Yesterday, I was listening to a discussion with Tom Brokaw broadcast on NPR from The Commonwealth Club. Asked his opinion of news and information in the digital age, the veteran journalist said that he believes the variety of available content is generally a benefit to the world but that the consumer must “apply filters” to the information being delivered. In other words, the onus is now on us to do the fact-checking we used to rely on relatively few news sources to do on our behalf; and Brokaw suggests the basic questions: “What is the source? Who are the players? What is the vested interest?”
We liberals are pretty clear about the manipulative puppet show that calls itself FOX News, but we are simultaneously less critical of information sources that at least appear to share our ideological views. In general, even if the source is the New York Times or Forbes, we should pay attention to the reality that the non-stop, digital news frenzy results in a lot of self-made journalists sourcing one another. On Salon.com, for example, Glenn Greenwald will use a word like documented that links to another article that itself provides no hard evidence for its position. This phenomenon is literally viral, and I believe the educated, progressive class needs to be more critical of every story before feeding the disease, no matter what logo appears in the header.
Recently, a well-educated, liberal friend of mine posted this piece from Reader Supported News, and it may well be one of the worst examples of insidious, hack journalism I’ve seen yet. If all you read is the article, you will assume that Senator Franken voted against the National Defense Authorization Act, which is not true and can actually be documented. The article, dated 12/17, is largely copied and pasted from a floor statement made by Franken prior to the vote (dated on the senator’s site 11/29); but Franken ultimately voted Yea for NDAA on 12/1, when the bill passed 93-7.
In addition to literally taking the senator’s words and post-dating them in order to obfuscate, somebody (we’ll never know who) wrote an introduction to the piece that begins “Yesterday, the Senate passed a bill…” thus creating the illusion that whatever date the news aggregator puts on this nonsense is, in fact, the day after a vote that is now almost a month old.
This same article, whatever its source, appears verbatim on Huffington Post and several other sites with less brand recognition. Huff Post shows over 6,000 “Likes,” and nearly 3,000 shares — all by well-meaning, likely-liberal citizens who have literally been lied to about this story and simply assumed that it was true.
Citizen journalism can be a powerful tool, but only if those of us still clinging to rational thought in this crazy world are willing to double check before sharing.