We are in a new day for understanding, or possibly, not understanding our current geopolitics. Now that the size of the public relations corp has blown so far past the
number of people working in journalism, we need to add a new job category to the American work force. It is now time for the advent of the Forensic Accountant of Press Releases Historian. What are we really being told, by who, and why?
Yes, reporters have tried to fill this vital role. But there are simply too many press releases dropped into the media pool every single day for journalists to research them all. We consumers of mass media need to be a little skeptical about the information we receive.
The old axiom of follow the money still applies, but is more difficult to accomplish than ever. The money trail is a very time consuming path to explore, and very few of us have the necessary time and resources. But we can ask a few questions to help defend ourselves from the effects of the misinformation tidal wave.
1. Who is speaking? Entertainers, politicians, corporations, four-star generals, and journalists all have different motivations and sources for their information products.
2. Where are the footnotes? Factual stories include data from verifiable secondary sources. This means they can and should be verified. If the story you are reading includes a quotation from the Wall Street Journal, you may need to go to the Wall Street Journal and read that article. Next, you can decide if the quotation cited was used in the context that it was written. Footnotes, quotations, and statistics are not parts of the story you can afford to ignore, if the story is important to your well being.
3. Why is this story available? Motivation is everything, and the real origin of any story. What effect could this story have on the person or organization telling it? Who benefits from the proposed validity of the data?
4. Does the volume of the speaker’s voice match the content of the story? Does the story presenter seem upset and/or excited because of the story or just to get an audience. Be extra skeptical of any story that has the same atmosphere as a pep rally or a lynch mob.
5. What are the qualifications of the storyteller? Any story you hear is only as reliable as it’s teller. What kind of relationship exists between the “expert” who provided the analysis of the data, and the subject of the story? Also, the media delivery device is not what makes the information true. Radio, television, and internet outlets all include both fiction and facts in their daily programming.
I have a little insight into this mess because I spent twelve years working as a public information officer in a municipal government office. One of the strangest parts of my job was the decision process for inclusion and exclusion of items in our press releases. The term “press release” itself is often a exaggeration. If the facts themselves are true, they are a carefully selected collection of facts, chosen for effect.
In other words, we really don’t want to release anything, but here is the information you would probably find out anyway, and we prefer that you hear our side of it first.