Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Demonizing and Media Bias

In the interest of total disclosure, for those who do not already know, I am a supporter of the Second Amendment and of gun rights. I do not believe gun control is the answer to the violence seen in the USA.

I have had many a discussion about media bias of late. It is no secret, among those on the political right that CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC are all left-leaning organizations. It is demonstrated by the softball treatment this administration has received from those working for the above.

It is also no secret on the left that Fox News is right-leaning. Fox is often vilified as "Faux" news, but that is by people who believe what they hear, not what they watch. Many news outlets have commentary shows (shows in which the journalistic slant is more opinion than hard fact). This is not the type of show one would expect to hear JUST the news; it is a show on which the host states his/her perspective and invites guests on to either support or refute that perspective. I believe those who vilify Fox News are doing so based on their knowledge of the commenters. In fact, Fox News has reported factual events, just like many of the other above-mentioned outlets.

But there is commentary. On Fox, you'll find Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity discussing their views of the news, and yes, they take a hard right turn when they do.

On CNN, you'll find the increasingly pompous Piers Morgan (who tends to interrupt his guests and overshout them when they begin to answer in ways he does not see as forwarding his agenda - example found here). MSNBC has Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz to name two.

But my example from MSNBC tonight comes with an insidious example of irresponsible journalism (if it can be called journalism at all). Recently, there was a  hearing before the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, CT, attended by parents of some of the victims at Sandy Hook school in Newtown. The tragedy was horrific, and the hearing had some of the most difficult, emotional testimony one could hear.

One of those testifying was Neil Heslin, whose son was one of the 6-year-old victims. Mr. Heslin testified in a breaking voice, and the hearings were video recorded.

MSNBC released a heavily edited video and this:

Heslin asked why anyone needs assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Gun rights activists replied, “Our rights will not be infringed!” and “Second Amendment!” Local news sources reported that there were nearly a dozen hecklers, who were quickly silenced.
Only the full video was released hours later, in which it is clear that there was no heckling; in fact, Mr. Heslin asked the question and no one replied. They respected him enough to stay silent. He asked the question again and this time, there were simple responses. The respondents were silenced by the public official in the room. However, print media, social media and television outlets picked up the edited, skewed story, and gun rights advocates were vilified for something they did not do.

The website Twitchy collects tweets to expose such irregularities; founded by Michelle Malkin, a conservative blogger, the site frequently captures the tweets (many times deleted after she has culled them - which she points out as well) and responses from both left and right.

Twitchy's story about the non-heckling hit the Internet and outrage over the outrage ensued. Rightfully so. When there is something to own up to, and video coverage of it, people will own up to it; but when there is an already-inflamed issue (such as gun rights), an impossibly emotional milieu (such as Newtown), and a deeply divided country such as the USA, there is no excuse for such irresponsible actions except that it has been done to push an agenda. Why else would a story be so badly twisted as to misrepresent the very people the "reporters" view as on the wrong side?

Tonight, MSNBC finally retracted its tweet. Sort of.

Not an apology. Not really a retraction - just the story repeated and the full video posted. It garnered questions from many followers of the Twitter account, asking "so? Heckled or not?" In my opinion, when such an egregious misstep is made, the responsible parties should retract, clarify, (which this is NOT) and state the facts ("Father NOT heckled during testimony at gun hearing" would have done nicely).

Anderson Cooper is another culprit. He tweeted:

(note "Tweet does not exist" at the top - this is a screen shot from Twitter when attempting to reply to a deleted tweet). He was challenged about his tweet - once again by Twitchy's Michelle Malkin - and deleted it, replacing it with:

Too many people saw it, though; and it once again demonstrates the rush to judge those whose opinions differ from one's own. Granted, CNN is left leaning, as is Anderson Cooper, but not to verify a story that has already been corrected for hours is shoddy.

Slate.com retracted their story. Other outlets began to follow suit. At the time of this writing, the only site still "reporting" this as fact is Huffington Post (which is not a news site at all, but a glorified blog; still, it has enough of a following to require facts and verification). I have written and reported the error to the author of their story, urging them not to take it down but to update it. It has garnered 32,046 comments, most of those indictments against "gun nuts", "insensitive radicals" and the right in general. Many comments (my own included) attempt to clarify the event but I find with sites like these, commenters simply post and run, not checking back for any sort of reaction or correction.

