Many things have to be excerpted for copyright reasons (there is a list of sources that require excerpting someplace), but when it's not required then it's preferable to post the whole thing.
My peeve is excerpts that start in the middle of a thought. It doesn't seem quite logical. :-)
Got it! I can be taught.
Quantum Physics and the Media
Quantum mechanics may be the hardest scientific discipline to comprehend. The strangeness of the quantum mechanical world can be seen in the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states that the position and momentum of a particle (the main interesting data we want) cannot be simultaneously measured with useful accuracy. In other words, we cannot accurately measure some information about basic quantum elements. That is rather startling in the world of science where observation and precise measurement reign supreme. As we drill down into the quantum layers of reality, we cannot really know physical reality with precision.
And this is not semantics or a gap in theory waiting to be filled. This is an immutable characteristic of wave/particle quantum reality that deals with the acquisition of information as much as it deals with the actual information we want. Consider a particle traversing the dark vacuum of space. We are conveniently positioned nearby to gather information about where this particle is, how it is moving and where it is going. How do we proceed?
Taking out our small Mag-Lite flashlight, we illuminate our subject to determine its location. However, we have a problem: the photons (light particles) from the Mag-Lite shoot out and head towards the target particle, striking it and changing its momentum. Our data collection method alters the data we want to collect, removing that initial information forever beyond our reach. And there is no method of investigation into the state of our target particle that will not bombard it with other particles, changing reality and hiding the information we wanted all along.
In other words, we cannot observe reality without changing reality.
So it has become with the media. This gives rise to a new uncertainty principle, the Media Uncertainly Principle, which states:
The Media cannot accurately measure or disseminate information about basic reality.
This is not just a clever repackaging of bias; this represents a structural inability to accurately communicate real events.
This inherent inaccuracy stems from the violent interaction of the information gatherer(s) with the event being observed, and what emerges no longer represents the actual event. The violence done during the observation phase is not a physical violence, but a disruptive, prejudicial and dysfunctional pattern of thought and action by all members of the news gathering infrastructure, from factors as well-understood as biased reporters and editors, to elements as subtle as camera angles, props, timing, tone and the selection of adjectives. The end result is that no event of any complexity can run the gauntlet of distortion erected between the event itself and the eyes and ears of an interested citizen.
The implications are profound for those armed with knowledge of the Media Uncertainty Principle: Media communication about complex matters from newspaper headlines to magazine articles to the words flowing smoothly from the mouth of a talking head are understood to be independent of reality, logically requiring the recipient of "news" to ignore claims that fact is being presented and do additional research.
The inquisitive citizen aware of the Media Uncertainty Principle encounters some complex piece of media information, looks at it blandly regardless of content, and thinks, "This isnt true. This is like the blind groping in the dark that precedes the light switch being flipped on. What, then, is reality here?"
The value of the Media Uncertainty Principle in action is enormous. For example, a headline screams in 2004:
Clarke: Bush didn't see terrorism as 'urgent'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's former counterterrorism chief testified Wednesday that the administration did not consider terrorism an urgent priority before the September 11, 2001, attacks, despite his repeated warnings about Osama bin Laden's terror network (here).
A typical news consumer, believing elements of reality are being presented, draws a conclusion that Bush was negligent in responding to clear terror warnings only to later discover that the opposite was reality. The media "particle" impacted the "particles" of the event, fundamentally changing the story and hiding reality from view.
The informed news consumer aware of the Media Uncertainty Principle sees the above headline and draws two valuable conclusions: One, the headline does not represent reality, and two, he has some investigative work ahead of him to learn what the facts truly are.
The Media Uncertainly Principle illuminates another problem. Being well informed is obviously generally important, but the Founding Fathers and other great thinkers clearly recognize a knowledgeable citizenry as the backbone of a representative republic. Ignorance in our form of government unhinges representatives from accountability to the people they represent; if constituents are uninformed about the matters being debated by their representatives, they cannot exert a constructive influence on good government.
Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people. -John Adams
Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. -Thomas Jefferson
If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. -Thomas Jefferson
Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. -James Madison
The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty. -James Madison
Men give me credit for some genius. All the genius I have lies in this; when I have a subject in hand, I study it profoundly. Day and night it is before me. My mind becomes pervaded with it. Then the effort that I have made is what people are pleased to call the fruit of genius. It is the fruit of labor and thought. -Alexander Hamilton
But knowledge (of reality), the food of our representative republic, is now in scarce supply. With distortion radiating from the Fourth Estate, intellectually hungry people must turn to the final arbiter of truth in modern political matters: Reason.
A man has free choice to the extent that he is rational. -Saint Thomas Aquinas
Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it. -Thomas Paine
Reason, the power of analytical thought, must be the litmus test for truth obscured by the Media Uncertainty Principle. Rational thought sifts through all propositions and orients one towards reality. And Reason to the modern media is like water and flying houses to wicked witches.
Lets see another example of the Media Uncertainty Principle in action. Newsweek publishes a story that leads:
[Newsweek] May 9 issue - Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year. Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash (here).
With the Media Uncertainty Principle in mind, an enlightened news observer automatically concludes that there are important events real factual events - occurring at Guantanamo Bay and those events are not represented in the story. He or she is thusly protected from taking action based upon falsehood. If Muslims worldwide had been armed with the Media Uncertainty Principle, twenty victims of violence would be alive today.
Is the Media Uncertainty Principle too wide-reaching? Not at all. A knight wears armor into every battle never knowing when and how he will be hit. A story here or there may, after investigation, accidentally be accurate, but that is not something that can be counted on; there is a continuum of inaccuracy against which citizens must be diligent, from complete fabrications (Dan Rather and Newsweek) to very subtle distortions, like the position (or lack of position) of a story in a newspaper (Able Danger).
Unlike the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the Media Uncertainty Principle is not an irreversible fact of nature. Knowledge of this principle is the first step towards ending its reality, for once skepticism is the overwhelming reaction to "news," it ceases to be news. This would be the fiery end of the Fourth Estate, to be followed by a more grounded rebirth from the ashes.
The next time the paper screams that weapons are missing from a depot in Iraq, that incriminating National Guard memos have been found, that the House Leader is corrupt, that privatizing Social Security will destroy the program, that Hussein never sought yellow cake in Niger, that Halliburton got another no-bid contract, that Gore has won Florida, that school lunches are being eliminated, that people are being raped and killed in the Superdome, that there were no WMDs, that the Downing Street memos will bring down Bush and Blair, that the Bush teleconference with soldiers was staged, and, yes, that Rove and Cheney are going to be indicted and convicted, remember the Media Uncertainty Principle.
Copyright © 2005 Dan Hallagan. All Rights Reserved.