About a month ago The Curmudgeon, in his interminable, five-part series on the blurring of fact and opinion, wrote about how the press, even as it protests that it’s a victim of that blurring, actually encourages such blurring on occasion by inviting readers to participate in polls that ask questions for which those readers cannot possibly offer an informed opinion. The example he offered was a poll question about whether readers thought an injured professional athlete would play in his team’s next game, the issue being that readers aren’t doctors, they aren’t given much information about the player’s injury, but they’re still asked to offer their opinion on whether the player will play regardless of these circumstances as if those opinions have any value at all.
During the course of his professional reading recently The Curmudgeon came upon another example of such a “tell us your opinion even though we know you’re utterly without insight on this subject poll”: the Central Penn Business Journal reported that the publication Drug Store News (yes, there really is a publication called Drug Store News) asked its readers’ opinion on whether the Federal Trade Commission would approve Walgreens’ acquisition of Rite Aid before the Obama administration left office. According to the Central Penn Business Journal, 48 percent of poll participants said they believed the sale would be approved before inauguration day. (As of this writing, three weeks after Obama boarded Air Force One for the last time, it still hasn’t approved the sale.)
To which The Curmudgeon asks: based on what did those readers respond? Their opinion? And on what did they base that opinion? Short of knowing someone who works for the Federal Trade Commission there is absolutely no way that anyone who participated in that poll could have any genuine insight into the deliberations on that decision.
But that didn’t stop our friends at Drug Store News from asking the question and it didn’t stop more than 200 nitwits from answering despite their complete cluelessness on the subject.
An opinion based on…absolutely nothing.
Yet publications of all sorts continue to lament their readers’ loss of faith in the veracity of what they read.
Who can expect people to believe what they read when they’re telegraphing their belief that you don’t need to know anything – anything – about the issue at hand to have an opinion about it? Why should people respect the opinions of experts when they’re reading stories that suggest that they themselves are the experts? And why should we be surprised that people can’t tell the difference between real news and fake news when they’ve been enlisted to participate in a form of fake news and have come to believe that there’s value in what they bring to that fake news, which in turn makes it real news in their eyes?