I would be the first person to be shocked, and angered if this story were, in fact true. I would call out those who had the insensitivity to push their agenda when a grieving father is speaking his heart. I would be ashamed of those who may hold my same views but do not have the same respect for those who oppose them. That, however, is not the case today.

Instead, I find myself shocked and angered because the story is not only not true, it has been pushed and the fires stoked against 2nd Amendment advocates who showed only respect at the hearing as has been reported by those present.

HuffPo's short video about the incident also includes a very miniscule clip of another father's testimony. Mark Mattioli lost his son that day too. HuffPo has a clip of him saying he wants more gun laws. This, in fact, is a gross distortion of what he said.  They quote him as saying he believes in simple gun laws, when in fact that was a sliver of what he said. Mark Mattioli, instead, showed tremendous courage in departing from the commonly held view among his peers. This is a man who has every right to want every gun banned. This is a man who has every right to vilify anyone who wants to own a gun. We would understand. He lost the most precious entity any parent could lose.

But Mark Mattioli actually said he did not want more gun laws. He even stated that should they name a gun law after his murdered son, he would not want it. He asked for civility across the nation, and individual accountability.  HuffPo did not report that. It doesn't go with their views. It is courageous, and it is heartwrenching, but it doesn't fit their agenda. So Mr. Mattioli's remarks are misrepresented as well. His thoughts are dishonored. His honoring his son...is dishonored by those who leave him out of their reports.

It cannot be disputed, no matter one's opinion on this issue, that HuffPo is one of several outlets misrepresenting actual facts. And this is just a small example of the larger problem. People tend to read shorter accounts of the news, or watch short clips for their current events. A CBS news report in 2011 found that:

A poll released earlier this year by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 21 percent of people aged 18 to 29 cited "The Daily Show" and "Saturday Night Live" as a place where they regularly learned presidential campaign news.
The two shows mentioned are satire and parody shows, not news sources at all.

Twitter has become a place where news is disseminated on a minute-to-minute basis. Twitter is where the truth unfolded about the so-called heckling (and was also where it began in the first place). Twitter can be enlightening and misleading all at the same time.

Is social media to blame? It is hard to conclude that at this point (but is something I am deeply interested in researching). News sources are very much at fault for their tendencies to opine instead of report. Whatever happened to the facts of stories?

I recently had a discussion with a local reporter who claims that the viewer's bias is the only bias present but I differed with him then, and differ with him here. The skewed story of something that did not happen was the fabrication of a "news" outlet (MSNBC) which took the time to edit the raw footage in order to suggest another slant to the event. This is completely out of the viewer's control and an objective example of media bias.

Do we want our media to demonize those with whom they disagree? Do we want them to lionize those on their side? On either side of the fence, do we want opinions or do we want facts? What has happened to journalism?

I would ordinarily hope that today's lesson would not be repeated; sadly, I do not believe that is true. I can only hope those reading my words will be a little more discerning about what they read. Verify the sources. Cross-check amongst all the sources online (there is no lack of online sources) and verify by checking both perspectives. Some people like to be fed their news without questioning it. I can only hope I will reach those who want the truth, and that truth can only come from verifying sources, facts, and questioning until every last question is adequately answered. I'm not asking anyone to take one view or the other - merely to question whether it is news they are hearing, or whether there is a way to verify that report.

I blogged last time about critical thinking skills in email and Facebook hoaxes. The sentiment and methods I suggested carry over to our understanding of current events. Be a critical thinker in your own world. Spoon feeding ended when we learned to feed ourselves.

Otherwise, you become a person who thinks what they are told to think. Is that what you really want?

