Information on misinformation (or vice-versa)

How do you decide which sources from two fairly well-demarcated sides in a disputed situation are more likely to be truthful? You go on the basis of what can be tested, don’t you?

To cite a hoary example, the veracity of the events of the Gospel of Luke and Acts is greatly supported by the fact that where Luke’s facts can be checked, for example in the details of political organisation and leaders of the places he names, they are accurate. Truth telling is a habit, as is the practice of spinning the truth to suit a narrative.

And so I move to considering what the truth is about the COVID-19 epidemic. Are the mainstream sources in journalism and government giving us a true account, or are they covering up incompetent politics and/or science, or worse still operating as a tin-foil hat conspiracy?

Last weekend there were a number of demonstrations against lockdowns, most notably in Germany, but also in London and Dublin, and probably elsewhere. Although the focus was on COVID, in all of them the core complaint was the removal of basic civil liberties without adequate reason or clear end-point. They were all marches about freedom.

The British press reported the Berlin one, largely in predictable terms of demonstrations by “far-right extremists,” but at least they published photos showing either that there are huge numbers of decent-looking, well-behaved, extremists in Germany, or that the stuff about “far right groups” was lies.

Whilst we’re still in Berlin, I caught a video of John F. Kennedy Jnr. addressing the crowds. I’m not well informed on his career, but checking his Wikipedia page he has keenly supported a ragbag of causes about some of which I have mixed feelings. But as an experienced operator from the political family of the US, he knows how the game is played, and I was interested when he said, “Tomorrow the press will say that I spoke to 500 Neo-Nazis…” But even the video of his speech showed a hugely greater and more widely based crowd, estimated at upwards of 40,000.

In London, the various live-streams on YouTube alternative media showed Trafalgar Square similarly full of all kinds of ordinary and less ordinary people, of all kinds and colours. They carried mostly home-made placards (always a good sign of an authentic grass-roots demo, compared to the well-orchestrated “Astroturf” protests with their smart and identically-printed slogans footnoted “Workers Revolutionary Party” or whatever). The placards, too, covered a motley range of individual concerns, from protests about enforced mask-wearing, and fears about compulsory vaccines, to protests about the covering up of paedophile rings, and calls to follow Jesus to find true freedom. The common factors, though, were concern for the curtailment of the freedom to speak, and hear, the truth.

But the press and TV/radio coverage was virtually non-existent on the day. The Sun and the Daily Mail both had pieces about protests by loony conspiracy theorists who believe the whole epidemic is a hoax. They seem to have twigged that one of the speakers was the notorious David Icke – possibly a strategic mistake on the part of the organisers. But even his speech was reptile-free, and was a call for people to take back the power which they have only lent to the minority elites, when that power is abused. That’s very much American Constitution stuff, and entirely rational whether you agree this is such a situation or not. The reports studiously didn’t mention a number of doctors speaking from professional knowledge on the science, or lack of it, behind lockdown.

The BBC News didn’t mention it at all, and the Telegraph – supposedly the biggest mainstream conservative supporter of free speech – held its peace until after the weekend, when it covered the fact that one of the more noted organisers, Piers Corbyn (brother of the former Labour Leader) was the first person to be summarily fined £10,000 by police, under the draconian emergency powers passed to prevent unlawful assemblies of more than 30 people.

In fact, Piers Corbyn had negotiated with the Metropolitan Police for days beforehand, and complied with all the advice they gave, and says it was a separate bunch of police who arrested him, evidently under orders from some higher authority.

But what concerns me here is the nature of the Telegraph’s coverage, which carried on the “lunatic fringe” theme (why not “far-right groups,” as in the Berlin coverage?). They set up Corbyn as an even madder version of his brother, who (snort) believes climate change is caused by the sun, rather than by human activity. The same tactic was repeated when Corbyn was interviewed on morning TV. Interestingly, searching his name on the *Telegraph* website produces a few articles about Corbyn’s meterological track record being better than the official Meteorological Office, but that counts for nothing when you’re doing a hit-piece.

The Telegraph coverage described “several hundred people” turning up to join the protest. And that’s odd, because any of the video sources you might pick showed Trafalgar Square to be jammed full, and it has a capacity of some 35,000. There was also overspill into surrounding streets, so that a reasonably conservative estimate of numbers would be 35-40,000.

Now the first question is why a demonstration of that size, on a topic of concern to all, that has monopolized the news since March, was not considered worthy of full coverage, rather than simply a discussion of its eccentric organizer’s fine.

A second question is how it is possible for a major newspaper (and other mainstream news media) to underestimate the size of the crowd attending by two whole orders of magnitude.

A third question would be why nobody in the Telegraph even bothered to ask why the leader of a peaceful and orderly march was fined, whereas the leaders of Black Lives Matter riots that have destroyed statues, and Extinction Rebellion occupations that disrupt our cities for days at a time, have not been similarly fined. Is not partiality in the judicial system cause for the concern of a free press?

But let’s go back to the entirely misleading numbers, for they are the simple test of honest, or dishonest, reporting. “Several hundred” is not by any means mistakable for “40,000” people. Telegraph staff, like the rest of the press corp, apparently, may not have been there to count: but they had the same access as the rest of us to YouTube, or they could have asked someone who was there.

So it was not a mistake, but can only have been a deliberate attempt to downplay the event. The fact that it was ignored or similarly minimised by all the mainstream outlets suggests that, by chance or design, they were all determined that the public should not know there was a very large pro-freedom demonstration in London last weekend. Why might that be, do you suppose?

One can only speculate on the motives. Perhaps their editors are ideologically opposed to free speech proponents. Perhaps they believe that any weakening of the official line on COVID will destroy public co-operation and lead to millions of deaths. Or perhaps the government leaned on them for reasons of their own.

But actually, none of that matters overmuch. If a major demonstration in London is reported as a minor demonstration about something else, or is not reported at all, throughout our whole mainstream news sources, then we know for certain that our journalists are happy to give us misinformation on matters we can check, and so are even more likely to be doing the same on what we can’t check.

They are therefore not worth spending good money on, because like a stage magician, they appear to be in the business of distracting us from things that matter to us towards things that matter to their editors, their owner, or the government. Under those circumstances, “No news” may not be good news, but at least it’s truthful news.

Now of course, Piers Corbyn, David Icke, John F. Kennedy Jnr, and the rest of the Neo-Nazi conspiracy theory, anti-vax flat-earthers of whom the globalist managers of social media constantly warn us, may also be supplying us with misinformation.

But there’s a lot less to be gained by the little guys, in the way of power and money, than there is for the big guys. I have to say I find it easier to make a rational judgement about some individual who may be mistaken or deluded than I do some corporation which is trying their best to deceive me deliberately for some ulterior motive.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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