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The power to inform and misinform

08/21/2008

By Anne Bordonaro

Today I received a provocative email purporting to demonstrate through statistical "research" that when Muslims reach a certain percentage of a country's population, that country is at risk of being taken over and subverted. It was sent to a number of folks in The Valley. Coincidentally, today there was also an opinion piece in the <MI>Burlington Free Press<D> arguing against Burlington Telecom's decision to continue to broadcast Al-Jazeera. The author of the piece insists that, according to "other (unnamed) news sources," Al-Jazeera celebrates terrorists who brutally murder little girls because they are Jews. 

These two pieces worry me because they point out the amazing power to distort and misrepresent information that exists with our plethora of media today. Anyone can write or publish anything they want. Throw in a few statistics, or a title or organization after your name, and it looks even more compelling. I'm not advocating censorship. However, as individuals we must be responsible readers who maintain a healthy skepticism about everything we read and demand to see the sources and the evidence. And we must teach our kids and the students in our schools, who rely more and more on information they receive through emails, text messages, and the Internet, to do the same.

As I looked into the background of the author of the book upon whom the "analysis" in the email was based, it was clear that this person is not an objective social scientist but instead a racist, fear-mongering minister connected to a rightwing evangelical Christian missionary organization. I can't say the same about the woman who wrote the editorial in the BFP. But she presents no independently verifiable evidence to justify her claims, never mind the fact that her argument flies in the face of volumes of other evidence about the objectivity of the news organization.

The destructive persistence of the rumors about Obama being a closet Muslim that continue to circulate on the Net, not to mention the failure of news organizations to independently verify the information on pre-war intelligence put out by the White House, make clear the power of all media to misinform as well as to inform.

Anne Bordonaro lives in Waitsfield.
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