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The Outrageous Heckling That Wasn't

"A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." *

What kind of sleazoid would heckle the father of a victim of the Sandy Hook shooting?  None did, despite what you may have read in supposedly reputable news sources.  James Taranto has the sordid story at WSJ.

People tend to pass on information that fits our templates without critically examining it, and we tend to scrutinize incoming information that conflicts with our pre-existing notions.  It takes discipline and self-awareness to resist that natural tendency and subject all incoming information to equal scrutiny.  News professionals should be particularly vigilant in policing themselves in this regard.

Regrettably, we see this effect, and the failure to self-police, all the time in debates on criminal justice issues:
Our prisons are stuffed full of harmless people who have been thrown there for possessing one joint, and we can release half the prison population with no threat to public safety.  The "exonerated" former death-row inmates on the "innocence list" have been proved actually innocent of the crimes.  In some tellings, they have all been proved innocent by DNA.  The death penalty has been proved racist, with sharply disproportionate sentencing rates by race.  The studies showing a deterrent effect have been discredited.  All of these statements are false, but I have seen them all reported as fact in supposedly reputable sources.

This effect would not matter so much if it worked equally in both directions.  It does not, though, because the spectrum of viewpoints in the profession of journalism is badly skewed to the left.  There are just a lot more journalists who will fail to check and pass through dubious information that is consistent with the world-view of the political left.  How many false statements supporting a tough-on-crime agenda do you see erroneously reported as fact in the press?  I can't think of a single example off-hand.  I will concede, however, that I am more likely to remember those that are contrary to my own views, so if someone else can think of an example, fire away in the comments.

* This saying is sometime attributed to Mark Twain, but that is unverified and probably incorrect.

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