EDITORIAL: Why are we so gullible?
By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
The Merriam-Webster dictionary speaks to the etymology of the word by saying, “… (gullible) descends from the verb gull, meaning “to deceive or take advantage of.” The verb “gull” was borrowed into English from Anglo-French in the mid-16th century.
Advertising agencies make fun of us for our willingness to accept next to anything on face value. There is an infamous State Farm Insurance commercial that highlights our gullibility with regard to, for example, the internet. Actor 1 says, “I didn’t think state farm had an app.” Actor 2: “Where did you hear that?” Actor 1: “On the internet. They can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true.” Actor 2: “And, where did you hear that?” Both actors in unison say, “On the internet”, followed by her obviously not French boyfriend walking up to the two, who she introduces as her French boyfriend who she met on the internet.
We laugh at commercials like this, making fun of the stupidity of these characters for so easily believing things they are told or shown. The jarring reality is that the reason these commercials are so popular is because we relate to them. How many times have we been suckered in by an infomercial by promises of extra stuff if we call now? How many times have we taken a stand for something or someone, only to find out that what or who we stood for betrayed us?
Deception is rarely blatant. If someone is in the business of deceiving you, it is unlikely that they are going to tell you up front or at any time that is their reason for communicating with you. Most who lie to you are on a mission. They are trying to gain a particular emotion or action from you that would not be normal if you had the facts or knew the truth.
In decades past, people counted on broadcast news, including newspapers, to provide unbiased, factual accounts of history in the making, or current events in the news. In recent years, so-called journalists have become celebrities and “experts in the field” who are routinely called upon to provide analysis of events, or to “explain” the news to the masses. What used to be a profession that demanded neutrality in reporting now invites writers to inject their opinion or spin on today’s news stories. In a bygone day, broadcast news and newspapers religiously segregated articles from commentary and dedicated separate sections of their publications to factual news and opinion.
Now, within many news organizations, that line has been blurred so badly that the viewer, many times, cannot distinguish between what is news and what is a reporter’s opinion. From national news to the local newspapers just off the Boundary, you may easily find slanted reporting. There have been several instances of the tribal government, Boundary entities, and tribal members being characterized incorrectly in headlines and articles locally.
As people realize that some established news media is not trustworthy, we question if any of the media is trustworthy. Then we start trying to find alternative sources for our information. We ask our friends and coworkers, who are all too ready to provide the 411. And, we are all too ready to believe them. They are our friends and coworkers. If we can’t trust them, who can we trust, right? So, we jump on social media and we watch our friends post materials that have questionable or no clear legitimate source and think, this must be true. Not only does my friend believe it, but it has 200,000 likes. How could that many people be wrong? Besides, what we are reading closely fits our own personal beliefs, so it leaves little doubt in our minds that it must be true. And, so we not only read and agree with it, we share with our group of friends, sheepishly spreading something that we really have no idea whether it is true or not.
Recent reporting has brought to light a very troubling fact about our gullibility. There are new internet entrepreneurs out there who are making names and money for themselves by intentionally publishing fake news. Their product is so professional and credible looking and sounding that many accept it as legitimate. Some say people are so convinced of these new fake news sources that the publishers are able to influence elections and cause riots with their posts.
It is more important than ever that we be able to trust the information that is put before us. It is equally important that we not accept anything at face value that we have not tested ourselves. From the media, look for signs that they recognize their obligation to a high level of integrity and ethics.
For example, the Tribal Council and Executive Office has mandated in law that the Cherokee One Feather adhere to the Code of Ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists. Not only is it mandated in tribal law, our writers and editorial board include it in the policies and procedures of the paper. It doesn’t mean that a reporter couldn’t inject his opinion into a story at our paper, but it does mean that he/she is aware that if they are recognized for doing it that there are consequences and that he/she would be violating their own standard. Contrast that with some of the local news media who not only allow their reporters to editorialize in news stories, their editors and publishers endorse the practice.
The late John Wayne, an actor, is often attributed with saying, “Life is hard. Life is harder if you’re stupid.”
There is a cost to gullibility. A good bit of the current chaos in the Tribe and in our nation is because we do not fact check for ourselves. As a people, we have not pushed for the transparency that we demanded during the elections of 2015. We need law that provides ready access to records and remedies that do not require individuals and media to go to court if information is not disseminated according to law. We need public information officers in place that will provide access to information readily and not use silence to sidestep requests for information. Just as importantly, we need to continue to strive for independence in control of your newspaper, establishing an arbitrary editorial board made up of community members and experts in journalism. The Cherokee One Feather belongs to the people of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who have a right to expect unbiased, truthful reporting from their newspaper.
And, we need to be vigilant. We shouldn’t accept things as fact until we have done our own research. More importantly, we shouldn’t jump on anyone’s bandwagon unless we know that what they espouse is true and legitimate. We expose ourselves to ridicule and, worse yet, do damage to others, when we gossip and accept things as fact that we, for example, “heard on the internet”.
Example? A quick fact check at snopes.com reveals that John Wayne never uttered the word publicly, “Life is hard. Life is harder if you’re stupid.” Yet thousands, if not millions, of people believe that those are the words of the Duke. Up until a few moments ago, were you one of them?