Learning the news: Picking on liberals

Conservatives have their Breitbarts and Limbaughs, but liberals are not without their share of biased or downright fake news sites, writes Roger Plothow.

Let’s pick on liberals and progressives for a bit, shall we?

I begin by admitting the mere use of these terms is borderline offensive and, at best, an over-generalization. But I don’t have a better tag, so I’ll work with what we have.

Conservatives (see the paragraph above) have their Breitbarts and Limbaughs, but liberals are not without their share of biased, misleading, goofy or downright fake news sites. I took this list from a post on Facebook by a person who claimed that the “corporate media” is all bad and we all need to trust “independent media.” Whatever that means.

Based on the list provided by this self-described progressive Facebook poster – Truthdig, Common Dreams, Truthout and Democracy Now – information sources worthy of trust range from openly left-leaning but generally fact-based sites (Truthdig) to sources that clearly exist to pump up the liberal base (Common Dreams) with headlines like: “In Direct Affront to Diplomacy, Trump Declares ‘Talking Is Not the Answer!’”

The use of exclamation marks in headlines is never a good sign!

One of the gravest threats to overcoming the political divide that has paralyzed not just Washington but much of the country is the increasing practice of consuming only information that reinforces our core beliefs. We start with confirmation bias – the tendency to interpret all information in a way that supports our existing word view. Then, we double down by simply avoiding any information that upsets our tidy world. And thus, the bubble is born.

There is both a long history and place for partisan information sources. Read the Federalist Papers if you think information provided to reinforce a certain way of thinking is new. Or, for that matter, go back to Aristotle and his Art of Rhetoric. (See? Those Gonzaga classes are already paying off.)

There are a number of excellent websites and magazines that openly take a liberal or conservative perspective, and these contribute mightily to the dialogue. But that assumes there is a dialogue. The word “dialogue” means a “conversation between two or more people,” or “to take part in a conversation or discussion to resolve a problem.” A dialogue solely among people who agree with each other is interesting and comforting, but it doesn’t lead to problem-solving.

The Trump presidency seems to have caused many liberals to circle the wagons, an observation I make based only on anecdotal evidence. One of the definitions of liberal is “open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.” That implies a willingness to discuss issues with people of good faith who may or may not share your views. That seems to be happening less and less on all sides of politics.

No, this does not mean we must engage people who are willing to lie or who have no interest in a good faith exchange of ideas. People willingly living inside bubbles of their making aren’t conducive to improving the discourse. Bubble-dwellers are also the ones most likely to accept fake news that supports their point of view.

For example, the same person who argued that we should ignore “corporate media” and stick to “independent media” posted a story about a woman in North Carolina who was kicked out of a women’s bathroom after being mistaken as transgender. About five seconds on Google uncovered that the story was entirely made up. But it had been posted on that non-corporate independent media, so it was believed. And so it goes.

Roger Plothow is editor and publisher of the Post Register. This is part of a year-long weekly series on media literacy.