Think about it...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Critical Thinking

**While this entry deals mostly with Facebook, the scams date back, many of them, to email hoaxes which still make the rounds today. Any of the resource sites below will help you debunk any emails that may come your way**

I began collecting examples for this blog a while back. I was beginning to see a resurgence of fake "WARNINGS", and "ALERTS" on Facebook, those that had already made the round a few years ago and were returning. Such as the fake amber alert attributed to a Quebec driver who kidnapped a little girl: (click on photo to see enlarged, then back button to return to the blog)

*screen capture courtesy of snopes.com

This one has several incarnations and I see it reposted a couple of times a year.

Then there are the WARNINGS! about Facebook changes. The panic that ensues when someone posts something like this:

This only serves to cause people to repost a scam, over and over, to their walls, causing their friends to do the same, and thinking they are doing people a favor, this spreads from user to user. It is not harmful but it is incorrect "information".

Then this has made the rounds too:

This one was extremely difficult because the "instructions" to stop the evil Facebook from publishing everything you have ever written to everyone in the world actually prevented users from seeing their friends' feeds. It, in essence, blocked any activity from the friends the user "unsubscribed" from, essentially defeating the purpose of Facebook.

Scammers love this. They watch people try to protect themselves with bogus information and when someone actually looks up the scam (not difficult to do if you know how to use Google or any other search engine), and corrects the user, the myriad Facebookers who have gone through the tedious instructions one-by-one through their friends' list (sometimes in the hundreds) have to now undo everything they have done.

I have posted corrections to the scams as I've seen them emerge. I have posted them as anti-WARNING warnings on my own wall, I have commented numerous times on the postings of my friends, along with instructions and advice I am offering here. I have still seen these scams and hoaxes return over and over, sometimes the same ones, sometimes slightly changed. I have been called "the internet police".  I have been told where to go with my warnings and I have actually been unfriended by someone who passive-aggressively attacked me on her own wall because I was posting these quite frequently (that's okay - being unfriended by someone means they weren't a friend in the first place...hmmmmmm....new blog post....)

Back to our subject at hand:

Now the trend is to make poster-type inspirational quotes and upload them. There's nothing wrong with that. I have done it, reposting the ones I enjoy.

But the latest comes in the past week, where I have seen this posted quite a lot:

You may agree with the sentiment. You may believe that technology causes idiocy (that is a blog topic for another day). I've even seen one blog with this very quote and an entire paragraph on Einstein "rolling in his grave" because he is being proven right.

Except for one thing: Einstein never said this. I found an Einstein quote about technology:

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."
Trouble is, I was fooled by that one too - finding it on several "famous quotes" sites, I thought it was the Einstein quote being twisted in the above meme. However, Einstein did not say this either. It is an invented Einstein quote in the film "Powder" (1995).

Again, it is easy to believe something when it is posted with a serious photo, a pretty font, A WARNING HIGHLIGHT or a believable argument.

But if we do not model critical thinking, if we do not exercise it every single day, then we become the antithesis of humanity, following trends, following what seems to be correct but never checking for ourselves.

It's easy to verify these things. I have been a fan of Snopes for about as long as I've been online. It became my go-to site when I fell for the same warnings I see happening now. I felt stupid, and gullible, and I wanted to prevent it from happening again. Going to that site is rote for me, whenever I see something posted on Facebook. It used to be my habit to check something outlandish. Then something almost believable but that raised my alarm bells as to veracity. Now, it's a regular habit. And I would like to try to prevent it from happening to my friends.

Scammers and hoaxsters are playing on our vulnerability, on our need to understand the world, and yes, on our humanity. They know that there are inherently good, kind people who will want to be the ones to warn their friends, educate their followers, and stop Evil in its tracks. And I know that's why so many of my friends post these warnings; they read them, their instinct is to become effective, and they spread the word. (it is why I am friends with you guys - your intentions are always well meaning; it is also what frustrates me when I post the same corrections with links to verify for yourselves, over and over and still see this stuff happening).

Posting warnings and stories works when there ARE true warnings. I have posted missing-children stories, animals who need adopting from our local SPCA, and many lovely inspirations as well. But I have done so with verifiable sources - that is the key.

Hoaxsters don't mean any harm - just mischief. But they win if we do not become critical thinkers in our everyday activity.

Ironically - this bogus Einstein quote has become self-referential in how many times it is "quoted" and reposted. Perhaps the hoaxster who put this together is having a bigger laugh at how prescient the quote has become.

