During the 2016 presidential election, a buzzword emerged for news that was fabricated for the sake of deception and persuasion in favor of a specific candidate. These news articles were created on fake and lookalike news websites and mostly circulated via Facebook and other social media. However, somewhere along the line, the real news agencies began becoming like fake news and began promulgating scathing and outlandish commentary and, in many cases, outright falsehoods.
It does not take a sociologist or political scientist to tell you that this is an earnest societal problem. Millions of Americans rely on news organizations to be au courant about domestic and world affairs. If the news is lying and mudslinging, then how are people going to be good political citizens? Without truth, how will one know which policies worked and failed so that they can vote for an effulgent, better tomorrow? An uninformed populace is dangerous, and slick lies crafted by serpentine spinsters certainly are not doing anyone a service. In response to these nefarious fabrications, I have revealed the three rules of critical thinking that I utilize when I read the news.
Rule #1 The Original Source is Key
Afore reading an entire news article, I check to see if their information is a synthesis or analysis of an original source. Oftentimes, even while conducting research for my own news articles, I made the grave mistake of trusting reporters to be factually accurate, only to ascertain that, upon investigating the original source, the reporters made inaccurate or subjective claims. It is worth noting that all major news outlets have this problem. I normally go to allsides.com for balanced political news since they cull a liberal, conservative, and centrist news source that covered the same event, but I realized that, oftentimes, I was wasting valuable time reading upwards of 4000 words of text riddled with factual inaccuracies when I could have simply read or examined the original source.
A prime example of this was when Jeff Sessions abrogated the DACA memo. Some news outlets mislabeled the memo as an Executive Order and many indited misleading headlines claiming that it was Donald Trump who actually rescinded the memo instead of Jess Sessions. In addition, some news agencies reported that it was Barack Obama himself who initiated DACA, when, in fact, it was his Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. These may seem like frivolous details, but they are important for a few reasons:
1. Jeff Sessions is the attorney General, and what he was actually doing was challenging the licitness of the memo. This is quite different from the President ending a former program. One is an attorney trying to uphold the law, the other is a President transmuting an executive policy.
2. An executive order is entirely different from a memorandum. A memo is simply a notice of policy change or remembrance whereas an Executive Order implements new regulations onto the Executive Branch.
3. Misattributing people to their proper actions leads those becoming cognizant of the events to change their perceptions about the people in question.
So the first step to combating fake news is simply to examine the original source.
Rule #2 If It Isn’t Logical, Then It Probably Isn’t True
The non sequitur (a latin phrase that loosely translates into English as “that does not follow”) is the most common mistake in news reporting. Oftentimes a news analysis will start with a simple fact like “Donald Trump called Kim Jong Un ‘Rocket Man’” and proceed to argue that this betokens that Donald Trump has no idea how to conduct foreign policy. Oftentimes, these analyses will be sprinkled with other supposed “facts,” but at this point those facts are normally misrepresented or obtained through journalistic telephone (CNN said this about that) or other means which make them counterfactual. However, there is one problem with this analysis: insulting someone is hardly a measure of one’s ability to conduct foreign policy. After all, some of the greatest political leaders who conducted excellent foreign policy regularly vilified or debased their enemies. Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher are excellent examples.
This is why logic is important. If a person’s statements are true, but their connections between the statements do not follow logic, then they are predicating something that is probably mendacious. However, this is not a hard and fast rule, as sometimes utterly illogical statements happen to have valid conclusions, likewise, some perfectly logical arguments arrive at false conclusions due to inaccuracies accepted as facts. This is why I also follow a third rule:
Rule #3 If It Exists, It Exists. If It Happened, It Happened.
Oftentimes journalists like to explain away facts that destroy their worldview or they despise. Snopes and Politifact are particularly adept at making certain verities appear crooked through casuistic rhetorical methods. One such example from Politifact is their “fact checking” of Trump’s Fake News Awards:
They claim that Trump should credit Obama for the historically low unemployment for black Americans and the revving economy. However, what Politifact so conveniently leaves out is that the Trump Administration has dismantled hundreds of Obama-era economic polices and regulations. Obama did, as Politifact claims, give Trump “a head start,” through a recovered economy, but the current unemployment is mostly because of Trump’s economic policies and not those of his predecessor.
In this example, Politifact says that Trump is correct, but says that he cannot take credit for it by citing facts that turn Obama into an ingenious politico. However, as witnessed, what transpired, transpired. Trump’s policies boosted the economy, regardless of what Obama did.
Another example of such sophistry is citing a supposed “expert” to contradict an event that actually occurred. An excellent example of this was when Snopes.com asserted that the claim that Hillary Clinton liberated a child rapist was “mostly false.” They decided to attack many of the unimportant aspects of the argument while claiming that the main content was true. In the process, they cited other attorneys who were present to defend that Hillary Clinton did not believe the rape victim made anything up. However, most of the original story was, in fact, true, as it was based directly off of a journalist's personal tapes of an interview with Hillary. This is an outright example of using mental gymnastics and outside sources to morph a fact into a fairy tale.
Another example was Snopes’s article on Hillary selling Uranium deposits in exchange for Clinton Foundation donations. Snopes labeled the claim “false” despite evidence revealing that the donations occurred since the inception of the uranium sales and the Federal Government did, indeed, engage in the sale of 20% of the nation’s Uranium supply. Further, Hillary was one of the nine members of the committee that sold the Uranium and she had disapproval power to stop the deal which she failed to use. At the very least, this “quid pro quo” claim should be labeled as unproven or plausible, since her ability to disapprove and her membership on the board materially prove that she was complicit in the sale.
So, how do I get the news if everyone is saying falsities?
When I come across a news story, I read the headline then read the first paragraph to determine what the sources are. Then I find the sources and I read them myself. Oftentimes I return to the news articles that I was perusing or explore other news sources and find they purposely omit facts or make erroneous claims. It can be utile to know how the truth is twisted to determine the best course of action to rectify the inaccuracies.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/seb_ra
Publication date: January 22, 2018