Thursday, April 12, 2012

Nothing To See Here: HBO series "The Newsroom"

Do facts matter in a fictionalized setting?

Here's betting that the fictionalized setting is used to try to communicate "truthiness" about the real world in the new HBO series about a cable newsroom.

The apparent lead character, who seems to represent "the most trusted name in news" (does that sound eerily familiar or what?), gets put on the spot regarding his political views.  He shocks what looks like an audience of college students with the following:
 We're not the greatest country in the world
Apparently he's speaking about some fictionalized version of Liberty College or some other right-wing diploma mill.  Don't almost all American universities inform students that the United States is not the greatest country in the world?

He continues:
We're seventh in literacy. We're second in science.  We're 29th in life expectancy.  One hundred seventy-eighth in infant mortality.  Third in median household income.  No. 4 in labor force and No. 4 in exports.
I wouldn't expect a fact checker to look into the logic, which seems like either a smart-ass answer or else a non sequitur.

Imagine an undefeated basketball team wondering if they're really No. 1: "We're seventh in free throw shooting.  We're second in overall defense.  We're 29th in points off the bench.   One hundred seventy-eighth in home attendance.  Third in offensive rebounds.  No. 4 in graduation rate and No. 4 in the number of players reaching the NBA." 

There's no way that team could be No. 1, is there?

On the other hand, the speech does contain a number of factoids that might interest mainstream media fact checkers.  After all, PolitiFact fact checked a "Saturday Night Live" sketch after a fashion.

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