You can read horror stories in the papers and online warning of the coming real estate crash, higher interest rates, massive foreclosures on the horizon, all under the cover of unveiling the truth. The real truth? They don’t even really believe a lot of what they write themselves. They’re selling newspapers, radio/TV time, or trying to generate more traffic for their blogs.
I’ll use foreclosures as the most recent example. But first you might like to revisit an earlier time when the post World War II master of lying to you while telling the ‘truth’ was in full force. During the Cold War Pravda waged the propaganda war against the free world as the official newspaper of the Soviet Union.
In the summer of 1964 a nice guy my mom was dating took me to the L.A. Coliseum to see the dual track meet between the Soviet Union and United States. The countries took turns hosting it. To make a long story short, we beat them, with teenager Jerry Lindgren beating two heavily favored and internationally experienced Soviet runners in the 10,000 meter run.
It was my first experience with a monster crowd, and the excitement was off the charts. When Lindgren passed the two Soviets for the last time you couldn’t hear yourself think. When he crossed the finish line the winner I noticed some people crying, overcome with joy. It still gives me chills every time I think about it. But the Pravda headlines were a precursor of some of today’s reporting, at least in the intent to deceive. It read:
Soviets Finish 2nd: U.S. Is Next To Last In Historic Meet
That’s the headline I remember, though I’m sure it’s not exact. I just remember at 12 years old how upset I was reading it. Then my mom pointed out that what it said was the truth. She said it was the truth used as a tool to mislead those who didn’t have access to the real facts. It was truly an ‘aha!’ moment for a naïve boy.
Here’s an example of how some journalists use the same approach today. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they’re trying to do anything but get the reader’s attention, which is far from any transparent agenda to deceive, at least in this case. In DataQuick Real Estate News the headline reads, California Foreclosure Activity Hits Three-Year High.
Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? I bet more than a few readers immediately thought about a bubble bursting, and their property’s values collapsing. Of course, that’s exactly the reaction they wanted. It made you read it. Of course, the body of the piece went on to say that it was not really a big deal because of the historically low number of foreclosures during that same three-year period. In fact, even with the increase, they’re still below historic norms.
Is the headline absolutely accurate? It sure is. Did it convey what it implied? Not even close. Now magnify this example thousands of times in hundreds of publications, radio & TV programs, and blogs. Now think of all the things you believe about real estate, taxes, science, and all the other popular subjects ‘reported’ by the media. Here are a few stories reported for years that haven’t quite turned out as reported.
- Interest rates are on their way up soon. (Reported since 2001)
- Lowering income tax rates decreases revenue to the Treasury. (Collected taxes increase)
- Global warming will end life as we know it in a decade if we don’t change our ways. (Reported about 15 years ago)
- Real estate will lose 50% or more of its value when bubble bursts. (My favorite; still waiting)
‘Accurate’ reporting is of little value without the intent to convey truth. And though accuracy can and will be claimed by the media, truth has been a casualty for too long.