Selecting facts to fit our own preconceptions

OK, we're calling it: Time of death, 8:35 a.m., Monday, Feb. 18, for that small noun known as the "fact."

That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. We are getting close to losing the basis for rational decision-making and debate, the unassailable truth.

Even the truth can be assailed, often successfully.

Monday morning a reader called to point out an error in a story on the second page of the Sun Journal in an Associated Press story.

The story was about how gun raffles are stirring anger in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy which left 20 children, six adults and the gunman dead inside an elementary school building.

"The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police is raffling off a gun every day in May, including a Ruger AR-15-style rifle with a 30-round magazine similar to the one used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School ..."

That's wrong, said the caller. Only handguns were used in the shooting, the AR-15-style rifle was found inside the trunk of the car the assailant was driving.

Indeed, if you Google the words "guns used at Sandy Hook," the caller appears to be correct. Glancing over the headlines on the search items would lead anyone to believe the AP report was in error.

Most of the entries say no assault rifle was used in Sandy Hook shooting, reporting instead that the young killer used only handguns.

Some might naturally ask, who cares? The people are all dead whether they were killed by handgun or rifle.

Yes, but the answer may be important for anyone trying to determine if a proposed ban on "assault-style" semi-automatic weapons might save lives.

In other words, if the killer used a handgun, clearly a ban on AR-15 sales would have made no difference.

This should be a fairly clear point of fact two months after the incident.

However, in this era of hyper-partisanship and sensitivity about gun control, even simple facts become fuzzy.

Some have even questioned whether the slayings occurred at all, or were staged by a government intent on taking away guns so Barack Obama can impose a dictatorship.

It is worth noting that if you only look at established news media results in Google, you wouldn't know there was any debate about the type of gun used to kill the children. 

If this is a story, then the "lame-street" media missed it... Or is part of the conspiracy.

We all look at events and judge information through our own lens of preconceptions. The gift and curse of the Web is that it allows us to select a set of facts that best fits our opinion on an issue.

It then becomes easy to discount information to the contrary or simply screen out opposing points of view.

But the truth is simple and it's different than opinion: Either Lanza used an assault-style weapon or he did not.

In this case, if a diligent person digs long enough and hard enough he can find a document issued by the Connecticut State Police listing the guns found inside the school (above).

Which means an AR-15 was found inside the school.

That's a fact, unless, of course, you think the cops are part of the conspiracy.

The opinions expressed in this editorial reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Andrew Jones's picture

This isn't even about Sandy

This isn't even about Sandy Hook anymore. Senseless murder of children, assault rifles, high capacity magazines, etc. All of these expressions are just being used to sell newspapers.

RONALD RIML's picture

Old Navy Story - And that's a Fact!!!

Ship had been a sea for several months, the crew had settled down to a routine bordering between boredom and tedium.

A young sailor, wanting a change - any change - found an empty cigar box - and hatched a plan. He cut a small hole in the side, brought it down to the 'Head' (Wash-room) - and crapped in it. He then taped it securely shut.

Good operations are not to be rushed into; so he let his plan percolate a few days. He then walked about his 'Divisional Spaces' with the box. Eventually curiosity would prevail, and his shipmates would ask him: "What's in the Box?"

"It's a box of 'Facts' - he replied"

His shipmates would shake it, peer into the small, black hole, smell it (to no avail - the 'curing' time had past') but never deduced what the Seaman Duece had.

The Divisional Chief Petty Officer got wind of this, and let it play out for a few days. Eventually, he too, grew curious. Nobody had discovered what these'facts' may be. Finally the grizzled old Chief could let it pass no longer - not on his Ship, not in his Division, not on his Watch....

So the Chief summoned the seaman to the divisional shop.

"What'cha got there??"

"A Box"

"I know that, Dilbert! A box of what?"

"Facts, Chief. A box of 'Facts'"

"Hand it over!"

