We often say here on Wings that our job is to teach people to instantly recognise the sneaky tricks used by the media to try to create false impressions without saying things that are technically untrue. (Because despite the tiny size they’re allowed to print corrections at, they’re still rather embarrassing.)
A key technique is to look at a headline or story and immediately ask what you’re NOT being told. So here’s an easy example from today’s Scottish Daily Mail.
What’s been left out there, readers?
The answer, of course, is “any sort of context for the figure of 65”. You’re clearly expected to think that it’s a lot, but at no point does the article specify how many trains run every day, so there’s no easy way of telling what percentage 65 trains is.
It’s not until halfway down the last column, when most people have stopped reading, that the Mail lets a Scottish Government spokesman provide a clue:
“ScotRail operates 58,700 services every four weeks”
Let’s do the arithmetic, then. 58,700 every 28 days is 2,096 trains a day. Which means, as the spokesman goes on to note, that just 3.1% are being seriously delayed or cancelled, which means that 96.9% are running on time or with shorter delays (mostly under five minutes).
Now, obviously “97% of trains running more or less on time” would be a comically ridiculous reason to demand the resignation of a minister, as the Mail does on page 14, let alone the fact that more than half of delays are caused by Network Rail, which is outside the Scottish Government’s control.
(Just for fun, the paper also throws in a paragraph citing an inaccurate Tory smear story against Humza Yousaf that was comprehensively debunked by the Evening Times almost a fortnight ago, and swiftly deleted from the Scottish Conservatives website by embarrassingly hapless rentaquote galoot Jackson Carlaw.)
But as long as you leave out any inconvenient facts from which readers could glean some vital perspective, the truth is no barrier to telling lies.