What to do when you want to make a point but don’t have accurate information to backup your hypothesis? You spin the facts so that your point of view has credibility and others will get on whatever bandwagon you’re driving. Lately I’ve been amazed and disheartened by the amount and level of deception promoted in the media. Here are just a few cases in point from recent days.
Articles and newscasts abound suggesting subscribers ban, boycott or cancel subscriptions to Netflix because of its promotion of sex trafficking of young girls in its recent release called Cuties. A deeper look into Cuties shows that it is a cautionary tale for parents, urging them to understand how young girls grapple with issues of identity and power. In essence, the program seeks to explain how girls can be led astray and to understand the psychology involved therein. Certainly, one may question whether some more graphic scenes are appropriate or too explicit, but the underlying premise of the film has been completely skewed and misrepresented. It’s akin to banning or censoring Lolita or To Kill a Mockingbird because of discomfort with the subject manner. The irony here is that many who are encouraging the banning of Netflix are the same ones fighting for free speech and insisting that regulations requiring masks are taking away their rights.
The next spin of the month involves articles claiming that COVID numbers have been enhanced to make the virus look as bad as possible to benefit Democrats. These articles claim that COVID numbers are exaggerated because people with heart conditions or cancer or some other condition would have died anyway, but their deaths have wrongly been assigned to the COVID bucket. Trump has retweeted QAnon articles that minimize the severity and extent of the virus. Doctors and scientists have refuted those claims, explaining that many citizens with comorbidity issues—say a heart condition, cancer, etc.—could have lived much longer lives even with that pre-existing condition had they not contracted the virus.
Another spin involves rationalizing why or why not put forth a nomination for the Supreme Court only 40 some days before a presidential election. Republicans wouldn’t even hold hearings on Merrick Garland let alone vote when Obama had 11 months of his second term remaining. Now the very Republicans who said that pushing through a nominee in the final year before an election was an unconscionable practice—namely Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz– say it’s different now because there is a Republican president and a Republican senate. So, of course, we should ram through the next Justice appointment. Basically, the maxim is do whatever maximizes your power even if it is inconsistent with your previous statements said with the utmost conviction.
Both Republicans and Democrats have been guilty of hypocrisy and inconsistency on this front, but the spin in the last 24 hours has been incredible. Apparently, the days when judicial appointments were apolitical are over. Confirmation is all but determined exclusively by whatever party is in power in the Senate. Yet another travesty of a sacred democratic process being destroyed by partisan politics.
My next case in point is the various spins on the reasons for the increasing intensity and numbers of forest fires in California. Trump says it is because there is such poor forest management in California and, of course, blames liberal blue-state management (even though 58 percent of the forest land in California is federally owned which amounts to 33 million acres of forest). Here are the scientific facts as I understand them. Yes, it is true that most fires in California are started by human error. But it is also true that the reason fires are so intense and last so long is because of climate change. In recent years, California’s climate has gotten hotter and drier. That means there is less snowpack in the Sierras and less moisture in the vegetation. Such conditions make it easy for massive fires to ignite and quickly spread. The New York Times has reported that nine of the 10 largest fires in the state’s history have occurred in the past 10 years—also the 10 hottest years on record in California. According to National Geographic, the amount of land burned in fires across California is eight times higher than it was in the 1970’s. There are also extremely complicated studies of wind patterns that cause these fires to be more intense, also in part, related to climate change.
The speed on which Americans get on a particular bandwagon using false information to fortify their arguments is distressing and dangerous. Many articles have been published on the willingness of readers to believe whatever they read or hear by a source that tends to agree with their points of view. Most of us believe that others are being misled, but we know the truth. We all must be more self-aware and diligent in using reliable sources to gain accurate information.
There is an old African proverb that goes “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.” Bending facts to support your point of view is nothing new. But the amount and speed which false information hits the airways these days is. Each of us is responsible for seeking truth and nipping false information in the bud. Without such a commitment, we are doomed.
Maria Grant served as Principal- in-charge of the Federal Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting. Since her retirement from Deloitte, she has focused on writing, reading, gardening, travel, and nature.