Thursday, July 18, 2013

Never try to fool your readers

If you are ever tempted to try to sneak by with a false, misleading, incomplete or illogical assertion, remember this: It takes only one intelligent reader to spot your offense and publicly humiliate you. Here’s a well-known example.

In the early news coverage of the criminal case against security guard George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, a tape recording revealed that a police dispatcher had told Mr. Zimmerman not to continue following Mr. Martin. Many reporters in the mainstream media broadcast that part of the tape recording but deliberately hid Mr. Zimmerman’s reply, which was “O.K.”

One intelligent reader, the economist Thomas Sowell (pictured), commented:

That reply removed the only basis for assuming that Zimmerman did in fact continue to follow Trayvon Martin. At this point, neither I nor the people who assumed that he continued to follow the teenager have any basis in fact for believing that he did or didn’t.

Why was that reply edited out by so many in the media? Because too many people in the media see their role as filtering and slanting the news to fit their own vision of the world.


[Also, many news reports made] references to Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic.” Zimmerman is half-white. So is Barack Obama. But does anyone refer to Obama as a “white African”?

The Takeaway: Yes, you can easily fool the average reader; he’s not very bright. But you cannot easily fool the intelligent reader. So unless you are writing, say, a romance novel or a grant application and can safely assume that all your readers are stupid, be sure to aim your writing at the intelligent reader. Keep your language honest, logical and clear.

See disclaimer.

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