Watching the confirmation bias as a legitimate way of doing the news.



I was watching my local news station where they were talking about this attack on Beach Boulevard on Friday.

Oh dear. Gracious, how dreadful.

Memo to CHCH: when people in the neighbourhood tell you it is a “good place”, they are trying to salvage the real estate value. That’s not a good barometer. You don’t buy their bullshit stories.

Because how many domestic homicides are met by neighbours by a declaration that the body bags were once “really nice people” and “such a good family.”

They aren’t going to tell you that they saw the husband beat his wife and children senseless because then people will wonder why no one stepped in sooner.

Remember Kitty Genovese? Or Angel Torres?

Their distress was ignored by people around them. Genovese was attacked, raped, and murdered in 1964 and her screams didn’t even compel people to cal the police. She was utterly alone, and the injustice of apathy puts her at Person #34 of People Everyone Should Know. She is the reminder that too many times you can fight, scream, and let the world know that evil has arrived, and everyone around you will blow you off.

Angel Torres was an elderly man who was lying unconscious on the street, and people walked over him.

If you interviewed those people, they would tell you they didn’t see anything, fiddle dee dee.

And then they go and rant on the Twitter about how the world should be to their exact specifications and why isn’t the government doing more for people.

But confirmation bias seems to be a way of presenting the news. Someone gives you a story, and you run with it, not concerned whether they have a reason for spinning a certain angle.

I worked as a journalist, and I have more than once been asked to cover a person whose story did not sit well with me. There were people who claimed to have an illness, and they presented me with a narrative complete with an act. La belle indifference sometimes bothered me. Other times, it was the layout of their house that told me nothing was modified to accommodate their disability and they lived alone and claimed no outside help.

I looked after a severely disable relative who literally could not move and was a prisoner in her own bed. Whenever doctors, nurses, ESM, or PSWs came to our house the first time, they asked if we were a nursing home. We had to modify the house, but even before then, we had to install a stairlift, rails, a ramp, bathroom modifications, and countless other things to give that relative independence. That’s not cheap.

At the time, I didn’t have those issues to think about, but I still knew things were off. I could have just run with the story, but I didn’t. The sad, sickly voice, the doe eyes, limping and the like seemed to confirm the person was ill, but was there evidence that refuted it?

There was one way to find out. I would watch the person after the interview when they didn’t know the audience they solicited still was watching. Sometimes, the off performance was shocking. No walking aids. No limp. I once went as far as asking someone to call the person, and tell them it was a wrong number — no sickly voice, just a strong robust one.

Talking to others who knew the person confirmed they also thought something was off, but they couldn’t put a finger on it.

Most times, stories like that don’t run.

And they should.

In my first book, I recount many stories of people faking illnesses for attention or money. It happens frequently. So did fake hate crimes, robberies, kidnappings, and assaults. When we take someone’s words as the gospel truth and look for only confirming evidence, we are gambling our credibility.

I have interviewed people who were genuinely sick, and while I looked for confirming evidence, I also looked for refuting evidence — and there was none. Everything aligned: from their demeanour, symptoms, and even household modifications.

So when neighbours tell you how everything was just warm and fuzzy, you go to the archives and see what’s what. You call the police and ask questions about the area. You find out about the crime stats of the area — any if they align, then mention the crime was atypical, but even then, you don’t really know. Maybe there is a meth lab. Maybe someone is trafficking weapons or people. Maybe child porn is being produced there. Sometimes one skirmish is a sign that something dangerous is going down there and it is about to explode.

It is not about preserving real estate value or maintaining a folksy image. It is about digging deeper. Sometimes people get dismissed when they shouldn’t be. Other times, there is a mask that needs to be snatched off.

People can see a homeless man spewing obscenities and then think he is some sort of dangerous monster. Others, see a poet, a soldier, and a gentle soul who has something to say and contribute to society despite it all.

You don’t know. You never do. That’s why you dig.

You try different paths and see where they take you. It’s what I did as a journalist. I always learned something new. I am an explorer by nature, not a stenographer, and it is the reason my career was an odyssey and a journey of a thousand revelations, and not some platform to vogue without purpose or meaning…