You Can't Believe Everything You Read

Three teenage girls are cutting apart newspapers--in a public library, no less.

It doesn’t stop there, either. After being clipped, the dismantled papers are subjected to pens, markers, and some very critical eyes. What on earth does the librarian have to say about this? She doesn’t mind. In fact, she--in cooperation with The News Literacy Project--supports such behavior. The teens, like many others across the country, are fact-checking coverage of the presidential election. These girls in particular have been following and checking the articles in several major newspapers, including the Des Moines Register.

Unsurprisingly, when looking for problems, they turn up. The most noted--and the most disputed--is bias. As a writer, I understand the desire to make articles more interesting, and sometimes that crosses the line into prejudice; as a reader, I know that my own personal biases--no matter how tight a box I lock them in--can bleed into newsprint. This stems some argument about what is and isn’t bias.

Facts, on the other hand, aren’t disputable. Fact-checking is in-vogue during this election—in accordance with this trend, several “Fact-Checks” have been run in the Des Moines Register (including those published on August 30 and 31; September 1, 6 and 7). The headline “Fact Check” is enough to convince most people. I, personally, like to be contrary, so--after reading the September 7 check--I pulled out my Hi-Liter and went to work.

Checking the article was no small task. With vague (“experts”; “financial historians”) to no sources attributed, I spent hours scouring proven fact-checking sources. What I found there was in total disagreement with statements from the so-called “Fact Check”. (For instance, in the article, it was stated that the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, supported by Clinton, factored into the 2008 meltdown. However, according the factcheck.org and their financial consultants, it actually softened the blow.)

This error is proof that as news consumers, we can’t believe everything we read. A healthy dose of wariness and twenty minutes of research for those statements that don’t sound accurate isn’t deadly--in fact, it could make all of the difference during this and future elections. Whatever your opinion, it is important to know fact from fiction. This isn’t always easy amidst the propaganda that appears on television, the radio, and--yes--even in newspapers, but truly nonpartisan resources exist. The Washington Post Fact Checker, Center for Responsive Politics, Politifact.com, Real Clear Politics and Factcheck.org are less than a second away online. When coffee shops, libraries, and scores of other public locations offer free WiFi to patrons, the public has no reason to be in the dark.





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