Monday, November 06, 2006

You can’t believe all you read, you know...

Whilst one naturally takes into account that all print media appear to have their own slant on the news, politics, celebrities, fashion, and so on, it’s interesting to see how that bias can in turn influence one’s own opinions. It’s said that there are two ways to lie: suppressio veri and suggestio falsi. Most magazine articles, unless the journalist in question hasn’t done his/her research, or is completely unscrupulous, steer clear of outright lies. Even when this is done, the moderately-informed reader can generally detect this.

Suppression of the truth, or the bits of the truth that don’t happen to fit, however, is another matter entirely. The facts are generally correct, but the reader is not presented with the full story, and so is unable to reason based on full disclosure.

This sudden realisation (perhaps rather late in coming) was sparked by reading an article about Hispanic immigration into America in this week’s New Statesman (an admittedly left-wing-biased publication). A short feature about Eva Longoria was also included with the longer article by Mario Vargas Llosa. Now, I don’t know much about Longoria, apart from the fact that she’s an actress, who plays an unfaithful wife in Desperate Housewives. Previous press articles have suggested that she’s rather a vain, self-obsessed woman, and have not hinted at the fact that she might have a brain or a social conscience. Yet the New Statesman’s feature suggested that she has both, and campaigns for the Democrats. Unlike many other high-profile Hollywood Democrats, however, she’s actively campaigned to raise the status and positive profile of Hispanic Americans, whether illegal or not. The feature makes the comment that a journalist from Maxim (a men’s magazine), was utterly taken aback when interviewing her, to find someone who tried to use the interview to highlight her concerns. A far cry, I daresay, from the article which finally appeared.

The presentation of celebrities in the press can be equally skewed through no fault of the journalist, however. Stars’ PR people can be oddly determined that journalists shall portray the accepted view of their star, and not allow any questions on subjects that may show another light. Nicole Richie, for example, is generally portrayed as an airhead blonde bimbo, though she is apparently quite intelligent and interested in more weighty matters than her PR allows, according to one journalist (the encounter, apparently, led to the hack in question giving up celebrity reporting). But what purpose does this serve? Why would it be in Ms Richie’s interest to appear less intelligent than she actually is? And why would her PR actively encourage this view of her client?

Admittedly, most people would like to portray the good bits of their personalities. So-called "celebrities" may well be as vain, shallow and meretricious as they appear to be, but if they are not allowed to express themselves completely, how can we discriminate? Let's have the whole truth and make up our own minds.


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