How to Lie while Telling the Truth

Intellectual honesty is important, and I’m seeing shockingly little of it in recent right-leaning Christian dialog. As a conservative at heart, I’m feeling betrayed by my fellow conservatives.

In an Epoch Times article that I was sent today, the headline read “NIH Director Admits School Mask Mandates Are Not Based on Data of COVID-19’s Effect on Children“. The first paragraph says “National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins on Tuesday indicated that the push to make America’s youngest students wear masks at school is more due to concerns over potential school closures, rather than based on data of COVID-19’s impact on children’s health.

But I actually did read the entire article. And it’s not at all what the Director was arguing.

The ACTUAL point of the NIH Director’s comments, quoted in the article, is this: if you don’t require masks, rates will start going up, and schools will be forced to close; the recommendation to mask children takes this into account. But the headline and leader paragraph somehow focused on the apparent falsehood in the recommendation. That completely ignores THIS statement by the Director which is actually quoted in the article: “If they’re unmasked in the classroom, you know what’s going to happen. There’s going to be an outbreak.” When challenged by the ET reporter that it’s just NIH or CDC gamesmanship, he goes on to insist “But Hugh, I don’t think you’re hearing me. It’s not just about that.” So the overall thrust of the Director’s comments is mis-characterized in the headline, to focus on the messaging and not on his assertion that the masks ARE doing what they should: keeping children from getting sick.

In fact, the headline doesn’t even agree with the first paragraph. At least the word “solely” (“Are Not Solely Based”) would be an improvement to the headline.

Unfortunately I find this true in most Epoch Times articles that I read. The headline and the first paragraph or two are often written in a clickbait fashion: designed to capture page views, get people riled up, and get quickly forwarded on social media.

But when I carefully read the rest of the article, I’m often inclined to conclude that the actual content of the story opposes the inflammatory headline. It’s two-faced – it shares truth, but deceptively leads a casual reader to a false conclusion, especially those inclined to see a headline that supports their existing view, and quickly forward it on social media. Since the overall articles are in fact balanced, they can claim they’re not lying. But I disagree.

This deeply bothers me from a standpoint of integrity, and I personally refuse to support or promote content that attempts to mislead the reader – or any site that does that regularly.

The Epoch Times is a right-wing publication, largely catering to the pro-Trump, anti-vaccination, anti-masking points of view. The media site is owned by a Chinese interest with suspect motives in regards to American culture. One might argue that this kind of chicanery is designed exactly to destabilize America and sow division among Christians.

For the reasons above, I choose not to link to the article or the Epoch Times website. But you’ll find it quickly enough with a simple search. Look at some of the other under clearly clickbait headlines. Read them beyond the first paragraph, and see if you agree that the headline and first paragraph actually are supported by the rest of the article, at least for a balance of the articles about more inflammatory topics.

I make this exhortation: If you’re going to forward an article on social media or via email, at least take the time to carefully read the ENTIRE article, and draw your own conclusions. Think about people’s tendency to forward without reading, and ask yourself if a quick glance at the headline will help them draw an accurate conclusion. Maybe even do some extra research on other sites. Evaluate the article’s tone and message, and determine if it’s actually worth sharing.

And for the future, if you find a disturbing trend on other articles from that source, maybe don’t trust that source any more.

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