So the Seaman did. The Chief eyed the box, then shook it. Not much. Shook it harder. He heard something. He put his eye to the hole - but could see only darkness. Shook it again. Something rolled.

A Cigar? It was a cigar box.

The Chief gingerly put his finger in the hole, gently rolling the box to position its contents within reach.

"Hm - it is a cigar" "A blunt, perhaps" "Can I get it out"

For three hours the Chief sat back attempting to retrieve the cigar from the box - all without success - while the sleep deprived sailors of his Division shuffled off to their favorite hiding places to catch up on sorely needed rest.

The Chief finally lodged the 'Blunt' into a corner of the box, where his fingernail gouged through the 'wrapper' of his elusive prey.

"Well - let's see what kind of tobacco this is," he mused, before biting the piece off his nail,

He found out what kind of tobacco it wasn't; and thirty men awakened from blissful slumber!

"This ain't Tobacco, This is SHIT!" the old Chief Petty Officer thundered!!!

"That a Fact, Chief" the Seaman chortled, before hauling ass up to the 05 level radar station where he knew the Chief could never get to.

AL PELLETIER's picture

Hey Ron

Where did you find that cigar box?
And speaking of facts, earlier today on Yahoo News it was reported that Mich McConnell (R) Kentucky was going to launch an investigation of "facts" he received from a constituent that Obama was going to make the GI Bill available to prisoners in Gitmo. The source of these "facts" came from the web site "Duffel Blog" which, by the way, writes only comedic military satire.
Yup, hook line and sinker!

RONALD RIML's picture

Alvey - You gotta bear in mind

That the crazier and off-the wall Bat-Shit Mental something is, the more likely these Reich-Wingerz are to believe it. Something to do with the 'Fox-Limbaugh Effect' - As Dr. Goebbels said - the Bigger the Lie - the more likely these idiots will buy it - and he knew his clientele.

No difference between this group of Lemmings and the ones caught up in the Axis net in the 30's.

 's picture

When you get off your latest ...

... junior-high bathroom-vocabulary rant, read some history - and I don't mean your sailor porn. The Nazis were on the far left, just to the right of Communists, and the biggest lie of the 20th century was to characterize them as right-wing extremists. Goebbels learned his trade from Woodrow Wilson and his merry band of progressives; Mengele learned his from Margaret Sanger.

Lemmings of the 1930's have been reincarnated as liberals of the 2010's.

RONALD RIML's picture

Far left??? Hitler was an 'Opportunist"

So that's why Hitler buddied with the German Industrialists - making them all richer than Croessus.

Germany was one of the first nations to have already have National Health Insurance, a "Workman Disability Plan" - and Old Age Pension Plans. All these were instituted in the 1880's by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who himself can hardly be described as 'Left Wing'. Her did this both to provide greater security for the workers - and to lessen any attractions for for outside socialist influences.

I already know my history - and unlike you - accurately. So I can also choose to read other subjects - including sailor porn - what have you - while you remain in such a great Reich-Wing Doctrinaire Ignorance that you don't even perceive it. Sucks being you!!

 's picture

The programs you mentioned ...

... were bankrupted by the hapless Weimar Republic, and Hitler, ever the opportunist, knew not to let a good crisis go to waste. He must have been forward channeling Rahm Emanuel. Or Rahm was channeling backwards. Hitler's entire domestic policy boiled down to "Don't worry. I will take care of everything for you." Hardly the small government, big liberty political style. It's still in use to this day, and the low-information-voters are swallowing this dangerous hogwash as fast as they can.

Since you're so well read in political history, you must know that liberalism + industry = fascism. Yup, old Benito was obviously another right-wing small-government low-taxes guy.

Never mind. All this is whistling through your unobstructed auditory channel. Just remember one of Onkel Adi's favorite slogans: Vorwärts!

RONALD RIML's picture

What's an 'Assault Weapon?'

Anything I can assault your sorry butt with.


 's picture

I'm impressed!

Ron finally said something profound. Purely by accident, of course.

