The astute reader can, with difficulty, ferret out the truth if they follow some simple rules of logic and careful listening. I want to demonstrate how this works using actual headlines. I will use President Putin as my target because he has great SEO, which I like to borrow, and the headlines about him are great for demonstrating my points. So, what are the flags that tell you that what you are about to see or hear is false?
Clairvoyance, one person can never ever know what another is thinking, feeling, or planning to do. “Former NATO chief says Putin’s true goal is to return to position of ‘great power’ and Europe isn’t ready to fight back” From: The National Post. While Putin may have dreams of returning Russia to a great power, maybe his thoughts run more along the lines of dragging his country out of a morass of poverty and alcoholism. We do not know, and we can never know what his deepest goals, dreams and aspirations are. We can just as easily look at his policies and say he dreams of being a great athlete or hanging out with athletes. Claims of clairvoyance are false, even if they are uttered by someone who claims to know the target of the discussion. I found this example of clairvoyance in the Financial Times. Ukraine is only part of Putin’s game plan
Supposition: “Putin could attack Baltic states warns former Nato chief” From: The Telegraph. He could attack the Baltic states. He could take up dancing in the Russian ballet. He could resign. He could write adventure stories. He could become a stand-up comic. This is not news, folks. This is idle speculation, and unlike my examples of clairvoyance is manipulative in that it used the word attack, which is generally associated with aggression and fear.
Prophesy or foretelling the future: Alas and alack we do not know what the future will bring. We don’t know what any one person will do tomorrow. Even our news sources cannot foretell the future. The following headline came from Fox News. “Putin and Ukraine: Expect more brutal aggression from Russia's desperate leader” Really? Maybe he will change policy. Is he known for being mercurial? Will he receive new information that influence policy? Note the appeals to fear with the words brutal, aggression and desperate. Fear is not a valid logical device for making a point or communicating facts either.
False Premise: The headline above also demonstrates the fallacy of false premise. The premise is that Putin is currently engaging in brutal aggression. It does not define brutal aggression nor does the article present explicit examples of brutal aggression. Military advice or sending weapons is generally not considered brutal aggression when our country does it. The false premise makes any rational dialog challenging.
Relevance is required for truthful reporting. I felt horrified over the headlines about Putin having Asperger’s Syndrome. Does Vladimir Putin have Asperger's syndrome? Highly Cited-CBS News-Feb 4, 2015 Is this an error in relevance or meant to be an ad hominum attack? Frankly, my sense of justice after years of advocating for people with disabilities is outraged. From what I’ve read of the report it is based on observations of videos and does not employ any valid clinical measurements. This is just so unethical that it surprises me that dozens of media outlets carried the story. Because it is scientifically not valid, it is certainly not relevant. Relevance is another criteria for truthful discussion.
I’d like to conclude with Appeals To Fear To Prove A Point as another invalid method of presenting facts. We have this Headline from the Mirror, which is speculative and uses fear to make their point. Vladimir Putin's war chiefs 'could go nuclear' defence bosse Or what about this weird headline from the Huffington post? Putin Is Bringing Darkness to the Edge of Europe What about this one from The Guardian? “Putin must be stopped. And sometimes only guns can stop guns.” None of these headlines bring us closer to data based knowledge or common sense. They do use language that creates a sense of fear.
I could have substituted headlines about Obama for this paper. My point is not to exonerate the President of Russia. The inability of our news media to stick to facts leaves me with no concrete knowledge of the character of either my own president or that of Russia. I merely point out the challenges to becoming an informed citizen of any country. Our fourth estate has abandoned its responsibilities.