Friday, June 30, 2006

Holding The Media Accountable, Part 1 of 2 (for today)

My conversations with local newspaper editors have so far been fruitful. Friday's Eureka Reporter is already online with the following and I'm told today's Eureka Times-Standard will carry another new essay I wrote this week. The two pieces come from different directions and end up in the same place, calling for a community forum on media accountability.

* * *

Self-delusion and ruthless honesty

by Dave Berman, 6/29/2006

Reporter Editor Glenn Franco Simmons recently wrote a provocative editorial about the need to be honest with ourselves and to reconcile the inconsistencies between our actions and ideals. “We’re all guilty,” Simmons wrote, of this “self-delusion.”

I see this common experience as human nature. Our brains seem wired to lie to us in order to make sense of a chaotic and contradictory world. Guest columnist Larry Hourany recently cited “confirmation bias” as one way our minds tend to deceive us in order to fix new facts around the policies of our lives.

I have written about this many times, including in my book, “We Do Not Consent” (free .pdf download: Countering self-delusions requires more than just honesty. We must practice “ruthless honesty.” This means matching what we say we believe with how we act on those beliefs. Simmons used the example of environmentalists who don’t fully acknowledge their own environmental impact. When we are ruthlessly honest we walk the talk.

While ruthless honesty is a reflective, inward exercise, once understood it becomes very tempting to help others see their own self-delusions. This can be tricky because people will often become defensive if told they are believing lies, much less that they are lying to themselves. The most useful approach I have found relies upon what Donald Rumsfeld calls “known unknowns,” or things we know we don’t know.

Many things we don’t know are actually things that can’t be known — exactly how many stars there are in the sky or grains of sand on the beach. Other things can’t be known because conflicting accounts divide public opinion about what constitutes truth or reality. Merely pointing out such examples can be dicey because some people will want to cling to what they think they “know,” not allowing for the possibility that it is “unknowable.”

So at the risk of Humboldt County’s many gentle, fragile psyches, consider whether we can really be sure about what happened on Sept. 11, for example, when many inconsistencies and scientific impossibilities in the official story have raised questions that remain not only unanswered, but also unasked by media.

“We don’t do body counts,” said U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks about the death toll in Iraq. That alone is an admission that the total is not known, or at least won’t be revealed. The inability or unwillingness of media to investigate, quantify and report means that again we cannot precisely know the human cost to the war.

And the topic I write about most frequently, elections, is the most glaring of all. In the last federal election, and again in the next one, roughly 30 percent of the votes in the country will be cast on paperless electronic machines. If we can’t recount the votes, how can we be sure — and verifiably prove, over and over if necessary — that the reported results match the will of the people?

Even locally, where votes are cast on paper, they are counted by computers using secret programming code. The public, media and even elections officials are prevented from scrutinizing this programming because the machine manufacturer, Diebold, claims a “proprietary” privilege. Space prohibits me from detailing the many official reports and news stories explaining how easily manipulated these machines are. To learn more, go to and click on the Voting section.

For our purpose here, the ruthlessly honest point is that we are placing blind trust in the secret vote-counting machines, the elections department and then media that pass on the elections department’s results without verifying them or stopping to realize that they can’t be proven. Under current election conditions, there is no rational basis for confidence in the results reported. They are, by definition, unknowable.

Throughout these examples, and many others, media are the common component. Of course, it is said, “Don’t believe everything you read” (or see on TV), but what is presented to the public by media has an undeniable influence on our perception of reality. When unknowable information is presented as fact, the public buys into a dangerous fantasy and the media have betrayed our trust.

The creation of a rift in the perception of reality is, by my estimation, the single-biggest cause of what is often called the culture war, or the red state/blue state divide. I actually think of it as a cold civil war. If we want to keep it from going hot, we need to find better ways to communicate. Ruthless honesty is a good starting point, especially if taken from the point of view that not everything can be known for certain.

