Learning the news: Try fact-checking for one week

Let’s try a little experiment: Spend just one week fact-checking everything you find interesting. You’ll likely be surprised by the results, writes Roger Plothow.

Regardless of one’s politics, serious-minded people can’t deny the utterly undeniable fact that our president is both a purveyor of and believer in fake news.

Whether it’s 4 a.m. tweets about wiretaps that never happened or off-the-cuff speeches in which he makes wild claims about everything from unemployment to his own personal history, President Trump has tapped into a segment of American culture both angry and uninformed enough to accept his most blatant lies as truth.

Yes, politicians are notorious for stretching the truth, and we should call all of them on it. Hence, the emergence of fact-checking organizations in the past few years. But when these organizations noted that candidate Trump went beyond stretching the truth to consistently and blatantly making things up, it didn’t seem to matter. For whatever reasons – a combination of distaste for Hillary Clinton, the basic cycle of politics, frustration and anger, or for reasons still unknown – Trump won the oddest presidential race, perhaps in our history.

This column isn’t about President Trump. It’s about us. We get the politicians, the media, the justice system, and, within reason, the world we deserve. Liberals who are driven mad by our president are too often responding by spreading or believing false stories about him and his administration and family. Conservatives brush away stories about Trump’s lies by writing them off as “fake news” from the “liberal media.” Precious few people use the powerful tools available to them on the Internet and elsewhere to do their own fact-checking.

To learn who is responsible for the verbal wrestling matches on cable TV, the burgeoning nonsense on social media, the shrinkage of organizations committed to real journalism, and the utter buffoonery happening in our state Legislature and Congress, we might start with a look in the mirror. It’ll continue until we demand better, and back that up with our pocketbooks.

While the Internet is, indeed, a cesspool of bad information, used carefully and intelligently it can be an effective weapon against fake, misleading or slanted “news.” Instead, it’s more often used to simply spread the bad stuff by people too lazy or disinterested in the truth to check it out.

Regardless of your political leanings, try this experiment: For one week, fact check everything you find of interest in the newspaper, on television and social media, and what you hear from your friends, regardless of whether it supports your world view or disrupts it. Just try it. You may be surprised what you find.

Having survived another April Fool’s Day, it’s interesting to note that the stuff rolling around the Internet didn’t look all that different than any other day. Wyoming is testing whether kangaroos can survive in the wild.

April Fool’s, fake news, or … maybe it’s really happening! (It’s not, but a lot of people fell for it.)


This is the latest in a year-long weekly series on media literacy by Editor and Publisher Roger Plothow.


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