Making Stuff Up

MAKING STUFF UP….Bob Somerby praises New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg:

Michael Bloomberg did a remarkable thing last Friday; he went to Florida and told Jewish voters that people frequently make sh*t up. His statement was blindingly obvious, yet truly remarkable; given the history of the past twenty years, it’s amazing how rarely voters are given similar warnings. People will lie to you, Bloomberg said.

It’s not just voters, either. I was on a jury in a drunk driving case several years ago, and the defendant had a very pricey lawyer who cross examined the state witnesses pretty effectively and then put an expert witness on the stand who threw up a considerable (and impressive!) haze of doubt about whether breathalyzers really worked, whether the particular breathalyzer in this case was properly calibrated, etc. etc. He was very good, but still, when it was all said and done, we had a pretty open-and-shut case: the guy was drunk, he was driving, he got caught.

But our deliberations lasted a surprisingly long time anyway. There were a few different reasons for this, but several hours into it I realized that one of them was something I hadn’t expected: a lot of the jurors simply didn’t distinguish the quality of the testimony. It didn’t occur to them that some witnesses had a greater incentive to lie or twist the truth than others. There was just a big mass of testimony, and their job was to assume it was all true and then try to make sense of it.

The problem was that this wasn’t an episode of Law & Order: there were no sulky gangbangers or stammering girlfriends on the stand in this case. All the witnesses on both sides wore suits (or uniforms) and spoke intelligently, so none of them seemed obviously unreliable. Eventually someone tackled this head on and suggested that, appearances notwithstanding, some of the witnesses really had no reason to lie or exaggerate, whereas some of the others pretty plainly did. After that, the logjam started to clear. But it took someone to make this point explicitly before some of the jurors figured out what was going on.

Is this an allegory for how much of the press works today? That’s left as an exercise for the reader.

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