Friday, 28 October 2011

John Humphrys Is Not A Liar...

...He just doesn't know what he's talking about.

Maybe though we need to recognise the difference between a liar and a 'bull-shitter', which is something which developed in popular culture in the years following the second Gulf War when an essay from 1986 by Harry Frankfurt was republished called 'On Bullshit'. In it the philosopher defined the two different distinctions between dishonest people. He put it:
"This is the crux of the distinction between the bullshitter and the liar. Both he and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavouring to communicate the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it."
John Humphrys and the makers of his programme are skilled bullshitters. They say little definitive and make no overt attempt at persuasion, rather they want the target audience to be so unaware and misinformed as to think what are already common but untrue propositions.

Declan Gaffney at LeftFootFoward pre-empted the central theme of the programme based on an article Humphrys had in the Daily Mail two days in advance of the broadcast and has made a very worthy rebuttal, infinitely more detailed and rigorous than Humphrys and the producer could be bothered with. I noticed in the credits that no researchers were listed, but the Express, Scottish Daily Mail and Solo Syndication (lackeys for the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Evening Standard) were credited for providing 'Archive'.

But in context, the LFF rebuttal assumes Humphrys is merely wrong, for whatever reason and therefore simply needs to be corrected. It does not make any suggestion of dishonesty on his part, even though it would be an apt response if he were a liar. The thing here is that Humphrys has made a programme that focuses on narrative, human interest and anecdote with the 'facts' being used to emphasise rather than assert. Several times it isn't even the programme making claims of fact but simply showing a person giving such statements. There are layers of deniability like this.

Simply pointing out 'errors' is insufficient when dealing with a bullshitter: they aren't trying to convince, they aren't trying to even deny. Their intent is to sow such doubt about the truth that others will refuse to hear it. What good is debunking a statistic if we're seeing people claiming JSA but with no intention of finding a job? This requires a systematic and methodical response rather than a targeted one because the problem is a systematic and methodical attempt to deceive the audience, largely by omission of corrective information. Basically, it needs to be shown that Humphrys and the producers made no attempt at informing their audience properly and steered them away from truth so frequently(and skill-fully) that it couldn't have been an accident. It has to be shown that they are indifferent, rather than just merely being biased or incompetent. They do not care about the quality of their research, do not fact-check and have no investment in the value of what they report, so poor it is that they will not even correct inaccurate statements they show being made by third-parties. Opinions expressed which are word-for-word what those people and people they know read and hear in the media, which by omission of correction are elevated to 'facts' that 'everybody knows to be true'. This is what I believe the programme has intentionally done and it deserves to be exposed and hopefully if this can be achieved, the news outlets and politicians that are fellow-travellers in this will also be confronted.

The programme requires a line-by-line rebuttal to demonstrate systematic disinterest in truth rather than limited inaccuracies and omissions. It's not enough to look at the 'big errors' or 'important' ones; the many little ones that are obvious to informed persons construct the pattern that Humphrys and his team care little for rigour throughout. I would be very grateful if someone could obtain a transcript and send it to me.

1 comment: