In the previous post in this series, I suggested a first guideline for deciding whether to trust a website:
#1: When the website makes a mistake, what kind is it?
What I had in mind was the distinction between honest mistakes, intentional lies, and bullshit, with the last being the worst.
Next up we have this simple idea:
#2: When the website makes a mistake, how do they handle it?
Do they publish a retraction? Do they put it in a place where a reader of the original story is likely to find it? Or, do they leave the original story as-is?
Continuing with the example from last time, Rush Limbaugh was spouting on his radio show about President Obama’s “invasion” of Uganda to fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Limbaugh said this was Obama’s effort to “wipe out Christians in Sudan [and] Uganda.” Limbaugh could not have been more wrong. The LRA were a marauding band of thugs conducting a campaign of rape, abduction, and murder across the region.
I happened to catch this show on the radio and heard a someone call in to set Rush straight.
Tellingly, the transcript of the show on Rush’s site omits the caller’s words, although the same transcript had no problem including a lengthy, pointless and unrelated conversation with an earlier caller who was lamenting the passing of the Good Old Days when the nuns cured his ADD (“Absence of Discipline Disorder” haha). “They beat it out of me in about two weeks,” he said.
But the transcript does include Rush’s response to the caller who corrected him:
Is that right? The Lord’s Resistance Army is being accused of really bad stuff? Child kidnapping, torture, murder, that kind of stuff? Well, we just found out about this today. We’re gonna do, of course, our due diligence research on it. But nevertheless we got a hundred troops being sent over there to fight these guys — and they claim to be Christians.
I give Rush credit for including even that much, but his response also shows the hallmarks of someone who cannot be trusted.
First, he made excuses. (“Well, we just found out about this today.”)
Second, it showed that Rush is a bullshitter (one who says whatever he needs to in order to advance his agenda, without any care for the truth). If he hadn’t had time to get his facts straight, why was he saying anything at all, especially on an influential national radio show?
Third, there’s the doubling-down. (“But nevertheless we got a hundred troops over there to fight these guys — and they claim to be Christians.”)
There’s more, from his show a couple of days later. The transcript is titled, Dawn, Brian and Snerdly Enter the Congressional Record. In the first paragraph, Rush says
Dawn, Brian, and Snerdley [his studio companions] all made their debuts on the Senate floor yesterday all because I happened to be misinformed about something.
So fourth, he blames someone else for his mistake (“I happened to be misinformed about something.”)
The entry in the Congressional Record was Senator Inhofe clarifying that, contrary to what was on Rush’s show, “We’re not at war with [the LRA]. In fact, we are specifically precluding our troops from any kind of combat in that area.”
That gave Rush an opportunity to demonstrate a fifth hallmark of the bullshitter: making a joke out of the issue, preferably at someone else’s expense.
[Speaking to Dawn, Brian and Snerdly] …I wanted to play the sound bites primarily ’cause you three are now in the Congressional Record. All three of you. And you’re in the Congressional Record because you didn’t know something! How does it feel? (laughing)
The above was the closest thing I could find to a retraction on Rush’s site. There was no link to this on the page dedicated to the original show. This is the sixth and final point: Will the reader of the erroneous article easily see a correction?
Contrast all of this to the reviled “lamestream media,” a.k.a. reputable news organizations. We have all seen corrections printed at the bottom of a story, without excuses or jokes.
Having been misled by fringe ideas more than once, I have learned that the “lamestream media” are mainstream for a reason. That will be the subject of the next post in this series.