Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Of Prepositions, Truth, and Shirley Chaplin's Crucifix

According to the UK Timesonline (on April 7th) Shirley Chaplin was offfered "a series of compromises" when she was told she could no longer wear her crucifix necklace while at work (she is a nurse at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital). "Managers suggested that she pin it to her uniform or wear it on her identity lanyard."

The Timesonline would have us believe that Ms. Chaplin is some kind of intractable troublemaker who refused to listen to reason and accept the reasonable "compromises" that were generously offered to her, and that she is just making an issue out of something that could have been easily resolved if she were being rational.

However, on March 30th the Daily Mail had reported that it was the other way around: Ms. Chaplin offered to pin the crucifix to her uniform, and her superiors refused this suggestion! On April 4th the Daily Mail repeated and elaborated on this version of the story. In both cases the Daily Mail provided direct quotes from Chaplin.

An anonymous blog entry at the British Humanist Society website, from April 7th, states that "Ms Chaplin refused the choice of wearing the crucifix in another way, such as pinning it to her uniform."

So what is the truth of the matter?

Well, according to The Guardian (on April 6th), BBC.com (on April 7th), and also the April 12th HR Magazine (a trade journal for "Human Relations" professionals) Chaplin's bosses actually suggested that she pin the crucifix inside her uniform!

Bottom line: when trying to sort out the truth in conflicting media reports, look for (1) consistency in how a story is reported over several days, (2) specificity, direct quotes, named sources, (3) verification from independent media sources.

Also, think about what your own default positions are. For example: do you by default tend to believe the boss or the worker being disciplined? Also: do you by default defend freedom of religion even when it's a religion you don't like?