I just finished reading Umberto Eco’s Numero Zero, his last book, which was published in 2015. If his name is not familiar you may remember hearing about his first novel, The Name of the Rose, which was made into a movie of the same name starring Sean Connery.
The book is a historical novel and not Eco’s best work. The point of interest here is Chapter 5, in which the narrator (a fake newspaper editor) explains to his editorial staff “… how it’s possible to respect, or appear to respect, one fundamental principle of democratic journalism, which is separating fact from opinion.”
He goes on to explain that, by quoting someone else the journalist can introduce opinion into an article:
These statements, once put in quotes, become facts — in other words, it’s a fact that the person expressed that opinion. But it might be assumed that the journalist has only quoted someone who thinks like him. So there will be two conflicting statements to show, as a fact, that there are varying opinions on a particular issue, and the newspaper is taking account of this irrefutable fact. The trick lies in quoting first a trivial opinion and then another opinion that is more respectable, and more closely reflects the journalist’s view. In this way, readers are under the impression that they are being informed of two facts but they’re persuaded to accept just one view as more convincing.
The editor goes on to give an example of how this is done. He also covers the technique of denial, by which he means retractions. He uses the example of an absurd fictitious article entitled “Ides Murder Suspect Denies All,” in which a person in the present is implicated in the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. When the victim of the false accusation writes in to complain to the paper that the allegations are absurd, the non-retraction and non-apology is crafted to as to save face for the paper by cherry-picking facts and other misrepresentations. Unnamed sources are also used to advantage in undermining the credibility of the complainer.
Do these techniques sound familiar?