We are all fixer uppers

In the age of the rise in social media and decline in truth, an underlying theme is overlooked. We are all fixer uppers. There are no perfect people, leaders, institutions, organizations, or companies.

Yet, being critical of other people and entities is increasing. I am not saying being critical is not warranted, but the volume and venom seemed to be turned higher than it should be.

When I see or hear hyper-critical commentary, I have a few thoughta running through my mind.

– The person doing the criticism is not perfect either. A good retort is “you are no day at the beach either.”

– The venom sometimes is mismatched with the accusation. The venom equates with someone who has killed your mother, when the accused transgression is much milder.

– The accusation sometimes is based on spurious information. The claim is so outlandish, people think where did you get that? Fake news permeates social media because it is like shooting fish in a barrel. This is a key reason the president deploys it so often.

– Even more reputable sources write evocative things. A retired editor once said the media is biased toward conflict. This is a key reason bad news gets far more airplay, when the frequency is by far reversed.

Yet, if you take away only one thing, please take away the following – give like you want to get. It is OK to say I do not agree with those points or find that criticism unfair. But, we do not need to take someone’s head off in so doing.

Check your sources

The following is a condensed version of earlier posts. I have forwarded it to my local and hometown newspapers. Feel free to adapt and use.
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When Lt. Col. Ralph Peters resigned from Fox as its military advisor, he was critical of the opinion hosts, while holding the news group in higher regard. Too many of us are treating editorial opinion as news, be it Fox or MSNBC. Further Sinclair Broadcasting owns about 1/3 of the local TV stations requiring each to read verbatim, corporate prepared editorial pieces at the end of each show. There are many good news outlets who try to get it right, but check more than one source. And, be very careful of social media, as it is easy to pass misinformation along, and that includes the US president.

Plausible sensationalism creates the illusion

In follow-up to a satire post inspired by The Onion, back and forth comments with Linda and Jill noted a sad truth. There is so much fake news created by, for and passed along by this President, it may be putting The Onion’s satire on the back burner. What used to play as satire is being covered by pseudo-news/ entertainers on various shows as news or plausible speculation. And, some pseudo-news outlets have a mission of putting forth conspiracy theories or false stories.

Democracy requires an informed electorate. On NPR, I heard a news reporter who has been victimized in a cruel way by fake news, state that in Europe, they are used to Russian propaganda. One of the top rated shows on Sunday night in one of the Baltic States is to highlight fake news that has been planted by Russian agents that week. Whereas we watch some faux-reality show here in the US, they are debunking myths presented as news. In the US, it has been proven we will believe just about anything.

The key is for the fake story to have “plausible sensationalism.” To create a saleable illusion it has to be sensational. Yet, it cannot be off the boards crazy, as it will not be believed. It has to have some grounding or plausibility. The plausibility could be a person who is painted as untrustworthy or it could be related to a fact. The news reporter speaking on NPR noted the Russians under Putin have done this for years and often will surround a fake story with three or four true ones. So, the reader or watcher will be fooled in believing each story is true.

InfoWars does this quite often, which is a reason they offend and are often sued. The lead storyteller, Alex Jones, will say the mass shooting at Sandy Hook was staged, for example. Or, he may claim that Hillary Clinton is raising money by running a child pornography ring from a pizza parlor in Washington. The first story relies on the NRA and their avid members to make the story plausible. The second one relies on the built-over-time mistrust of Clinton coupled with a pizza parlor for plausibility.

Recently, we had Geraldo Rivera and others on Fox claim the story of the bombs being sent to fourteen Democrats was a “false flag” operation. Per these pseudo-news/ entertainers, the bombs were not real and being sent by a Democrat plant. The purpose of the operation is to influence the election. The false story got so much airplay and social media use, it had to be debunked by the US Justice Department.

The same goes with the President who is the biggest purveyor of fake news in America. He watches these shows or hears of the stories and passes them along. Then they get reported on Fox or mainstream news, and then he repeats them saying “people are saying.” All they have done is repeated the lie the President said. It is akin to validating your own rumor when it circles back to you. The President will often say things without proof or make up parts of conversations as he did with the Finnish President when he said they rake the forests to prevent forest fires in Finland.

Whether he is saying there our middle eastern terrorists among a slow-moving caravan of many women and children which justify the cost of sending troops to our border or claiming rampant voter or election fraud, there is enough plausible sensationalism to make people believe his BS. On the first one, why would terrorists spend months in a caravan to infiltrate the US, when they have such a good track record of recruiting people online? On the latter one, his party has been claiming greater voter fraud than exists to pass voter suppression laws.

So, what do we do about this? Please check your sources. If you are getting your news from InfoWars, Breitbart, Donald Trump, the MSNBC or Fox pseudo-news shows after their real news efforts go off the air, please stop or take it with a huge grain of salt. If you quote Alex Jones or Sean Hannity to someone, then be prepared for pushback that you should get. If you cite the President, be similarly prepared as he is more untruthful than he is not, as measured by Politifacts and judged by people who know him well.

A final rule of thumb. Sensational stories are not necessarily false, but be skeptical and ask questions. There are two well-known sensational ones underway right under our noses. Did Mohammed bin Salmon order the execution of the Khashoggi? The Keystone Kops storytelling by the Saudis imply something is amiss and our own CIA said he did. The other is the inadvertent or planned collusion with Russia to influence our 2016 election. The fact the Russians did is pretty much accepted, even begrudgingly by the President. But, we must get to the bottom of the bigger question.