Think for yourselves. See, if we all began checking these things, the scammers would never get far at all. My group of friends could post to their groups of friends, and we could mobilize a force of anti-scammers, anti-hoaxsters that would slow them down, if not stop them. Sure, they'll come up with new and different ways to play on our gullibility but let's continue to think critically.

There are many beautiful, sobering, astounding, inspirational, mind-blowing quotes out there; chances are they will all, at some point, be attributed to someone else, twisted in word or meaning, or are - from the beginning - manufactured for the amusement of smaller minds who have nothing better to do than watch their invented ideas make the rounds (sometimes even to national news media).

I'm not saying you should stop posting many of the wonderful things I also share from so many of you; we can all use some beauty and inspiration, humor and yes, cat pictures. But you should start questioning everything you read as attributed to famous people, as well as the veracity of the myriad warnings you will no doubt continue to see posted.

And you should not become the conduit for falsehoods or misguided ideas. If you do, we can then say that whomever it is who wrote this quote....was right.

Other Sources To Check:

Hoax Slayers 
(they also have a Facebook page, a newsletter and are highly trustworthy to debunk the myths)

(Facebook page as well, newsletter as well, and they will provide you practice advice in the world of technology and social media as well as debunking the myths)

(This site will debunk urban legends, not specifically Facebook hoaxes, but many of these legends find their way to Facebook and people tend to believe them)
Or just Google part of the "warning" or the quote; chances are the first hit you will get will be Snopes. 

(I will continue on this topic in the coming days; it is beginning to run rampant across social media platforms of all types)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sometimes It's About More Than The Win



(let me get this out of the way - most people reading this will already know that the Habs lost 2-1 last night. Okay, bandaid's off, on with the blog)

Thrilled that my optimism had paid off, and hockey was returning this season, I immediately set out to try and get tickets for the opening night. I wanted to take my kids to the game because it was, after all, the opening night, a post-lockout opener, and it was Habs vs. Leafs. So last Sunday, I sat online and scored tickets in the Family Zone where it's affordable and where it's just as exciting to attend a Habs game. We could hardly wait and finally, the day was here.

Clad in all our Habs gear (yes, I will rock my PK Subban jersey because I KNOW he will sign), we made our way to the Bell Centre in a heavy snowfall. Got to our seats and waited for the opening ceremony. One thing our Habs organization never fails to do is put on a good show replete with history and class.

Yvon Cournoyer - a former Captain - was seen on the huge Jumbo-tron, holding a torch (this year's battle cry for our Habs is "Raise The Torch" - and for those who are unfamiliar with why, our dressing room has the following line from the poem "In Flanders Field":

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.

The torch has come to symbolize our pride and our history, brought out every playoff game to "light" the animated flames projected on the ice. Very effective and very dramatic.

So there was Captain Cournoyer - and to our delight, he was walking down the section adjacent to ours - so close to a legend!

Next came another Habs legend: Henri Richard. He held a torch and descended his section across the arena. And Vinnie Damphousse. And the Moment of the Night: Captain Jean Béliveau holding a torch at ice level. Jean Béliveau suffered a 2nd stroke last Spring, and has made a beautiful recovery from this one as well. Mr. Béliveau is more than a legend - he is a true Icon of our hockey team, and our city. When he made his appearance, an already-excited crowd erupted in a minutes-long standing ovation. It was hard to keep tears of emotion back. This man is a true miracle. His presence in the arena elicits reverence from those in attendance, young and old. And he is known for his warmth, his friendliness, and his appreciation of all this city's fans.

Mr. Béliveau passed the torch to our current Captain, Brian Gionta, whose presence at center ice heightened the excitement and ovation. He then passed the torch to each player as they were announced and skated out to center ice.

For a fanbase that had been encouraged to boycott hockey, the place was rocking. The noise level went beyond anything I had experienced there before, and by the time every player was on the ice, my throat was raw from cheering my team. My kids were starry-eyed. They are  older teens, but their demeanors are candid, upbeat, and spontaneous. I leaned over to my younger son and said, "Jean Béliveau is our miracle...God bless him." (we are not religious but there is a deep spirituality this man evokes in me) My son smiled and nodded in agreement, unable to take his eyes off this icon we were watching. It was a moment shared that constituted a highlight of my evening.

