This election season has a lot of us running around putting out fires. Between Hillary Clinton’s propensity for dodging the truth and Donald Trump’s inability to bridle his tongue, and the media’s lack of professionalism, is it any wonder all of us are having a difficult time fettering out truth from fiction?
In the past 24 hours, I have personally dealt with at least five or six fires created by people clicking and sharing outright lies, or if you prefer, half-truths, which if you ask your mom is the same thing as a lie.
The last thing that crossed my path was an “article” about Khizr Muazzam Khan, the Gold Star Father that Donald Trump has been battling with for the past week.
Khan steppped on the toes of the GOP presidential nominee during the recent Democratic Convention. Getting your toes stepped on is pretty common in the American Democratic process. If you are running for office, you need to just get over it. Donald Trump can dish it out, but he can’t take it.
Anyway, I think this article was sent to me because my friend feared that I just didn’t realize the danger that Khan posed to Americans. The “article” began this way:
“The Muslim who attacked Donald Trump, Khizr Muazzam Khan, is a Muslim Brotherhood agent, working to bring Muslims into the United States. After reading what we discovered so far, it becomes obvious that Khan wanted to ‘trump’ Trump’s Muslim immigration policy of limiting Muslim immigration into the U.S. But not so fast. Trump we have your back.”
I didn’t read any further. Instead I sent my friend a note back and told her that this was not a reputable news source and that the “article” was bogus. A lie. Propaganda.
Frustrated, she cried out, “How am I supposed to know what is a valid news source and what isn’t?”
My friend is one of the most insightful people I know. Well-read and well-engaged in the world. But I realized her question is something I take for granted everyday as a journalist. I just expect that people know what a valid news source is. That may have been the case back when we had three TV channels and a couple of local newspapers from which to glean our news. Nowadays, though, with news cycle going 24-7 and the World Wide Web catering “news” to our specific interests, it can be very difficult for even the most seasoned media consumer to fetter out fact from fiction.
People I care about and admire have shared a variety of stories in the past 24 hours in which I took it upon myself to point out that the stories they were sharing were not accurate, but only half-truths, or distorted truth, which is the thing your mother and mine used to call a lie.
For the record Mr. Khan is not a Muslim Brotherhood member looking to implement Sharia Law in the U. S. (Donald Trump, however, may impose even stricter laws if his approach to mainstream media is any indication of how he’ll rule, God forbid, should he ever be elected).
See what I did there?
That parenthetical is what we call “opinion”. Opinion is about perspective and while I believe it should be based in fact, it is often just a half-truth.
Fact is a truth that can be proven.
It is a fact that Donald Trump has banned several mainstream newspapers from covering his events.
It is opinion that I think that may lead to bigger problems in the future.
It is important to know the difference. Too often in today’s media, the two become conflated and it difficult for even the most seasoned reader to determine what is fact and what is opinion. And we need to know the difference.
Fact. Evidence. Something that is indisputably the case.
It is a fact that four people, including Ambassador Stevens, were killed in the Benghazi attack.
Opinion. A view or judgment not necessarily dependent upon fact. (Although, I’ll continue to maintain it should be).
It is an opinion that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is responsible for the deaths of those killed in the Benghazi attack.
It is a fact that Khan’s son, Humayun, was a captain in the U.S. Army who sacrificed his life while saving his fellow soldiers in Iraq.
It is fact that Humayun Khan was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
It is an opinion that Mr. Khan “attacked” Donald Trump during the Democratic Convention.
It is an opinion that Mr. Khan’s wife remained silent during his speech because she is a Muslim woman and thus not allowed to speak in public. (This was Donald Trump’s opinion. It had no basis in fact.)
It is a fact that Gold Star mother Pat Smith spoke at the Republican National Convention.
It is a fact that Gold Star father, Khan, spoke at the Democratic National Convention.
It is an opinion, that media gave more coverage to Mr. Khan than Ms. Smith. An opinion not based in fact, but perpetuated by news media nonetheless.
It is so difficult to get the truth these days. How is the average person who is not an investigative journalist supposed to figure out what is fact, what is opinion and which of the news sources are valid?
Here are some of the tools I use:
I always check the name of the website from which the article comes. If the news site is Breitbart or Salon, I know that they are not a mainstream news source. They have an “agenda”.
