The truth as we see it

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John O'Connor, Editorial Director
John O'Connor, Editorial Director
Those of us in the news business often talk about the importance of truth. So it's hardly a surprise media outlets tend to be sticklers about getting their facts as accurate as possible. After all, while it may take many years to build a reputation, one dumb mistake can sink it.

As a general rule, no media outlet wants to be found guilty of publishing something that has its facts wrong.

However, as any philosophy teacher will quickly point out, the truth of any situation can be subject to interpretation.

As the old saw goes, where people stand often depends on where they sit. Our preconceived attitudes, viewpoints and assorted prejudices can distort our perceptions.

For evidence, ever ask your friends of the Democratic and Republican persuasion their views on some key issues? It's a pretty safe bet that you've received very different responses.

And therein lies one of the challenges of getting to the truth. People often have legitimate disagreements, particularly when subjective judgments are involved. I think most of us can accept that reality. Where we tend to be less forgiving is when something that appears to serve a particular agenda is served up as the unvarnished truth.

One good place to find examples? Studies. Two that recently surfaced should get any objective observer's Spidey Sense tingling.

One comes courtesy of the Service Employees International Union. For years, the union has been trying to boost its membership in the field. An SEIU-backed report released last month concludes that — surprise — staffing in for-profit nursing homes needs to be increased. Who could have seen that one coming?

This preceded an underfunding assessment by the AHCA. I don't want to get sideways with the organization, but I don't recall a similar analysis of the recent Medicare therapy windfall.

What's really unfortunate is that the basic premise of each study is probably valid. But when an organization releases a report that clearly seems to be for its own benefit, the study tends to take on a public relations-like patina.

At that point, the facts, figures and conclusions tend to receive far less credibility than they probably deserve. And that's the truth.

See O'Connor's blog Mondays and Fridays at www.mcknights.com.
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