When Even the Facts Aren’t the Facts

Jun 30th, 2011 | By | Category: Daily Times, Dawn News TV, The News

How often do we see academics, ‘analysts’, and experts of all sorts filling the newspapers and TV channels with shocking reports about this or that? It seems to be almost daily occurrence. Recently, businessman Munir Attaullah heard some claims and rather than simply accept them without question, he investigated the claims of Maria Sultan in the media with his own research. Guess what he found?

Munir AttaullahI think it is time to get away from the general practice of hiding behind genteel phrases such as ‘a well known anchor’ or ‘a leading TV channel’ and not name names when being critical of some publicly expressed views of celebrity media professionals. Surely, such a namby-pamby approach, based on misguided notions of solidarity within the tribe, is not in the public interest.

So, what is it that I intend to discuss today? The preamble should give you a clue. Some weeks ago I discussed the maddeningly infuriating power of belief over reason. This makes it doubly important that those in our media, who are in such a powerful position to influence the thinking of the average Johnny, take seriously their fiduciary duty to at least critically examine their beliefs before inflicting them upon us. That is because, for all the interdependence — and remembering my take on the Feynman homily — the media shapes public opinion far more than reflects it.

And this is especially important in the context of our foreign, defence, and nuclear policies, that have long been the tightly guarded preserve of our military. In the new information age many more people than hitherto are now aware how our security agencies have successfully manipulated our media — and continue to do so by all available means, fair or foul — to mould public opinion as they see fit in their own interest. A genuine point of view — no matter how outlandish or stupid — I can understand; but artful and egregious dissimulation? What should one say of such wilful deceit (in ‘national interest’?) posing as ‘a possible point of view’ that merits a respectful hearing? To add insult to injury is that large sections of our baa’sha’oor (aware) populace readily swallow such nonsense.

In this context, forget for a moment the likes of Zaid Hamid (though I would like to know where he gets his funding). Instead, let me discuss the publicly expressed views of Ms Maria Sultan, reputedly an academic, who is often seen on TV as a serious and thoughtful expert on defence and nuclear issues.

On the Mehran base attack she was there immediately with the standard deep insight of ‘the hand of RAW cannot be ruled out’ (has she changed her mind since, I wonder?). And she was a prominent critic of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill at the time our army launched its short-lived domestic PR campaign against the Bill. But what takes the cake is her view on the issue of the ‘threat’ from the US to our nukes, expressed in the context of the recent debate that seeks to identify the US as ‘the biggest threat to our security’.

This is what the lady had to say (on Dawn TV, in The News of May 24 and in her SASSI blog): “The US can hit nuclear sites under a new law which allows the US to invade a country and confiscate its nuclear weapons” and “the US has allocated a budget for possible attack to secure our nuclear assets”.

To add the necessary verisimilitude to lend plausibility and expert authenticity to her view she went on to cite the precedent of how the US successfully stripped the former Soviet Republics of their WMDs under the 1991 US ‘Co-operative Threat Reduction Programme’. Not only that, she added for good measure that “the US carried out more than 300 sting operations in the former Soviet Republics to this end”.

Now, if even a quarter of all this be remotely true then indeed we should worry. But let me ask two questions. Will the lady provide evidence for her claim about those alleged sting operations in the former Soviet Republics? For all my research I have not been able to find any. And what is this ‘new US law’ she is talking about that authorises such US actions and has set aside funds for such purposes? I cannot find any such law.

The closest I can get to is to assume she is referring here to the Obama-Luger Bill of 2009 (hardly new) that carries forward the thinking behind the 1991 US initiative and its follow-up legislation. But in all such legislation, nowhere is there even the slightest hint of allowing the US to forcibly and unilaterally carry out its allegedly nefarious designs. The policy is, “…To provide monies (some $ 75 million) to train and equip personnel in friendly countries for the detection and interdiction of proliferation related shipments of WMDs, etc.” (An example would be the setting up of facilities at a port to check containers being exported.) As in the case of the former Soviet Republics, where the US came up with more than $ 1 billion a year for more than 10 years to assist them in their weapons de-commissioning programme, the policy is one of assistance to those who seek it, not one of enforcing something against the will of another state.

Am I wrong or being unfair? Perhaps the good lady will put me right then. Until such time, how much credibility do you think she enjoys with me? Next week, I intend to discuss other similar cases.

Another conspiracy theory easily debunked when a private individual takes the time to do some basic research. But this piece is not about one specific mistake. Rather it points out a continuing pattern in the media in which journalists, anchors, editors, and producers broadcast misinformation without performing the minimum fact-checking. We are lucky that someone such as Munir Attaullah will be willing to take the time to investigate and correct misinformation, but isn’t this the job of the editors, anchors, and producers themselves?

Too often we allow ourselves to be misled by impressive sounding titles and elaborate writing. Individuals are allowed their own opinions, but not matter what your degrees, no one is entitled to his own facts. Facts are facts…except when they aren’t.

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