You don’t get to have your own facts

Daily MailAs a guy who believes that facts are important in an argument or discussion – more so than simply opinion or hearsay – I’m a bit worried by the direction the Daily Mail seems to be taking lately.

I disagree with the Daily Mail on most things – in fact, probably the only thing I trust it for are the TV listings.  But that’s life in a liberal democracy: you have to tolerate the views of other people – even when you disagree with them (some might say especially when you disagree with them).

The trouble is, a liberal democracy depends upon people knowing and understanding what’s happening around them; upon the participants in that democracy being informed sufficiently to make rational decisions.  The Mail has always put a right-wing spin on the news, just as my newspaper of choice puts a slightly left-of-centre spin on events, but did at least report events that actually happened in the real world.

Unfortunately, that ideal of “reporting things that actually happened in the real world” seems to be slipping by the wayside of late, a slippage well illustrated by a Mail “story” I’ve been keeping an eye on about BBC staff being banned from using BC or AD when referring to years, forcing staff instead to use CE and BCE.

In the grand scheme of things it’s perhaps not a huge deal, but if you only ever read the Mail you’d be rightly concerned that the BBC had issued a company-wide command ordering its staff not to use BC or AD, and that furthermore this was a deliberate attack on Christianity and Christians in the UK.

But it isn’t true: there is no such command, no attack on Christianity and no actual story worth reporting.  The BBC has issued various statements clarifying its position and laying out the facts to prove this is not the case, none of which have made a jot of difference to outraged Mail readers.

Just to recap, then: people who read the Mail are getting very cross with the BBC for something it has not done, and despite the BBC proving that it has not done this.

Former New York Senator Danial Patrick Moynihan once famously observed, “you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

Because the Mail isn’t expressing an opinion about the BBC here – which it is perfectly entitled to do – it’s making up its own facts.  The BBC has never banned the use of BC and AD in favour of the more secular BCE and CE.

If the BBC had actually done this and the Mail didn’t like it then that’s fine – that’s their opinion.  But the Mail has made up a story where none previously existed, and it’s another worrying example of the Mail’s drift away from reality, away from facts, and towards…well, fiction.

And not good fiction – enjoyable and fun stories; rather, it seems to be fiction aimed at generating hatred and fear and anger.

You can’t have a proper working democracy when a significant section of the population are being told blatant lies and untruths, just as you can’t understand that 2+2=4 if you’re told that 2 is actually 3.

You don’t get to have your own facts.



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