By CROSBIE WALSH
(University of the South Pacific Emeritus Professor Crosbie Walsh publishes the respected blog, Fiji The Way It Was, Is and Can Be. He pioneered development studies in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands and has been both an academic and a journalist.)
Michelle Nijhuis (an award-winning journalist for National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines) calls checks on validity Bullshit Prevention Protocol. She says:
I am often wrong. I misunderstand; I misremember; I believe things I shouldn’t. I’m overly optimistic about the future quality of
Downton Abbey and inexact in my recall of rock-star shenanigans. But I am not often—knock wood—wrong in print, and that’s because, as a journalist, I’ve had advanced training in Bullshit Prevention Protocol.
Preventing bullshit is time-consuming, and thoroughly fact-checking an entire article can feel like a particularly demented form of needlepoint.
There’s a good reason why my Facebook posts and tweets are almost exclusively about my family and friends, certain TV shows, and articles written by me and people I know and trust.
I don’t have a lot of time to practice BPP for free, and I don’t want to share bullshit.
nTesting your skills
Try testing your BPP skills on Rajendra Chaudhry’s claim that I reported on Saturday.
This is what he wrote on Facebook:
“From a friend: As we speaking message received Police ordered by PM to arrest Ro Teimumu for supporting Qarase’s perceived comments. Police contacted RFMF and was told not to and also told in clear terms that there is a change of Command at QEB. Period!!!”
1 Your own views. Are you already inclined to believe or disbelieve him?
2. Is Facebook a credible source, and if not, why not?
3. Is Rajendra a likely reliable source? What may he hope to gain by publishing this story?
4. What do we know about Rajendra’s friend?
5. Has the story been repeated
6. What of the construction of the story?
He quotes a friend (claim 1) who says the police received a message (claim 2) ordered by the PM (claim 3), and goes on to say the police contacted the RFMF (claim 4), who said no, do not arrest Ro Teimumu (claim 5).
Ask why on earth Bainimarama should want to arrest Ro Teimumu who he leads decisively in the polls, when her arrest could backfire and generate a sympathy vote? And ask why arrest Ro Teimumu and not Qarase when it was Qarase who made the offending statements? Finally, check to see if the story has been reported elsewhere.
Then on the basis of your answers, make your own call.
This is all you can do.
Ro Teimumu was not arrested. It was a non-event that cannot be tested.
My own opinion is that this is the cleverest form of bullshit.
It is a story that would have everyone denying any part of it, with no paper trail, and an outcome that cannot be tested because nothing happened.