Power of the Press

I get angry when I see newspapers abuse their power to influence peoples' beliefs. It's sobering to realize that this abuse of power is central to the "infotainment" that passes for journalism in tabloids.

Check out this recent article in Aftonbladet (see link below) about some of the job coaches that the Swedish government has hired to assist job seekers.


The article presents a series of presuppositions, or "chosen truths."


Some of the chosen truths come across as highly reasonable: "The government's rules clearly state that job coaches may not engage in therapy or healing. Some of the coaches have this background. There may be some breaches of contract going on here."


Other chosen truths come across as ignorant: "hypnosis is equivalent to brainwashing." (My own chosen truth is that most of us enter hypnotic states regularly, like when we concentrate intently or meditate, etc.)


Still other chosen truths in the article are malicious and absurd: "one of the founders of NLP is a cocaine user and murder suspect, therefore NLP must be nonsense." (My own chosen truth is that the value of a person's thinking can be entirely distinct from his or her moral character or criminal record -- even assuming these charges are true!)


Human brains are constantly setting presuppositions, or chosen truths. We have to do it, it's part of how we make sense of the world.


Newspapers are therefore always setting presuppositions. They cannot not do it! Responsible newspapers are careful to substantiate their presuppositions and to be clear about the difference between their own opinions and those of others. Tabloids like Aftonbladet mix opinion and unsubstantiated "truths" into so-called news stories, which makes it hard for readers to distinguish between fact, opinion, and fiction. I believe this is grossly irresponsible journalism.


The better we readers are at noticing the presuppositions, and questioning them, the more effective we are as consumers of information. (Of course, that's just another one of my chosen truths!)


I think it is sobering to realize that tabloid journalism relies on absurd presuppositons to sell newspapers. Extreme beliefs are interesting, they capture attention. Unfortunately, they are also often ridiculous. We readers have to be highly suspicious of ALL presuppositions in newspapers (or any other context, for that matter) if we don't want to inadvertantly assume that some bit of nonsense is true.

2009-11-11 Peter A