The phrase the “fog of war” emerged in military planning towards the end of the 1800s as a way of describing a commander’s confusion both of their own real strength, that of their allies and of their enemies. Amidst this fog, military intelligence becomes the key tool to try to give clarity to planning.
Today we are learning to live with the “fog of news”, an uncertainty about what is happening and of the validity of our own views and the views of others. The phrase “fake news” may be associated with President Trump but although he may have named it he did not invent it. Whilst we hold on to the idea that there is a definitive source of “accurate” news, if you have been involved in any story which then becomes reported as news, likely as not your own perception of those events will be very different to what is reported.
Similarly in choosing the source for the news we consume, we are already giving a slant to how we will see the world. The Guardian’s world view is different from that of the Daily Mail and Channel 4 news feels very different from Channel 5 news. The BBC may play on its brand integrity but all too often that mask slips.
It might be assumed that the task of news media is to help lift the fog but often they just add to it. So the BBC lead with their interview of an ex-police officer’s comments on the contents of the computer of Damian Green. Having initially focused on the questions it raised about a politician’s integrity, then they focused on the motivation for the police officer for giving the interview and criticisms of the breach of confidentiality. The BBC had both generated the scoop and the story about the scoop and in the process had added fog to fog rather than bringing light to truth.
Everyone jumped up and down as President Trump announced the re-location of the US embassy for Israel to Jerusalem. In the rush to highlight the maverick nature of this new President, little was made of the fact that this has been long-standing US policy and that other US Presidents had spoken of realising this ambition although none had actually acted on it.
For all the hours of reportage on Brexit are any of us really clearer what is happening? Similarly lack of clarity hovers around allegations of sexual harassment in parliament and in the film industry. Stories drop in and out of the headlines, much depending on when “news” is no longer considered to be “new”. Refugees continue to drown in the Mediterranean, mass shootings regularly happen in the US, the conflict in Ukraine drags on, civil war is a daily reality in many countries such as South Sudan and the Central African Republic but, in the main, as such events are not new they are not news. We are regularly told the NHS and Social Care are on the brink of collapse yet nothing seems to have changed so are we blindly moving towards a cliff edge or is someone crying wolf? 24/7 rolling news does not mean we are necessarily better informed about what is actually happening in the world and the demands of rolling news means that reactions are more knee-jerk and less considered.
Amidst the fog, many seem to feel that this just validates their own opinion (or should that be prejudices?) and become more bunkered in their own world view. If others are not offering clarity then my own perceptions are as valid as anyone else’s . The denser the fog, the more shrill the voices and the more acceptable it seems to vilify, or blacken, the name of those who dare to offer an alternative voice.
In the midst of the fog of news we cling to any passing certainty and try to make it our own. But what happens if we let go of certainty and admit to not knowing? In the search for truth a certain humility seems in order. In admitting to not knowing, we open ourselves up to listening more to others, we learn to value discernment over proclamation, we become genuine searchers after truth rather than merely seeking evidence to support what we really thought all along.
In our own parliament, on the floor of the House, we are treated to the degrading spectacle of MPs trading their own versions of truth in a manner that often makes a cat fight look dignified. But away from the spotlight, parliamentary select committees bring together people from diverse political backgrounds, who with the help of experts, do a much more effective task of seeking after truth, and often to the discomfort of the party in power.
In the fog of news, it is not the loudest voice nor the most repeated assertion that helps bring clarity but rather the gathering in a genuine spirit of not knowing. It is in the letting go of prejudice and in the openness to those who come to life from a different perspective that the fog thins. It is in stilling my assertions, and in giving attention to the too often drowned out voice, that some clarity may emerge.
Perhaps if news was not 24 hours 7 days each week but 7 minutes of reflection each 24 hours we might see the fog lift and our clarity of vision improve.