Two unrelated features in the news have been swirling around in my brain like, say, a cup of hot coffee. That somehow entered my brain. Never mind.
1. The New York Times is running a fascinating series looking back at stories in the news and how they were reported — and misreported — at the time. Scalded By Coffee, Then The News tells the familiar tale of the woman who got rich by suing because hot coffee was hot (there’s a documentary called Hot Coffee too but the NYT video is like the Coles Notes version). Only she didn’t get rich and that wasn’t the point of her suit. The media at the time got facts wrong and didn’t present some facts that changed my mind later: the horrific pictures of the 79 year old woman’s injuries and the history of McDonald’s callousness. She wanted her medical bills paid — mere coffee money to the company, who knew about and ignored other such injuries, and only took action, as companies will, when it became a legal and financial obligation. Some of you will watch the retro report or documentary and still believe the suit was frivolous. But think about how simple facts were distorted and others not reported at all.
2. A couple weeks ago I was asked to be part of a panel discussion on CBC’s The Current about a controversial column by The Globe and Mail‘s TV critic John Doyle, in which he claimed the “golden age” of television (think Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Mad Men) had bypassed the Canadian TV industry. I was on the side of “maybe, but …” in the half-hour discussion, hosted by the respected Anna Maria Tremonti and including Doyle, former Toronto Star TV critic Rob Salem and the CBC’s Sally Catto. I think the four of us on the panel — and any knowledgeable listener — would agree that we barely scratched the surface of the issues with Canadian TV and with Doyle’s column. (OK, Doyle wouldn’t agree with the second part of that.) And we had four reasonable, non-shouting-each-other-down people talking for half an hour with a skilled moderator. Think about the average amount of time the news generally spends on an issue in one stretch and how many times panel discussions are presented simply as two polar opposite opinions shouting at each other.
3. Now think about whatever story has you hot and bothered in the news right now and wonder if we know all the details and nuances. Spoiler alert: we don’t.
I have no remedy for this limitation of the news, of course, except to believe that awareness is the first step toward us digging beyond the headlines before we get our pitchforks out.