Don’t Trust. Don’t Verify.

Jan 19th, 2011 | By | Category: Conspiracy Theories

Mosharraf Zaidi’s column, ‘Reason versus Unreason’, is an interesting look at the contradictory attitudes we see expressed on number of topics. One thing he didn’t touch on, though, was the battle between ‘reason versus unreason’ in the media and the way topics are discussed has left us with an upside down way of thinking about the world around us.

The more I thought about this, the more I kept coming back to the media coverage of President Zardari’s trip to Washington for the memorial of Richard Holbrooke. If you recall, The News termed ‘mysterious’ the meeting Zardari had with President Obama because the president “left with three personnel of his staff [and] did not take any official from the Foreign Office for the trip declared ‘private’.”

However only three days earlier Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani Tweeted the following:

Pres Zardari travelling on commercial flight w/ minimal staff & no delegation. Hope austerity will be noted by critics

So why this was ‘mysterious’ to The News is…well…something of a mystery. What was worse was this announcement of the president trying to save taxpayer money was immediately met not with praise but with suspicion. One prominent blogger requested the government to provide photo evidence to prove the president flew on a commercial jet before he would believe it.

Think about this for a moment. The government says that the president is flying commercial and taking minimal staff to a memorial service, and highly educated people are demanding photo evidence to believe it. Why?

We always assume that any government official must be lying. But when that turns out not to be the case, nobody cares. That they were lying remains the assumption. Actually, many times no amount of evidence will be enough. I’ve heard it said that this is because we’re a cynical people after so many years of poor leadership so why should we believe anyone. I believe that’s a poor excuse.

How are we going to pretend that we are only being skeptical when we only have skepticism about certain people? We refuse to believe that the president would take a commercial flight, but we have no trouble believing that the CIA has a machine that controls the weather. That’s not skepticism, that’s crazy.

Still don’t believe me? Consider the WikiLeaks stories. Our journalists fell over themselves reporting WikiLeaks stories that said something that might embarrass the president, but when they started to embarrass other people suddenly it became a conspiracy against Muslims. This is not skepticism, it’s just intellectual dishonesty.

And its not just politics, so please stop using that excuse. This sort of attitude, this intellectual dishonesty colours much of the reporting that we hear. How else do we find ourselves in a situation where a young girl is brutally and viciously attacked and media’s first response is to assume she brought it on herself. How else do we find ourselves in a situation where a TV anchor can announce that the government is going to sack the judiciary without ever bothering to call the government to ask if its true? We know Aafia Siddiqui is innocent, but we also know that Aasia Bibi is guilty even though in reality we don’t know anything about either one.

There is a famous saying, ‘trust but verify’. What has become more common in today’s society, however, is ‘Don’t trust. Don’t verify’. This is a serious problem because it means that either our ability to reason has become confused to the point that its upside down, or we’ve just stopped thinking altogether. That is truly unreasonable.

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