Brown: Cherry picking is not so sweet

Phil Brown

We are all assaulted with information constantly. Whether we realize it or not, we are affected by what we hear and see all of the time. It would be great, then, if we received every piece of information necessary, but that is just not something that happens.

For example, when watching television commercials about how delicious and satisfying McDonald’s food is, wouldn’t it be more informative to give viewers the full nutritional information for every item displayed? After all, consumers are going to be the ones making the choice of where to spend their money, and nothing makes for better choices than being informed.

Unfortunately for consumers, it does not behoove McDonald’s to completely inform their commercial audience. They are merely advertising the information that they want everyone to know. That is to say, they are advertising the information that makes them look good.

This approach to presenting only selected information has been termed “cherry picking,” since only the best pieces of information, from the presenter’s standpoint, are used, just as only the best cherries are picked from the tree. While this is certainly a common motif in the world of fast-food advertising, cherry picking makes a far more important appearance in the rest of our lives as well.

Consider the American political arena. Decisions about our politics and our elected officials can quite literally determine the course our country takes for years to come, yet truly informed citizens are a rare commodity at best.

Such is shown by a nationwide poll conducted from Fairleigh Dickinson University, which concluded that even people who regularly watch televised news can only correctly answer an average of 1.8 questions out of 4 in foreign political events and 1.6 out of 5 in domestic events.

The study went on to show that respondents who only watched FOX news scored lower than respondents who watched no news at all — a claim that was seized upon by many as proof of FOX news’ lackluster reporting. This claim in and of itself is a prime example of cherry picking, though, as the study found that respondents who only watched MSNBC news also scored lower than respondents who watched no news.

As Dan Cassino, co-author of the study in question, said of the negative attention FOX news received, “It was sensationalized… MSNBC was second worst, but it wasn’t talked about.” Such biased presentation is exactly what can lead people who look to only one source for information to become misinformed.

The upcoming presidential election has seen its fair share of cherry picking as well.

Supporters of President Barack Obama have been claiming for weeks that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will cut taxes on the wealthy if elected to office. The “wealthy” distinction is made to lead viewers to believe that these tax cuts will not extend to most Americans, and that the viewer is not going to be one of the beneficiaries.

While the original statement is true, it is only a partial truth. Romney’s plan is to propose 20 percent tax cuts for everyone paying income tax. In the spirit of full information, however, I would encourage every interested individual to view Romney’s full tax plan at his website,

Romney’s supporters are not innocent of selective advertising, though. There are many claims about the Affordable Care Act, more commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” being made by Romney and his supporters. One of these claims is that Obamacare is robbing Medicare of over $700 billion.

While this is somewhat true at face value — there will be budget cuts to Medicare totaling more than $700 billion over the next 10 years — it is simply not the whole truth. For anyone interested in what Obama’s campaign has to say about the Affordable Care Act and its impact on those covered by Medicare, has a number of interactive features to do just that.

There has been a tendency in our society to worry that we will be ruled by a total control of information, as people are in the novels “1984” and “Fahrenheit 451,” by Orson Welles and Ray Bradbury, respectively. It has become apparent that it is instead far easier to control people by simply showing them partial truths and letting them assume the truths are whole.

Such is a dangerous system that relies totally on viewer apathy or blind trust. If anyone who sees a partial truth takes the time to look for other pieces of information, a cherry picker simply looks foolish.