Just a Thought – How do you form your opinions?


ThinkTHUNDER BAY – How do you form your opinions? While opinions are easy and quick, they are too often void of substance. Today was no exception.

I received an email today concerning the bombing of a Libyan Water Pipeline by NATO and how the Harper government is supporting NATO terrorism. The email then went on to say how our Canadian water supplies are being destroyed and how we must do whatever we can to stop the erosion of our health. Now an email like that is bound to get my attention.

This was not the first e-mail I received like this. Every time I get one about missing children I quickly Google the information and discover that there is no evidence to support the contents of the e-mail. Almost inevitably the word hoax is associated with the content line. Thanks to e-mail and internet, millions now share immediately in the rumour mill that flies around the world. Who creates this stuff?

After receiving today’s e-mail I clicked on the attached link. I was sent to a webpage titled “Counter Information”. A review of the website lists no Board of Directors, no advertisers, no mandate or a history of where this organization came from. What it does appear to provide is the ability of anyone to create a real looking forum to publish an article on any topic with the appearance of relevance. Now that made me pause for a moment.

The author of this article is listed as Victor Kotsev, someone I do not expect to see on the Bill Maher or Steve Paiken shows anytime soon. The article did not contain any source information, names of officials, pictures of the damage to the pipeline, anything substantive that may prove the point the author was trying to make. It was therefore time to Google Mr. Kotsev and see exactly who he was. This is what the resume section said about Mr. Kotsev:

“I am a freelance writer, translator, and journalist. I write primarily about the Middle East and the Balkans, and have published in Foreign Policy Digest, Business Week, Open Democracy, Asia Times, Balkan Insight, and Transitions Online as well as in leading Bulgarian print media”

When I clicked on the more button to read what additional qualifications Mr. Kotsev brought to his journalism efforts this is what popped up:

“I am a freelance researcher, editor and translator”.

Now I must confess that I did not spend a great deal of time researching the qualifications of Mr. Kotsev. However, the sites I did review did not provide a very warm feeling on the accuracy of that initial e-mail I received, that Primer Minister Harper was allegedly supporting terrorism in Libya. Not surprisingly, I was finding very little evidence backing up that assertion.

I should have returned to watching Night Court, an 80’s t.v. favourite of mine but I decided to continue digging a little. I now Googled “Libyan Water Supply Damage”. I was brought to a site called “In These New Times” another formal looking site that had a hundred different articles on it. Once again on this second site, I found no information on who owns it, the list of contributors, sources etc, but I did find many articles that spoke to conspiracies going on within the United States and around the globe. The 9/11 incident was but one example.

There was also a video suggesting problems with the government’s position on 9/11 by a group of pilots questioning the official version of the plane crashes on Sept 11, 2001. I cannot tell you who wrote these articles as there were no names attached to them. The article was signed “Pilots for 911 Truth”. I then found another article on the bombing of the Libya pipeline written by Timothy Bancroft-Hinley, a writer for Pravda, a newspaper not often found in Canada but normally found in Russia. Timothy is the director of Pravada, the Portuguese edition. My initial skepticism of that e-mail continued to grow.

I then discovered a completely different article that gave Mr. Hinely unqualified support as the only person willing to tell the truth. It suggested that Mr. Hinley called Sarah Palin, the former Governor of Alaska a traitor. Unfortunately, this article supporting Mr. Hinley was not signed but there it was for anyone to read.

Getting back to that initial article by Mr. Kotsev it seemed to bear an eerie similarity to other articles written on that same topic as it appeared that Mr. Kotsev created his article from someone else’s material. However having researched myself into a tizzy, I was left with the impression that even if this story were true, the sources were so questionable, the websites so unnerving that it was impossible to believe. When I went back in the evening to review again the article by Mr. Kotsev, I now found it with someone else’s name attached.

So what was the point of all of this? Did I really need to spend this time researching this topic to find out if it was true or not? Well, yes and no I am afraid. You see the initial topic the bombing of a civilian water supply by NATO did grab my attention. I would like to know if NATO has expanded their mandate from fly over protection, to a more active role in overthrowing the Libyan leader. I wanted to learn more, read what others were possibly saying and with luck gather enough information for an informed opinion. Unfortunately, what I received was a headache.

So what do others do when they read a story? Do they question the sources the writers base their opinion on or accept what is there as fact. Do they take the time to try to confirm the story in some other fashion or is the mere existence of the commentary proof enough. I may never know but I do know that it concerns me and it should concern anyone interested in accuracy in our media. The information we receive often formulates our opinion.

We all leap to conclusions, jump to assumptions, fast forward to accusations but in my view that only leads to poor decision making by all of us. How many may use some of the same material turning their opinions into decisions? I sometimes find myself puzzled by some stories in our local media. Statements made without support, presented as facts, never questioned, never expanded on that filter out in to the community for people to believe. Stories should contain more than just contain assertions.

Our media needs to probe a little deeper, question a little tougher, and do a little more research before providing opinion, commentary or a story. We need to go back to an earlier time when media was less interested in profit and more interested in providing the whole story.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, the facts of the issue at hand, the background or source material or even the research that supports the position presented often takes a back seat to infotainment, a term that accurately speaks to what many believe has happened to our news.

The commercialization of our media and the dumbing down of the information we use to formulate our opinion seems to have proliferated to unprecedented levels. Why read about wars and starvation when we can get the latest Hollywood gossip at the head of a newscast. I do care about what is happening around the globe, I do not care that Arnold fathered a child with his housekeeper. I think that sort of story is best left for shows like Entertainment Tonight.

I do not know how many received that e-mail today, how many read it or how many believed our Prime Minister was supporting terrorism in Libya. I would hope that everyone simply hit the delete button and avoided giving himself or herself a headache trying to research it. But if only one person believed the email, then maybe the authors of this dribble accomplished their goal.

How sad a situation would that be?

Just a thought.

James Mauro

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