To this administration, and Democrats in general, an assault weapon is anything more lethal than a pea shooter. They want to regulate all firearms out of reach of everyone, except the government and other criminals.

RONALD RIML's picture

Mike LeBlanc

Who's very presence on this Earth is an assault to the Creationist Theory....

 's picture

I withdraw my "impressed" statement.

It sure doesn't take much to tip you into your ad-hominem wallow. But, to play your game for a moment ...

Ron Riml: Who's very presence on this earth disproves Darwin's survival of the fittest theory.

RONALD RIML's picture

That was then - This is

Now the Survival of the Wiliest.....

 's picture

Check your spelling.

Survival of the wooliest.

Jason Theriault's picture

There is no question

The CT state police said it(the AR-15) was used, and rumors that it was just handguns used was false.

The problem is that Republicans have embraced Fox News so thoroughly that they have lost all critical thinking. Anyone on the internet who says something they think is right, they outright buy. They don't bother to check the source, or take the information with a grain of salt. They just attribute any discrepancies to "Liberal Bias" so when the NY times says something they disagree with, they ignore it, while someone at is taken as gosple.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Yet it was NBC I believe who

Yet it was NBC I believe who broke that story – AR 15 was not used in Sandy Hook shooting. Your true colors are shining through if you only focus on FoxNews.

RONALD RIML's picture

Got a 'link?' - Jason provided one......

'Believe' just doesn't hack it... Do you include that in your 'Patent' applications???

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Don't you recall that I did

Don't you recall that I did send out a link, and I had to eat much crow over being wrong.

 's picture

Silly, this whole discussion is silly

The "assault weapons ban" is the origin of this silliness because its silly. Looking like a military firearm has nothing to do with the lethality of a firearm. Performing like a military firearm - rate of fire, concealability, damage done by the bullet on hitting a target - does matter.
Whether the AR-15 was in the trunk or in the School makes no difference (I've seen reports of both. I believe neither until evidence is presented in court.) . If handguns were used, they are semi-automatic handguns with detachable magazines. They can fire as many rounds per minute as the AR-15. The only functional difference is the accuracy for long range targets and concealability. A school room is not large enough to require a rifle; a handgun is just as lethal in that situation. Handguns are not included in the AWB because of the Heller decision which implies that handguns are constitutional. The AWB doesn't ban 2200 types of rifles either because of concerns that they can't pass a bill that does. The resulting bill is useless and silly and distorts the debate.

Amedeo Lauria's picture

In a rush to get the ever popular "EXCLUSIVE"...

the 24/7 news media constantly produces stream of consciousness reporting.

The so called "facts" are then parroted. One source citing the previous source and the information reported being true or false then floats around the internet only to be further quoted; right or wrong.

It is like the old party game "telephone" where ending statement bears no resemblance to the original statement whispered into the first ear.

What has happened to verification and fact checking? It is gone in an endless stream of misspelled names and poor grammar.

I find it both refreshing and concerning. Refreshing in that journalists can no longer report "facts", with so many looking over their shoulder and fact-checking and concerning in that anyone with a computer and connection can publish all manner of "fact" further clouding the issue or event.

It means we must be better consumers of information. Those organizations with agendas and sloppy reporters will hopefully fade away.

We see this every day with declining subscriptions to certain periodicals.

Trust but verify!

ERNEST LABBE's picture

The biggest problem

The biggest problem I have with the whole 12/14 incident is the way it was reported. Why did we never see groups of greving parents? Why did we never see the safe children removed from the school? Why did we never see the safe children re-united with their parents? Were they not news worthy? Were the sensationalist news people to interested in a National Enquirer type of article?

Then there are the news interviews. Young children that would have been in the section of the school that never heard anything. A bit older children that could identify the weapon by the sound. A classroom helper that recalls a janitor fixing the lock on the door so they could lock it during the shooting, then waiting 20 minutes for the police to arrive. A grieving Robbie Parker caught on tape six hours after the shooting laughing as he approches the microphone laughing, asking if her should read the cards, then working himself into a a person that would be relating his feelings to a crowd of reporters (Google Robbie Parker and watch the interview for yourself).

