliferate until no one is left in jail.   And maybe these one-sided stories about migrants will result in a new era of "open borders" which some Democratic candidates for President appear to actually endorse.

But maybe, if people stop believing in fairy tales, and stop clicking, reading, and watching this shit, it might go away - or at least retreat to the kooks and conspiracy theorists of years gone by.   Because like raw financial deals, these things are supply-side driven.  So long as people are willing to believe just about any sort of nonsense, folks will provide them with the media kibble they crave.

In any war, truth is the first casualty.   And it seems truth died quite a few years ago.