As a married man and as a parent, I know something about selective listening. But as someone who has spent way too many years in the communications business, I'm continually surprised by the number of people who only hear what they want to hear... or what they don't want to hear. Many liberals only read news from liberal media sources and conservatives only frequent conservative sources. That way their opinions won't be challenged. The trouble is, we should be seeking out the other side of the story to test what we believe and what we hear. If we refuse, we do not know nearly as much as we think we do.
Some items of information are more easily believed. Many WANT to believe that there is a conspiracy against them, or that somehow someone else is getting something for free that they aren't getting. So if a person hears that Jack got a free hot dog at the concession stand or cheated to get his new job, chances are good that person will believe it. It's the fuel that feeds gossip and misunderstanding. Usually it begins with someone overhearing Jack say something about buying so many hot dogs that he should have been given one free, then the story gets twisted like in the kids game, telephone.
Or it could be a story that was made up by someone, then repeated by many “well-meaning” people, swearing to its authenticity. Please understand that when someone tells you, “I heard from someone that...” whatever that person is going to tell you is almost always untrue. That's the way gossip works. One person listens selectively (if at all) then starts spouting off what they believe, then as the old saying goes, “A lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on.”
Gossip and falsehoods are nothing new to our society, but with the so-called Information Superhighway at your service, sometimes the information you get is nothing but gossip and falsehoods. Yes, even the forwarded emails sent to you by your trusted friends could be (and probably are) nothing more than rehashed garbage. For example, no soft drink company is printing a can with the words “Under God” left out of the Pledge of Allegiance, and no one survived the World Trade Center collapse by surfing or sliding down with the debris 80 stories. Several websites have been set up to correct the false campaigns waged against people and companies that are passed along by people who decided to listen to the nonsense. The most popular one is www.snopes.com. Please make a note of that one before you forward anything to your entire address book. It's a chance for us all to help truth get its boots on.
The same problem exists in other media. Sometimes, a reporter, anxious to highlight something that will get people's attention, will focus so hard on one side of a story that the other side gets ignored entirely. In all the hoopla after this week's execution of Troy Davis for the 1991 shooting of a police officer, many reports shouted that seven of nine witnesses had recanted their testimony, but almost no news source told the whole story that only two of the witnesses actually claimed Davis was not the shooter and that Davis himself kept them from testifying before the court. Oh, and there were 34 witnesses, not just nine. As a reporter, I know there is the easy way to write a story -- repeat the information others give you -- and the tougher way which involves investigating what others claim. Please understand that I'm not saying one thing or another about the death penalty or anything else, I'm just pointing out that we all need to examine both sides of the story before we claim anything as truth. If we do not, we're cheating ourselves and silencing the truth.