I’ve made no secret of the fact that I do not hold Trump in high esteem, but I do have to hand him this: he does propaganda better than anyone I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. He largely ignored advisers and followed his own acute entertainers’ instincts, eschewing the traditional political tendencies to apologize for wrongs, to try to not offend people and attempt to traffic (mostly) in facts.
Yeah, Trump decided that facts were pretty irrelevant during his campaign, and it served him well.
This was brought home to me two days after the election, when an old high school acquaintance posted on Facebook an image of President Obama with a purported quote from him saying, “Hillary can’t be trusted and isn’t qualified to be President,” dated 2008. The problem? He never said that. In fact, if my high school acquaintance had bothered to click through to the article attached to the image she posted, she would have seen it was the Snopes article DEBUNKING the very image she was posting.
I stayed away from posting political stuff on FB during this election cycle, for the most part, but I was so dismayed by that, I called her out on it. She replied that I was right, she hadn’t clicked through to the article, but that I “shouldn’t get my panties in a bunch.” Needless to say, it’s been an election cycle for unfriending.
So… what do we do? How do we survive when the leader of the free world (gulp… I can barely type that) plays fast and loose with the facts in a manner unprecedented in our history?
We stand firm, my sisters and brothers. We celebrate knowledge. We read books and we talk about them. We recommend them to friends. We fight against the wave of anti-intellectualism rolling across this land. We proudly own up to our own nerdiness.
But, mostly, we get informed.
That’s the part that troubles me most, having overdosed on CNN this election cycle. (And now suffering a terrible cable news hangover which makes me unable to even turn on a television). I won’t bore you with all the vaguely conspiracy-ish-sounding stats on corporate media, and how not independent it is. I don’t fully buy that. Some, sure, but not all. The problem is that it’s entertainment… they follow what gets eyeballs. That’s why Trump’s outlandishness enthralled them, and us. We couldn’t tear our eyes away. Our need to be amused made us deer in the headlights of an oncoming tractor trailer that was set to flatten us.
And my biggest concern is young people. If you’re getting your information from social media, as so many of them (and we) are, how do you tell fact from fiction? What’s the difference between a breathless, nutty Breitbart hit piece and a well-researched piece of journalism? It all looks equally slick on the smartphone. What to do? Here’s some of what we can encourage:
- Ask yourself: is this a reported piece or opinion? Even the most respected news sources have both. I’ve been surprised to see many people referring to the latter as the former. Listen, I think a well-done opinion piece can do wonderful things to illuminate issues. But ultimately we all need our own raw facts so we can form our own opinions, not the ones that pundits on either side of the aisle form for us.
- Read reports from credible news organizations. We’ve been steeping in the toxic sludge of “it’s all biased” for the better part of 25 years now, ever since the rise of the 24-hour news networks and their promise of different flavors. No, Fox News is not a news organization with the standing of, say, a Reuters. Reuters does original reporting, with investigative journalists out in the field. Fox for the most part takes the original reporting that organizations like Reuters do and puts them through the funhouse mirror filter that advances an agenda.
How do you find credible news sources? A few suggestions: Reuters, the AP, ProPublica, The Center for Investigative Reporting. Here’s a good and more comprehensive list: click here.
- Fact check. The internet can be a cesspool, but it can also be a marvelous way to find actual, verifiable facts. (Yes, they exist!). Try Politifact and FactCheck.org,
- Challenge people on the source of their information. I don’t even mean this in a confrontational way. Just in a rigorous and systematic way. “How do you know?” can be one of your most powerful tools. You may not change a mind right in the moment, but if you spark a curiosity in someone, they may be moved to go find out exactly where they got the data they’re sharing. No, this won’t work for everyone, but it’s still worth a try.
- Encourage literacy. (I’m not even kidding). Volunteer to help a child learn to read. Give your time and money to adult literacy programs. An informed electorate begins with an educated electorate, and reading is free. If we instill a love of it, we change the world. As James Madison said, “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
That’s it. Your handy guide for living in a post-fact world. It’s a little like a zombie apocalypse, but of the mind. Get ready to fight ignorance with book learnin’.
Got more ideas? Send them along.
What you can do today: Click here
Teens: What you can do: Click here