I am proposing something specific now so that we can take a measured step toward improving this communication. This community would benefit greatly from a forum on media accountability. There should be a panel of local media decision-makers prepared to answer questions, and be held accountable for setting new policies that prevent reporting what can’t be proven or independently verified.

Specifically regarding our elections, on the line is nothing less than the viability of our democracy and the credibility of our media. We must count our ballots by hand to verify the results otherwise determined only by Diebold’s secret counting machines. For media to be believable in reporting election results, we must have them fully supporting and documenting this verification process.

(Eureka resident Dave Berman is a founding member of the Voter Confidence Committee of Humboldt County. He writes regularly in his blog:


Posted by Dave Berman - 12:55 AM | Permalink
Comments (1 So Far) | Top of Page | WDNC Main Page

Read or Post a Comment


There is another category of "unknowns" -- those that we don't even know we don't know. Those can come from lack of education/information, lack of curiosity, closed eyes, listening to propaganda ...

I think the editorial makes some good points about responsibility. Is the least we can do good enough when we're talking about major issues like global warming and secure elections? We can't afford to shut our eyes (let there be unknowns that we're not aware of) on these two. Our health, welfare and the future depend on us staying wide-eyed and continuing to ask questions. Which the media plays a big part in (or can).


Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ Jun 30, 2006, 11:43:00 PM
Permalink to comment | Top of Page | WDNC Main Page
<< Home
As shown on
Dave's new blog,
Manifest Positivity

We Do Not Consent, Volume 1 (left) and Volume 2 (right), feature essays from Dave Berman's previous blogs, GuvWurld and We Do Not Consent, respectively. Click the covers for FREE e-book versions (.pdf). As of April 2010, paperbacks are temporarily out of print. Click here for the author's bio.

Back Page Quotes

"Give a damn about the world you live in? Give a damn about what you and I both know is one of the most shameful and destructive periods in American history? If so, do something about it. You can start by reading We Do Not Consent."

— Brad Friedman, Creator/Editor,; Co-Founder,

"If in the future we have vital elections, the "no basis for confidence" formulation that GuvWurld is popularizing will have been a historically important development. This is true because by implicitly insisting on verification and checks and balances instead of faith or trust in elections officials or machines as a basis for legitimacy, it encourages healthy transparent elections. It’s also rare that a political formulation approaches scientific certainty, but this formulation is backed up by scientific principles that teach that if you can’t repeat something (such as an election) and verify it by independent means, it doesn’t exist within the realm of what science will accept as established or proven truth."

— Paul Lehto, Attorney at Law, Everett, WA

"Dave Berman has been candid and confrontational in challenging all of us to be "ruthlessly honest" in answering his question, "What would be better?" He encourages us to build consensus definitions of "better," and to match our words with actions every day, even if we do only "the least we can do." Cumulatively and collectively, our actions will bring truth to light."

— Nezzie Wade, Sociology Professor, Humboldt State University and College of the Redwoods

"Dave Berman's work is quietly brilliant and powerfully utilitarian. His Voter Confidence Resolution provides a fine, flexible tool whereby any community can reclaim and affirm a right relation to its franchise as a community of voters."

— Elizabeth Ferrari, San Francisco, Green Party of California

"This is an important collection of essays with a strong unitary theme: if you can't prove that you were elected, we can't take you seriously as elected officials. Simple, logical, comprehensive. 'Management' (aka, the 'powers that be') needs to get the message. 'The machines' are not legitimizers, they're an artful dodge and a path to deception. We've had enough...and we most certainly DO NOT consent."

— Michael Collins covers the election fraud beat for "Scoop" Independent Media

"What's special about this book (and it fits because there's nothing more fundamental to Democracy than our vote) is the raising of consciousness. Someone recognizing they have no basis for trusting elections may well ask what else is being taken for granted."

— Eddie Ajamian, Los Angeles, CA

"I urge everyone to read "We Do Not Consent", and distribute it as widely as possible."

— B Robert Franza MD, author of We the People ... Have No Clothes: A Pamphlet for every American