Okay, the game. It wasn't great. And let me start by saying I am probably the world's biggest Habs apologist. I can't say anything negative about my team. Even if they've earned it. I just can't. And I get offended and rabidly defensive when other people do - even if they are doing their job and analyzing a game.

But our guys weren't there. They were disorganized, and it was frustrating, and nerve-wracking. And what made it worse were the Maple Leafs fans in the row ahead of me...obnoxious, loud, drunk...and celebrating the 2 goals their team scored in the first period.

Granted, we got penalties and that didn't help. It didn't help that one of the powerplay goals scored by the Leafs was on a bogus call on Pleky (which turned out to be the deciding goal - pretty much as prophesied by Dave Stubbs).

Granted, we were missing passes, not taking shots, and effectively held off from generating any offense. When Captain Gionta scored our only goal with 6 minutes left in the game, I pretty much lost my voice, screaming my excitement, loving how peeved the Leafs boys were in front of me, and high-fiving perfect strangers in solidarity. It energized us even if it would be the only triumphant moment of the game.

But you know what? It felt awesome to be back. The electricity was ramped up, the feeling of just being a part of this fan base and most of all, sharing it with my sons. I feel lucky that they never expressed a "can we just go alone or with our friends?" (they both had friends who were there in groups) but that they didn't mind being out en famille. These are the precious moments I know I will cherish for a lifetime, and the moments I wanted to create for them from the time they were born.

Sure, it hurts to lose. It hurts to lose against the Leafs. And it wasn't the way opening night should have felt at the end of the evening. But it was one game. We'll get it back together and we'll have what I believe to be a much better season than last year. And I don't believe the fans who were there walked away completely disgruntled. One of the things about any sport is that teams win and teams lose. There HAD to be a winner tonight and it wasn't our turn. There will be victories this season. I'm sure of it.

However, it wasn't a total loss, not for me.

From a personal standpoint, last night was a wonderful evening. Riding home on the subway, watching my kids, I felt an overwhelming pride in them, and a deep gratitude that they still enjoy spending time with me. When we're home, everyone's spread out. There are computers and consoles and devices with which to communicate and commune, and that's normal. We still enjoy together time, but it isn't as concentrated as it is when we go out together. And last night, it occurred to me that while yes, attending a Habs game is a huge highlight for me (and for my kids), it is the memories created that are the underscoring reward in this type of outing.

So while I'm pretty bummed out that my team didn't win, I had a hugely successful evening that will be repeated next time I can get tickets to a game.

Because in the end, it's about more than the win.

(and because hockey is back, and our mantra is back, allow me to add:)

Go Habs GO!!!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Boycott Hockey?

First, let me get this out of the way:


Okay, now that I've stated the obvious, let me discuss the plan of action.  Specifically, boycotting hockey.

Those words stick in my blogging craw. I'm a Habs fan, and that isn't just the practice of following one's team, being happy when they win, complaining when they don't, blah blah blah. That is in one's blood. Seriously, here in Montreal, it is compared to religion. And while I'm not making this a religious (or sacrilegious) conversation, I have to say there is a deep-seated loyalty that one could easily compare to that of religious beliefs. The loyalty that comes from knowing the team will be great and not so great at any given time. The loyalty that comes from knowing that we'll see good players come and go. The loyalty that comes from the pride in our franchise - the most Cups won, the oldest in the league, the one that has turned out most of the hockey greats in the storied Hall of Fame. A faith that goes beyond thinking.

That loyalty is not one that can easily be erased.

When the lockout was announced in September - no, even before that, with the rumblings of certainty so many in the business were warning us about - I felt a sinking in my soul. An emptiness that was exacerbated by the lack of playoffs for my team last season, and the terrible season we had in 2011-2012. After that season, I renewed my hopes for this year. I felt that my team - and its new management - would recoup our losses, come out of the 2012-13 gates on fire, and show us all (and the hockey world) what the Montreal Canadiens are all about: pride, talent, and victory.