News sources should not have an agenda. They are supposed to be unbiased. Breitbart nor Salon pretend to be unbiased. They make it clear that their agendas are in direct opposition to one another – one is Right Wing and one is Left Wing. Same goes if the article comes from a source that has “Red” or “Blue” in the title, like Blue Nation Review. These sources are at least making it easy to identify. They are stating clearly that they lean one way or another.
But what about something like Shoebat.com, the site claiming that Khan is part of the Muslim Brotherhood? There is nothing in the title to suggest its political leanings or whether it is a reliable news source.
Click on the “About Me” page of Shoebat, this is what you get:
“For the record, my name is Walid Shoebat. I used to be a radicalized Muslim willing to die for the cause of Jihad until I converted to Christianity in 1994. As a member of the PLO I was involved in terror activity, and was imprisoned in Jerusalem for three weeks. In prison, I was recruited to plant a bomb in Bethlehem as a result of which, thank God, no one was injured.”
There are immediate red flags for me as a journalist and as a consumer of media. This is a one-person news source. (Consider it a dating profile for the politically conservative). They have a carefully crafted narrative designed to propel an agenda. (Former Muslim, now identifying as Christian). This narrative plays well into the hands of those looking to exploit people for religious purposes.
Or, as I like to say, to instill fear in people.
As a general rule, I avoid religious sites as a news source unless what I am trying to find out about has to do with a specific religion or religious question. In that case, I turn to mainstream media sources like Christianity Today, which, yes, has an agenda in that it deals primarily with the Evangelical community, but it employs actual journalists and has editors and maintains journalistic standards to a degree. My friend Dave Schechter used to work for CNN. He now writes for Atlanta Jewish Times. If you are looking for a news source dealing with issues related to Jewish interests, I’d recommend Dave’s work. He’s excellent.
I avoid garnering news from sites whose main goal is to raise funds to propel their ministries. They are not unbiased and often circulate propaganda in order to instill a sense of desperation and fear in people, so they will donate more monies to these organizations. You should give because the ministry is worth giving to, because they do good work, not because of some desperate Apocalyptic political message. In particular I find organizations like Franklin Graham and James Dobson have clear political and social agendas and they often resort to propaganda fear tactics to propel people to send them more money. I avoid these organizations and never use them as a valid source of information.
Try and stick with mainstream media sources. I am not saying they don’t sometimes miss the mark at objectivity, but they do a better job at it than you are likely to find in places like DailyBeast, which often inserts opinion as a means of passing for reporting. The same goes for the Huffington Post.
I obtain news from the following mostly reliable sources: The Atlantic. The New York Times. The Washington Post. The New Yorker. Reuters. CNN. National Public Radio (again left-leaning but they try). The Boston Globe. The Oregonian. Any of the local newspapers. For instance, when the Orlando shootings happened, I went straight to the Orlando Sentinel to get the most current and comprehensive news, mostly void of opinion. Just the fact ma’am. I did the same during the Dallas shooting, turning to the Dallas Morning News as a source of facts, not filtering.
I recommend this method of fettering out the truth. The closer you get to the actual source of the news, the more likely you’ll get the facts.
For military information, I go to Military.com or Stars and Stripes.
For information about what is going on in this election cycle, I read TheHill.com
Politico has a left-leaning agenda but can also be a good source of breaking news stories.
When I need to check whether something I’m reading is true or not, I head over to Snopes.Com. My friend Cathy recommends politifact.com
If you see a clip about “he said” or “She said”, head over to YouTube and see if you can find the entire speech. Or as in the case of Benghazi, download the Senate testimony for yourself.
Quit letting others interpret the news for you. Learn the truth for yourself.
Let’s take a look back at that graph I pulled from Shoebat.com. See that last line? “Trump we have your back”? When you see a statement like that, it is a glaring red flag that what you are reading has an agenda. The agenda is clear: To protect Mr. Trump’s reputation, which he continues to destroy day after day after day, which is why he needs all these wingbat people calling themselves journalists cleaning up after him. (My opinion but based in fact).
Most important of all: Do not share or re-share on Social Media information that you have not first verified as true. It adds to the confusion and can ruin your credibility as a thoughtful, thinking person who is well-read and engaged.
This is by no means a comprehensive list but I hope it helps you ferret out truth. We all need to be as diligent as possible this election season. Our children and grandchildren are depending upon us to put this country in the hands of someone worthy of the job.
If you have other suggestions, please add them to the comments below.
Karen Spears Zacharias is an author and journalist. She will not be voting for Donald Trump, whom she considers to be a danger to Democracy as we know it.