Should we be skeptical? Of course, but consider the sources and nature of those involved. And, consider the degree and magnitude of changing stories that has gone with each. One thing for certain in my book – neither one is a witch hunt.

Vernacular needs to change

If we want to address real problems in our country, we may want to change our vernacular. When we hear something routinely called or framed a certain way by a politician or news network, we may accept that as the only truth. Yet, it may gloss over the greater problem.

For example, the far greater terrorist threat in the US is not from so-called Islamic extremists. It is from domestic terrorism that more often comes from white supremacist groups. There are over 1,100 hate groups being tracked by law enforcement groups and their hate crimes prevalence dwarfs that of Islamic extremists. Yet, funding to police the domestic terrorists has declined much to the chagrin of law enforcement.

Another example is freedom of the press is under siege and its attackers tend to shout fake news, when criticism comes their way. The best way to address the fake news is to get the story right. I see a greater amount of earnestness in legitimate media to do just that. I would also ask why the shouters of accusations of fake news tend to be the ones who routinely change their story. The White House has announced yet again a change in communication strategy with a new resignation. One thing they have not tried is something so very simple. It is called the truth. I think the reason it has not been tried is the truth may bare some unflattering and illegal activities.

So, when you hear someone shout fake news, consider the source. There is enough fake news out there, we all need to be on our guard and the purpose of the shouter may be use that prevalence  to his advantage. When I hear the President speak or read his tweets, I tend to not believe a word he says. The odds are in my favor.

So, to sum up, accusations of “fake news” are now being used to cover up lying, so pay attention to the source and let’s call lying for what it is. And, when a white supremacist kills multiple people, that is domestic terrorism and is just as evil as any other terrorism. Maybe if we call things what they are, we can better address the issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just a thought

Where do you get your information? I ask this because our President seems to get his information from less than reliable sources and then criticizes more legitimate sources for disagreeing with him.

Here are a few questions to ask of your sources:

– if a source of information screams at his audience while his head is turning a very scary shade of red, he might not be a good source of information.
– if a source of information has such a raspy voice from shouting at the wind and name calls everyone who he deems appropriate, then he might not be a good source of information.
– if you get your information from Facebook or Twitter, you need to look carefully at sources cited and use the Twitter feed for headlines only to cause you to dig further on more legitimate sources.
– if you are getting your information from a source that must advertise they are fair and balanced to make up for their bias and inconsistent veracity, then you might want to consider another source for validation.
– if you are getting your information from the current President, stop because he is an unreliable source and has been most of his life.

I encourage you to check multiple sources. I am often asked where I get my information. Several places – PBS Newshour, BBC World News America, NPR, Reuters, and The Guardian. I read articles from my browser feed which come from The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Times, Newsweek, Time, etc. And, my local paper, The Charlotte Observee is a good source for local and state news.

A good sign a news source is reputable is they print errata or correct portions of stories that prove to be inaccurate. Admitting mistakes is a sign of intelligence.

I would also ask people who say inane things about their sources. Our President cites a couple of sources that are known for making things up or creating conspiracies. He even put one on the White House. And, he has actually appeared on one where the host is on record that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged, as an example of his lack of veracity.

Before someone claims fake news, he needs to make sure the things he is saying are legitimate whether it is about his electoral college landslide, voter fraud or unemployment or crime rates.

A few suggestions for a better 2017

As many blogs have highlighted, 2016 has been the most interesting of years. My biggest concerns go beyond any electoral issues. They are the decrease in civil discourse and the increase in fake news and misinformation.

On the lack of civil discourse, we must start listening to each other and not just to respond. We need to listen to understand the other’s point of view. We need to decrease the decibel level and the use of name-calling and labeling.

The louder people are and the more shortcuts they use by labels show their argument is poor. I personally find labels to be a lazy form of argument to dismiss the other’s point of view. I have been called a tree hugger for this purpose, but I usually counter that I am also a capitalist to make that person think a little more.

On the fake news and biased news sites, we must do a better job of labeling the veracity of these entities. If you are going to call yourself a news source, then you need to be doing what it takes to be right far more than you are wrong. And, you need to have an errata where corrections are made public. We must also do our part to understand the veracity of our news sources.

So, what can we do better in 2017? Treat others like we wanted to be treated would be a huge plus. Listen and provide feedback like you want to receive it. Also, know the following statements:

– neither political party has all the good ideas and both have some that are not so good or don’t factor in the holistic causes of the problem.

– political incorrectness does not give anyone license to lie or be a jerk. One can be candid without taking someone’s head off.

As for the fake news sites, be on your guard. If it reads like a tabloid, then that is a sure sign. If mainstream news is not covering an issue, but this source is, check out its veracity. If it says Sponsored Advertisement on it, that is opinion, not news. If you are getting your news from shock jock entertainers, that is opinion. Also, be guarded of Facebook forwarding of news and even blogs on this source (by the way, my site is not news and represent the opinions of its user).

These fake news creators are very good as they make a nice profit through advertisements. They can afford to be good at it. So, it does take effort and homework on our part.  I read a variety of sources, Reuters, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal, news summaries and watch or listen to several others – PBS Newshour, BBC World News America, NPR, some mainstream news, etc.

Our issues are hard enough without us debating over the facts. We must gain common ground, listening and asking questions. Otherwise, we will solve the wrong problem.