Truthiness on the Wire
On the very first edition of The Colbert Report (pronounced as "Col-BEAR Re-PORE"), on October 17, 2005 (Oh, my word, nearly two years of genius!) on Comedy Central, Stephen introduced the world to truthiness. He coined the word only minutes before the taping started and it featured in the segment he calls The Wørd, where his statements are comedically criticized by on-screen text that is reality for most of us.
Truthiness, which has been hailed as a wonderful new word, was defined by Stephen as "what you want the facts to be, as opposed to what the facts are. What feels like the right answer, as opposed to what reality will support."
A superb example is the kind of statement that comes from the White House, almost on a daily basis. "The surge is working and we can bring back 5000 troops at the end of this month." Sure feels like the right answer, but the reality is that the surge isn't working and those 5000 lucky souls had to come back anyway.
This arose in my thinking after I received an advance alert from National Semiconductor about the release of the LMP7731 and LMP7732 precision op amps. Low noise is mentioned in the headline and the sub-head and then the release opens with:
"September 18, 2007 – National Semiconductor Corporation (NYSE:NSM) today introduced two precision operational amplifiers (op amps) that offer the industry’s lowest input voltage noise…"
News releases are expected to be factual. It is their purpose to promulgate information that is factual.
I challenged the "lowest input voltage noise" assertion some days before the release of the statement to the wire. At least two other vendors have multiple parts with input noise voltage below 2.9 nV/rtHz, including a score that are below 2.0 nV/rtHz (and - psst! - National, that includes you!)
I felt like I had hit a brick wall when back came an e-mail telling me how the "lowest input noise voltage…" needed to be taken in context of all the other neat things about the parts. I don't feel comfortable about sharing that e-mail, but it struck me as a beautiful way to turn a lie into truthiness. Still, even after this lie was pointed out to the company, it went on the wire, as scheduled, with the only change being a punctuation correction.
Gone are the days, it appears, when a PR person would automatically challenge a product group over claims that they want to write into a release. The suspicious ones that should always court PR attention are words like lowest; best; first, fastest, value, smallest… If the product group cannot prove it, then it should be deleted.
Has this happened before? Sure it has, but on the occasions when I have seen untrue fluff in a release prior to the day it goes public I have always pointed it out to the vendor. And always, before, the inaccurate material was rewritten.
It should be the opposite of what Stephen said in that first program of his, "Anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news at you."
And that's The Wørd…