Incomplete Information and Stories
I'm a bit of a news junkie and am highly aware that the news should not be understood as 'the truth'. A minor philosophic point is that the idea of 'the truth' probably isn't very coherent. A statement can be true or false. A news story is a set of statements strung together to make an impression. Using only true statements you can write stories that leave very different impressions.
Is any of those impressions the truth?
Science runs into this problem a lot.
There are many explanations for any set of facts.
But science has ways of moving towards better and better explanations without claiming to be 'the truth' With science what we get is 'the best we know' with the understanding that our knowledge may improve as time goes on.
The news is different.
I read an article about an upcoming ban on shipping Canadian fruit to Europe starting Sept. 1 having to do with something about 'pests'. The article was about the reaction of the fruit industry to the ban but said nothing about what the pests were, why they were a problem, and what might be done about them. The problem with just reporting the ban is that it provides no information about why there is a ban. And that information is crucial to understanding what's going on. And the news regularly leaves that information out.
When we get a change in government policy; say, changes in regulations about endangered species. We need to know why those changes are thought to be a good idea.
Instead we get a bunch of feel good platitudes designed to make the crowd cheer in favor of the change.
Say the change is a loosening of the regulations. There will be many who say that the change invites environmental catastrophe and that it must be resisted. Again they don't tell why. Instead the say inspiring platitudes designed to make the crowd cheer in favor of them.
Telling why is hard work for both the speaker and the listener. And it assumes quite a large body of shared information too. It also assumes a large degree of shared understanding of that information. I have seen quite often situations where a person and I agree on a lot of the facts of a matter are but disagree what those facts mean.
In the past few years the news has presented many stories of unarmed black men being killed by white police officers. These stories are disturbing in many ways. The situations themselves are disturbing. But the narrative about them as a group is also disturbing.
One thing that is upsetting is that racism is assumed to be involved, and I don't doubt it often is, but is that all that's involved? What about the racist past that resulted in mutual hostility between white police and black citizens? That is a big part of the background of these situations. What is to be done to alleviate that? It requires big changes in attitude on all sides. How do we do that? One of the biggest gaps in information with these stories is a sense of perspective. These stories come up pretty regularly. It seems to me to be every couple of weeks. But that means a couple of dozen cases a year. Not acceptable. But not a huge problem in comparison with other problems.
Two thoughts emerge here for me The news is about what's happening now - not about explaining. We leave explanations to commentators (and there are a lot of those). Commentators give us highly condensed and simplified explanations. There is a limit to the amount of detail you can cover in 1000 words.
Beyond that, there are books and libraries that go into explanations in so much detail that one loses the thread of what was trying to be discovered.
Also, it is pretty obvious that the actual news stories we read are selected from an infinite number of other happenings in the world because they advance a particular meta-narrative. It seems that it's on the level of that meta-narrative that incomplete information makes sense. The 'white cop shoots unarmed black man' trope is being presented again and again to society so that that sort of behavior becomes not acceptable. And I think in the past it was acceptable, but just not newsworthy and we never heard of it unless we were directly involved.
What do you think?