Inform Yourself

The news is wrong. Call it fake, call it lies, call it what you want, but you will find falsehoods in front-page articles on every mainstream media site today. Sorry. It’s true. Trump’s right.

Or is he?

News Pollution

The mainstream news media knows a lot about their shortcomings. They rush to print because being first is thought to be important. They amplify stories by reporting on reporting from other news outlets. Each of their reporters has a personal slant that is less than rigorous. Collectively, their reporters are probably wrong about almost everything…for every reporter in the ‘news media’ who knows the truth, there’s probably another who believes the opposite.

If you’re expecting rigor and science and fact and truth from the press, you’ve gone to the wrong institution. If you expect a bunch of ambitious, self-serving libel on everyone they can legally put in their paper, that’s the press!

Isn’t that beautiful?

You know it’s working because they attack each other, every side of the political spectrum, and every part of American life constantly in great barrages of scandal and discontent. Everything is the end of the world. It’s the Year of -Gate-Gate every day.

It is so constant and consistent that a flock of poorly-written quasi-satire of the news has passed itself off to millions of people as real (the stuff we were calling ‘fake news’ before Trump ran away with the term).

You can’t get the truth by watching a news segment. Or reading an article. But if you read and watch enough, for enough days, you will find the media is not just willing, but excited, to disprove the false things it says. If you bring together several sources, over a bit of time, you can discover facts. Not necessarily truth, but facts.

It’s not perfect, but never in the history of human civilization have we had it so good.

An Opinion On Sources

A lot of people have seen the chart defining the “good” and “bad” media sources out there (or criticism of it). In truth, the “mainstream” media has a lot of biases in operation, and while the reporting of facts is usually acceptable, the coverage in the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and other centrist outlets contain a lot of slanted adjectives and stretched narratives.

It is important to differentiate slant, spin, and color from lies, but if you intend to have a robust conversation with someone who doesn’t already agree with you, it is also important to have a number of resources for establishing which statements are facts, and which are interpretations of the facts that are used to create a journalistic narrative out of the facts.

For currency, I use Memeorandum as my primary news feed. It provides aggregation of the current big stories, as well as a river of breaking stories that will keep you current.

One resource I use for getting out of the echo chamber of copied narratives and clickbait newsroom headlines is Ben Domenech’s The Transom, which is a daily newsletter with aggregation of the day’s news, reader’s digests of conservative thought, and editorial comments from Domenech. At times, The Transom will contain incredibly insightful and honest contradictions of the narratives found in the mainstream press which can provide you empathy with the way other people feel. At other times, Domenech will distill and amplify the dishonest and slanted talking points of the right wing, and anger the hell out of you. These arguments are often the ones most in need of thoughtful counters by more mainstream or liberal thinkers, and knowing what the talking points are, and where they come from can help you be a better poitical conversationalist.

For more mainstream context and analysis, I appreciate the good reporting at FiveThirtyEight, the articles at Politico, and the newsletters from CNN Reliable Sources and Axios, and the editorial content on RealClear Politics.

Tailor What You Read

For years, my only news source was Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Not because it was actually comprehensive, but because I knew that if Canada fell into the Pacific Ocean, I’d hear about it from Jon within a few days, and that was all the news I needed or wanted.

You don’t have to be an info-junkie news freak. Just follow what’s on the New York Times or listen to NPR’s All Things Considered once a day and you should do ok. Your news will be biased, but you can probably handicap for that in your head.

If you want a broader spectrum of news, you will need to accumulate a small stable of sources and make a habit of challenging what you read with contrary sources. It’s also good to read everything with a modicum of doubt. Until you’ve read it from many sources, over several days, consider most of the things you read in the paper as gossip or rumor. You can get feel more sure of your information as time moves on, but don’t believe everything on first read.

Finally, it can be very useful to read the information on the fringes. Some of the stuff you read on the fringe will help you develop a picture of where the mainstream media bubble isn’t telling the ground truth. A lot of what you read on the fringe will confuse and pollute your mind, making you unstable and boorish at parties. When drinking tequila, I make sure to have a glass of water per shot. If you’re going to read Adam Khan or Infowars, or listen to President Trump speak, make sure to get some info electrolytes afterward.

The problem with the fringes is that they tell the truth. There’s a lot of truth in Trump’s words and in Bannon’s words as well as in the various other corners of the spectrum. They tell the truth until you’re ready to hear their big emotional idea. If you can take that idea critically, you can learn a lot. If it catches you unawares, you lose a whole lot of power to over your mind and thoughts. Practice helps. Keeping in human contact with honorable people of many viewpoints can bring you back when you drift. Don’t let anybody make you feel alone, because you’re not.

Other references

A few additional resources I used in writing this, but that are not core to the content of this article.

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Stop Booking Trump Surrogates

After Kellyanne Conway’s disasterous reference to the Bowling Green massacre and Press Secretary’s insistance on huge numbers at the inaguration and fabricated casus belli, it seems clear that the communications mouthpieces of the Trump Administration are committed to avoiding the truth, and instead adding to search costs for anyone attempting to measure the facts and results of their actions. Listening to them talk just makes you less informed.

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It has been proposed that the way to cope with this is to simply stop inviting the Trump official voices, and the surrogates to the news shows.

The downside to doing this is that these official and semi-official voices would no longer be available on Trump-critical outlets for answering hard questions. Also, any boycott of Trump voices would hardly be unanimous. Fox will certainly keep them on-air as will other outlets interested in pandering to the executive.

On the other hand, simply having fewer lies broadcast on the news is a good thing. We used to be able to corner these speakers into revealing some of the truth, at least by discovering which things they wouldn’t say out loud for fear of being caught in lies, but the Trump surrogates seem completely comfortable with the idea of voicing verifiable falsehoods, knowing that if they include the occasional true statement, such as “the sky is blue”, many listeners will not check the rest. Eliminating these lies increases the sum information value on our news programs.

Ultimately, I think this is for the best, and I urge our news outlets to treat Trump sources as false until proven true. Leaving the surrogates and spokespeople off-air provides space for more accurate information to be provided. The truly excellent news sources will be able to find intellectually honest Trump supporters, or at least apologists, to be featured instead. If such do not exist, maybe we can train some?