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Christopher "Tanoro" Gray is a web programmer and science advocate especially concerned with resource management technologies, biology, and artificial intelligence. He is a student of epistemology and philosophy as well as an Atheist competent in Christian theology.
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Fear no Fake News
Posted by: Tanoro - Jul 13, 2017 1:34PM

I was having a conversation with someone named Bill on Facebook who wanted to know what sort of media image Donald Trump had before it was announced he was running for President. I hit him with several links and sources to find more, but it was clear what Bill was implying.

But all those stories about Trumps past business failures were published after he decided to run for president

Wrong! Clearly, Bill has a greatly inflated fear of biased media and he thinks the best way to avoid it is to isolate it chronologically. *facepalm* First of all, Bill, you're assuming the media didn't have a reason to criticize Trump until it became political. They may have! In fact, they did. The Wikipedia article for Trump University has references going back to 2005, so bang goes that theory. Secondly, you can't assume the media is being biased when they describe something that you can hear Trump recently say for himself or having tweeted it. Tell you what, Bill. I'm going to do you a great service. I am going to tell you how to safely assess your media content. No solution is perfect, but with this advice, it won't matter what news source you go to. You'll know how to proportion your confidence and what to avoid.

First, news pieces are typically broken up into types of pieces. For this explanation, we're only concerned about information pieces and editorial pieces. Watch any news story on any channel! You will see a news reporter hit you with the flat facts. These are the W's of journalism (i.e. who, what, where, when, and why). Bear in mind, however, that facts can be omitted or not yet known, so never assume you have the whole story. You almost certainly do not. Using multiple sources and checking for updates can help alleviate that problem. Moreover, every news agency gets things wrong sometimes. They are each in constant competition with one another for who can break stories first and this sometimes leads to honest errors in the information phase. Reliable agencies will own up to the error and correct it. Then you have man-babies like Trump who point to CNN doing the right thing and pretend this makes them less reliable instead of more reliable.

After the information phase of the segment some hosts will put their papers down and casually discuss the significance of the events. This is the editorial phase. You may choose to avoid this phase if you're concerned about media spin because this is where it happens most brazenly. There is a trade-off as this phase can put seemingly isolated events into important context next to related events you may not be aware of. The context, framing, and interpretation of the events is the media spin. If you choose to watch the editorial phase, just be aware of this trade-off and use extreme grain of salt here. Cross-reference with more objective sources where available.

What you want to avoid are sources that only do editorials or attempt to intermingle the editorial phase with the information phase so viewers have a hard time separating the flat facts from the host's opinions. This is considered sloppy and unethical journalism. Fox News is usually professional enough to know better, but Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, and similar sources break this rule ad nauseum. Second, avoid sources that self-reference too much. The bigger media companies will spin by omission, so smaller groups like Natural News and Info Wars try to shoe horn legitimacy of their own by claiming to publish what other agencies deliberately omit and get you caught in their loop of content. They editorialize about a topic. The citations point to more of their blogs, which cites more of their blogs, and so on. They avoid using primary sources as much as possible because the intent is not to justify their claims -- it's to keep your attention. These types of sources are best ignored for sources that practice real journalism.

In conclusion, never give total confidence to any one source, be aware of the type of content you're looking at, be mindful of the source shifting the segment phase, fact-check if you can, proportion your confidence accordingly, and avoid agencies that break essentially every basic rule of journalism. Master this and you will fear no fake news.

This blog is an editorial and contains only the opinions of the author. The author claims no expertise on most topics of discussion and this blog is not to be cited as an alternative for properly vetted journalism or scientific sources.

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