Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fact-free - the English speaking world and Germany

Fact free, or fact-free for those of us who like the occasional hyphen, has become one of the most used terms of 2016. From calling the Brexit campaign (you still remember that one?) fact-free to agonizing over how Ukraine can win the information war in a fact-free world, all the way to suffocating in fact-free cocoons.  

Questions came up, such as, if "the world" is fact-free, what does that tell us about the definition of information on the part of those who make the claim?

Or, at what point can an argument or campaign be called fact-free?

Fact-free does feel like a strong statement, doesn't it? Much of the time, alternatives like "lacking facts", "insufficient facts", or other softer expressions would be more appropriate.
Insidious extreme use makes fact-free itself "fact-free".

The blogster does like one aspect of "fact-free": replacing more emotionally fraught terms, for instance "propaganda" or "lies". In using fact-free instead of more loaded terms, we can avoid moral judgement and accusations of unethical, dumb, even criminal intent, while - at the same time - enjoying its slightly hyperbolic side. Or does this make it a euphemism?

The blogster's reflex question on seeing repetitive claims is - regular readers know this - how knew is it? The answer, reflexive, too: probably not all that new because people are people.

One recent fun reminder in the German media is a long article on a journalistic master of fact-free journalism: Zeit online has a fascinating article on the "decades long" career of a gentleman named Tom Kummer. Since 1990, this enfant terrible (fancy French for controversial person) has haunted the German language press. According to ZEIT, Mr. Kummer wrote a piece about young satanists, only to be informed by a reader that Kummer and used passages from a book by Richard Ford. It took the magazine two more years to fire him. Since then, many papers gave him "a second chance" and, in turn, had to fire him.
In early July 2016, more than a quarter of a century after his first fake, Mr. Kummer managed to hit not one but three Swiss German publications.

His is merely one example of many and if you would like to read up on fact free journalism in the English speaking world, one great list, although last updated in 2007, is the web page Ethics in Journalism. Most of those listed on that site are not widely known, a list of more famous cases can be found on this Longreads page.

The blogster is not very smart, sorry. So it has a question: if this is a "fact-free world", can this statement be a fact?

* The blogster likes the world gender neutral.

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