The Wall Street Journal recently ran a feature on a company that’s making money by data mining facts and selling the uncovered facts to investors.

Information is power and opinions masquerading as facts are similar to con artists running shell games.

Peruse your favorite social media site and read, if you can, as people knowingly and unknowingly shill their favorite swill to others while pretending or believing the drivel they push constitute facts.

A recent piece in The Economist referred to such flatulence as “Post-Truth” – particularly when referring to politics and as others have said, we’ve entered a dangerous age where something only has to “feel true” in order to be true.

While it is difficult to adopt without question that sentiment, there is increasing evidence many people never leave their philosophical cul-de-sac and read, digest and regurgitate only those bits of informational flotsam they consider agreeable to their own peculiar palate. For us who call ourselves journalists – and here I’m not using a former mentor’s definition of a journalist as an “out of work reporter” rather using the dictionary definition of a journalist – times appear bleak.

If all the readers and viewers want is the mental equivalent of fast food to slake their thirst for knowledge, then what hope is there for disinterested third party observers intent on pursuing the elusive facts?

Indeed, how can we be taken seriously if we publish information that is dismissed as rhetoric merely because it differs with the reader’s cherished notions of right and wrong?

The cynics among us at this point have thrown their hands up in the air and are running for the aisles, ready to drown their sorrows in real liquid libations, sticking their fingers in their ears while emitting high pitched “Wilhelm Screams” as they run for the nearest watering hole.

Meanwhile, those of us who remain in the land of the living, must find a way out of this maze of indifference, ineptitude and inadequacy.

Editors often tell their reporters their opinions don’t matter – if the information matters then that is all that matters.

In addition, journalists have often been the victims of their own good intentions. In an effort to get both sides of the story, reporters have struggled to get a side where none exists – thus perpetuating things like the flat or hollow earth society. Holocaust deniers and certain left and right wing extremists thrive in the gray areas invented by modern journalism – telling us vaccines cause autism and Mussolini was okay because he kept the trains running on time.

Journalists, who worry more today about what platform they’re using than what content they are publishing have to remember a few things.

All opinions are welcome. I may disagree with what you say, but will defend to death your right to say it. Thus, you may think if you take a knee during the national anthem you are a traitor, but I will be obliged to point out the facts – Free speech includes the right to sit, kneel or do anything else you want during the anthem. You are free to burn the flag. You are, in fact, by doing those things the very definition of what it means to be an American. That isn’t an opinion. Those are facts with their basis in The Constitution and case law – going up to the Supreme Court.

At the end of the day, your opinions are not facts.

Here’s another fact: Edward Snowden – whose life will be on the big screen this week – got into trouble by exposing the fact your government spies on you without cause.

How will you deal with that fact? On that question we welcome all opinions. Just remember what opinions are worth in the free market versus facts. Facts are gold. Opinions are like … well you know how that ends.

@BrianKarem

 

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