June 2024


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Monday, June 24, 2024

Letter from the Publisher: Disinformation and Ethics

After reading the letter from the subcommittee of the Berthoud Economic Resource Team (BERT) to the Town Board, I read the referenced Berthoud Weekly Surveyor article. After that reading and then comparing it to the article that appeared in The Berthoud Recorder, I find that I must question the completeness and accuracy of information being provided by the Surveyor to those involved in this conflict as well as those in the community.

I certainly recognize the tactics. During my 30 years of military service, especially my last few years serving on the Joint Staff, I saw plenty of examples of this type of reporting. We had a term for it; it was called disinformation. The Cold War with the Soviet Union, which spanned much of my life and military career, made disinformation a recognized military and political tactic.

Disinformation can be described as false or inaccurate information that is spread deliberately, not to be confused with misinformation that is unintentionally false. Disinformation techniques may also be found in commerce and government and are described as an act of deception and blatantly false statements to convince someone of an untruth. Those who practice it for a living call it “spin.” The referenced articles use the common spin tactic of mixing some truth and observation with false conclusions and lies. This type of disinformation is designed to manipulate the audience at the rational level by either discrediting conflicting information or supporting false conclusions.

For anyone familiar with the technique, the use of certain words and phrases is a certain indicator that deception is occurring. Words such as refused, unless used in a quote, are certain indicators that the innocent reader is under spin attack. Recent news articles appearing in the Surveyor about BERT have frequently used such subtly pejorative words.

While disinformation campaigns may have their place on the stage of world conflict, they are entirely inappropriate for a free press in a small town that relies on local newspapers to provide the facts and the truth in an unbiased fashion.

This is a good example of why journalistic ethics calls for separation of those reporting the news from the organizations on which they report. It is a conflict of interest and a violation of ethics for someone on the news staff to sit on a governmental board, commission or advisory committee or to write about the activities of a family member. Multiple lapses in ethics invariably lead to further lapses in ethics and have done so in this case. Among those violations are fatally biased articles passed off as being factual.

These opinion articles masquerading as news are among the most egregious ethical violations of journalistic practice. Relying on such disinformation to make decisions is understandably human but still irresponsible. 

Unfortunately, the entire economic development process in Berthoud has now been tainted by unethical conduct. The bullying tactics being used by some team members will certainly sully Berthoud’s reputation as a place to do business. It is quite likely that BERT has done more harm to Berthoud than any good it may ever accomplish.

That’s my opinion.

Gary L. Wamsley

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