I can understand the miss-reporting as the story as it was breaking, Something like Dan Rather announcing thqt President Reagan had died from the wounds he received. But these interviews were after the frantic time of the 112/14 incident had passed. The scene was calmed down by this time. Yes I know if you ask twenty eye witnesses you will get twenty different description of what happened. It is the reporters duty to get the true facts before trying to sensationalize a story.

The biggest problem with reporters today is the report what they are told by anybody, wthout digging for the facts before reporting on the story.

Betty Davies's picture

If you didn't see these things...

Then you weren't looking.

No grieving parents? Here's one link to start you off.

The father of one victim didn't look exactly the way you believe you would have looked? He smiled? I've seen people burst into hysterical laughter at the funeral of a deeply beloved relative, then feel mortified and unable to explain why they did that. What gives you the right to judge how a grieving parent's face ought to look?

Not enough gawkers took photos of the kids being led out of the school? If you'd been there, would you have remembered to take lots of photos, or would you--perhaps--have been more concerned about making sure the surviving kids were safe and/or wanting to stay clear of the area just in case some other shooter was around?

Of course there are multiple accounts of what happened, and some differ. We're talking about what individual people saw and heard from different vantage points, then remembered with more or perhaps less clarity later, often when they were in shock or recovering from shock. If you expect everyone to have a God's-eye view, or to serve as what English teachers call the "omniscient narrator" (the all-knowing person telling the story), you will always be disappointed by Planet Earth.

Sounds like you've been paying way too much attention to conspiracy theorists who claim the shootings never happened, or that they were staged or something. Take a look here-- These messages were posted at the time.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

"Men call it many things;

"Men call it many things; perception gives it many faces, but there is only ONE truth. Except for the Courts, that number appears to be of sufficience to no one".....Great Western philosopher, Filmore East, who once lived on the North side of South Boston.

 's picture

The "fact" is a strange animal.

Nocturnal and slippery; hard to find and harder to hold on to. It evolved from its ancestor which lived in a brightly lit world and was not afraid of man.

The change happened at about the same time that "reporter" became indistinguishable from "opinion columnist". The troublesome fact was pounded into submission and slunk off to its present habitat. To paraphrase that great journalist H. Dumpty: When I use a fact, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.

After every "Our View", you include a proviso, at the advice of counsel, in case the reader might confuse opinion with fact. Let me suggest another to add to every front-page story.

The opinions expressed in this news story reflect the views of the ownership and the reporter.

Facts are inconvenient in the news

The news today is so skewed with inaccuracy, misinformation and just plain outright speculation that it's hard to get any real news without having to go through the filter of "this can't be true."

When CBS states that the perpetrator of the Newton School shooting was in direct competition with another mass murderer, and was compelled by video games (both assertions of which are not being supported by the police), there's more than just news being reported-it's called lies-for instance, this article:
But it gets repeated over and over again. Then it becomes the mantra.

Newspapers and other media don't care about the truth any more. They just want to fill space, and this is the result.
No wonder nobody watches or listens to the news any more. It's just not news-it's entertainment based on gossip.

AL PELLETIER's picture

Thanks for this editorial.

I too research into how this person could establish as "fact" that an AR-15 was not used in this senseless massacre. The web site he stated as his source of information is so obviously bias it might very well have been written by the NRA.
It stated that their information came from the coroners report and not the police reports in an attempt to add validity to their BS. Also, his claiming this whole thing was a conspiracy could only come from information he found in the tabloids.
How any idiot could read this garbage and assume it as "fact" amazes me and my hats off to the SJ for pointing this out.

GARY SAVARD's picture

The "source" is only credible

The "source" is only credible if it re-inforces my views, otherwise, it is baseless. I would say more, but I have to go back and bury my head in the sand.


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