Not long ago I stated, or implied, that I thought Ayn Rand was a bad author; or at least Atlas Shrugged was an awful book. That is an opinion. An opinion is “a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.”
My morning routine includes reading several on-line newspapers. Much of what I read is opinion, not fact. TV news seems to be dominated by people stating opinions. While opinion columnists have been a part of newspapers forever; those editorials used to be somewhat segregated to emphasize their distinction from factual stories. Today the emphasis seems to be on opinion.
Some of this, I think, is because facts can be messy. Opinions are clear, absolute, black and white; and often stated in the form of “here’s the facts.”
Aside from news sources, how do we get our facts? Everyday we gather facts about all sorts of things by observation. I observed the sun came up in the east. That is a fact. I observed a wreck on I-25 this morning, a fact. Much of what we know is based on empirical evidence. Empirical: based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.
Of course, much of what goes on in the world is outside of my observation. Government happens in far away places, often behind closed doors; not something I can observe. I must rely on someone else to tell me what is happening. This has been the role of reporters. But we, as a society, have lost confidence in reporters or the newspapers/television networks they work for. We can’t observer for ourselves, and now we can’t trust reporters. So, illogically, we have decided to “trust” non-reporters stating their opinion.
Authors are also opinion writers. Sure, there are authors who are stating facts, but all those facts are skewed by the author’s opinions. When I write books, they are not factual. The story is made-up about made-up people doing made-up stuff. I have written a book about financial matters which is a non-fiction book. Is that fact? No, it is opinion. My opinion about anything is not a fact. On the other hand, what I had to say about business could be based on facts.
One of my characters in the Muckraker books was based on an opinion writer, who actually existed. I knew him well, and we often discussed on an ethical basis what he wrote. He readily admitted he made things up; he lied. He wrote things to increase his readership and felt protected from liability because he was writing those “lies” in a newspaper. If he could get it past the editor, he was safe. Yes, he was my friend, but he was a sleaze-ball. He was eventually fired.
He stirred the pot of hate and prejudice for his own gain. Many of his readers would make the comment “at last, someone telling the truth.” He was lying and getting credit for being a truth teller because he was passing on negative gossip, and the readers readily believe the bad gossip to be true.
We seem to have an instinct about what is true. That instinct is based on what we already believe. As such, we only believe what we already “think” is true. So, if we think all politicians are crooks anything we read or hear that confirms that belief is automatically true.
When I’m creating characters for my books, I fight this truth instinct because if I don’t, all of the characters will be the same. My bias would make the hero a good guy and the crook the bad guy. So, is that bad? Yes, the story needs to convey “reality” with characters who are human, with both good and bad characteristics.
Opinion “reporters” are bad writers. They want the entire world to reflect their narrow beliefs. To attract an audience the opinion person must convey only one view of everything, it cannot be nuanced with confusing facts bumping into more confusing facts. Ayn Rand was that bad writer who constructed a world view that was based only on opinion and reflected the way the writer wanted the world to be.
The Muckraker opinion writer went on in real life to publish a scandal sheet in which he spread malicious gossip. He stated he didn’t give a crap about threats of lawsuits because he had nothing of value and was judgement proof. He really was a sleaze-ball, like many of today’s opinion writers.