How Much of What We Know is Wrong?

Thought provoking post by James Fallows looking at the Fort Hood shootings through the lens of what he’s seen as a journalist over time, and from the lens of how much of what is said to fill the immediate void turns out to be wrong. As he notes:

In the saturation coverage right after the events, the "expert" talking heads are compelled to offer theories about the causes and consequences. In the following days and weeks, newspapers and magazine will have their theories too. Looking back, we can see that all such efforts are futile. The shootings never mean anything. Forty years later, what did the Charles Whitman massacre "mean"?

And then:

The cable-news platoons tonight are offering all their theories and thought-drops. They’ve got to fill time. I wish they could stop. As the Vietnam-era saying went, Don’t mean nothing.

Previous research has shown that even when presented with evidence, people tend to remember and believe as true the first set of things they hear about an event or incident. Over time, as media has evolved to deliver news (and increasingly opinion) at faster and faster rates the risk is that we live in separate worlds where we’ve lost common connection with whatever might be true. It’s easy to point fingers at the media and say “stop,” but the reality is that the world is moving faster, and we all have to develop better skills at parsing what is true. And why not….the talking heads should stop until they know what they are talking about. 🙂

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