But the lockout extended the very long off-season and this being my first lockout (I became a fan in the magical playoff season of 2010 - no longer a Scoreboard Celebrant but an actual follower of the game and all it entails), I did not know what to expect. The previous lockouts were a blip on my radar. No hockey? Whatever. But now? No hockey? SAY WHAT?!

I remained hopeful and optimistic that there would be a season. I followed the analysts on Twitter and radio, television and newspapers, websites and apps, and took the sides of those who believed, dismissing those who did not. Again, all new territory for me.

Then, the announcement after Day 113 of the lockout: the CBA had been ratified, the season would proceed, and hockey would begin again, albeit a truncated season. It didn't matter. 48 games are better than 47, and infinitely better than none!

And then came the rumblings of BOYCOTT. I'd read many a follower on Twitter vowing to boycott the NHL. Not buy the merchandise, not subscribe to Center Ice, and definitely not go to games. Again, my mind could not assimilate that: not go to games? How could anyone give up the chance?

I haven't been to a lot of games. A family outing at the Bell Center is not cheap, even in the cheap seats! But when we've been able, I've gone to games with my kids, enjoying their excitement, and sharing in something that is so much a part of their lives. Going to games has to be affordable, and when it is, it is truly a memorable outing. I may not have attended many games but I can recall each and every single game I have gone to, with the same exhilaration at experiencing the Bell Center.

Imagining a boycott - not going to games because it will "show the NHL that their fans aren't going to take this anymore" - was foreign to me. Not just as a fan but as a logical and (I'd like to immodestly state) intellectual thinker. Hockey fans - in my world, anyway - are all or nothing. You're a fan, or you're not. Therefore, fans can't boycott, can they? It's in the blood!

I'd like to say that those who have decided not to go to games, or not to buy merchandise, that is their right and I respect their right to express their disappointment with the NHL. But I can't share it. I am too invested, emotionally, in this team, its players, its history, and the pleasure I get from watching games (either on TV or in person) and sharing that with my boys.

So I have to wonder how serious the boycott really is. There are those who will not go back. They'll watch on TV (but I'm wondering how soon it will be before they NEED to go to a game once they get into the Habs season, especially after the victories I will optimistically predict on this page). They'll read about it, they'll follow the games or the results thereof.

However, tickets for two games went on sale this morning. 21,273 seats at the Bell Center. Not counting the season ticket holders, those who bought advance tickets (if they were available), the seats that went up for purchase this morning sold out within the hour. Did people spend money to boycott the games? I think not. Will they, as one Montrealer has urged, show up at the Bell Center Saturday night, with their tickets, and stand at the door refusing to go in, only to go watch at the local pub, only to show the NHL and the world that there are empty seats where there should be screaming fans? For the money tickets cost, it would be foolhardy for people to do that. I'm betting that when my family attends Saturday's game, we will be a handful of people in a sea of faithful fans, there to cheer on our team.

One more thing: I did not take sides in the NHL dispute. I don't know enough about it to opine, but I do know that the players wanted to be on the ice and would have played with an expired CBA had the commisioner allowed that to happen. It was Gary Bettman who made the lockout happen and again, while I'm not pointing fingers, there is no love lost between me - or any fan - and Gary Bettman.

And because I know the players would have been on the ice (from various interviews they'd given, various charity games they played and their subsequently going to play in the Russian and European leagues till the NHL was back), why would anyone want to penalize these hard-working young men who go out there and leave it all on the ice every single game? I would cringe if they came out to a smattering of applause instead of the thunderous building-shaking they get every night. I'd be embarrassed for my city if the Habs faced a less-than-capacity crowd.

I don't believe that will happen. I believe Montreal will make us all proud again - and show our loyalty and love for our Canadiens.

So let the games begin...I, for one, can hardly wait to rock my PK Subban jersey (please sign him, Mr. Molson!) and cheer my team as they step onto the ice for the first time since last April.  I am proud to be a Habs fan, and I am proud to be a Montrealer. Let's welcome the guys back in style!

Go Habs GO!!!