Prism is a complicated word with a variety of meanings, mathematical, optical, and figuratively. I use the term figuratively — to see something through “the prism of a camera,” would be a common usage.
What is it?
In geometry, a prism is a solid geometric figure whose two end faces are similar, equal, and parallel rectilinear figures, and whose sides are parallelograms. (Got that? Really? Well, please explain it to me!)
In optics, it is a glass or other transparent object in prism form, especially one that is triangular with refracting surfaces at an acute angle with each other and that separates white light into a spectrum of colors. You can buy prismatic filters for a camera and many modern cameras come with some version of a prism built into them.
Prism is more commonly used in figurative speech. In this case, it is referring to the clarification or distortion of a viewpoint, as in “They were forced to imagine the disaster through the prism of television” — which would inherently change the natural viewpoint. I often think that is what people really mean when they say “reporters lie.”
Reporters don’t lie, but they force the truth through the prism of their format — television. This requires cutting down long commentaries to find the “nugget” without the longer speech. Although this is intended to sharpen the meaning of the comments, it doesn’t always do that. The personal point of view of the editor or reporter can affect the way the subject is presented.
But reporters don’t lie. They present information in a particular way which requires editing and shaping. Without this “shaping” of the news for presentation in a half-hour or hour news broadcast, there would be no television news at all.
For that matter, the same process is used in any form of print media. No one presents the full context of a speech in any form of news. Even in full book presentation, most commentaries are substantially cut. Why? Because you would fall profoundly asleep before you got to the main point of the discussion.
It’s all well and good to have long arguments which find you still haggling over details at dawn the following day, but reporting news in a format anyone can follow and understand takes a lot of understanding of the subject matter. Finding the “important nugget of information” in a cloud of context is a skillful occupation. It isn’t performed by people who get up in the morning planning on lying to the public — unless they work for Fox News, in which case reality bears little resemblance to their version of “news.”
So when you argue the prism of a format, remember it is done so you can make sense of it. If it isn’t a complete version of the whole truth, do your own research. Look for the truth. Find it. Read it. Search for more if that’s not enough.
No one — least of all the people who report the news — suggests the versions they report are the uncut truth. That type of knowledge requires you.
Find the truth — then believe it after you discover it. If you start out with pre-conditions of “what truth should be,” you won’t find anything but your own opinion.
NOTE: The expression “through a prism darkly” refers to spying.