If you think journalists are terrible at what we do, please solve that problem the way you should any other. Do it better. Join us! Lord knows, we need all the help we can get. The good news is, you can do this today, right now, thanks to the digital world we live in. From you, all I ask is this: A dogged determination to hunt for the truth. This involves asking a lot of uncomfortable questions. And it involves presenting what you find in a persuasive way. Hint: Nothing persuasive is ever said in the same sentence as words like “libtard” or “F..K Trump.”
The parties and marches are over, and America goes back to work Monday. Perhaps the one thing we can all agree is this: Truth is in trouble. So I’m asking all of you to join in a very important cause today: A determined, enlightened, no-holds-barred fight to rescue the Truth. It’s a radical idea, and if you aren’t humbled almost daily by discoveries that you were wrong about something, you’re not doing it right. But it’s the only way to save Truth for ourselves and our children.
There’s “fake news” and “alternative facts” and a whole lot of name-calling going on. There’s “bots” on both sides who just repeat thinly-sourced arguments they’ve heard on talk radio and giggle proudly for “winning.” Life feels more and more like a bar fight to me, and America’s been over-served. Remember, we’re going to have to explain what happened at the bar to our children some day, if not to a judge. So, could we all agree that it’s last call? Let’s turn the lights on and go home to our families and start turning over some rocks.
Notice, I didn’t say “throwing rocks,” I said turning them over.
Let’s begin with the “war on journalism” that is now taking place. This fight is misplaced. Or rather, it’s over. The “mainstream media” that’s such a favorite punching bag is on life support. Meanwhile, there’s hundreds, thousands of places for people to find whatever news they are looking for. If there’s some kind of conspiracy going on, it’s going really, really badly, folks. Donald Trump has a far bigger audience than any news TV show. His people keep talking about bypassing the media, which they can easily do. So an intelligent person has to ask: Why direct so much anger at this thing that is supposedly irrelevant?
Perhaps you think this or that outlet, or this or that reporter, is biased. You’re probably right. This isn’t breaking news, however. My mom taught me 40 years ago that it’s your job as a citizen to read 4, 5, or 6 newspapers every day, make sure they offer a variety of viewpoints, and make up your own mind. That’s easier than ever today. It’s so easy, that you can do it yourself. You can email experts, read Twitter posts, download academic reports, try to make sense of it all. You can post eyewitness reports. Just remember this everlasting reality: The truth is complicated. A burning limousine on TV can make it look like Washington D.C. has descended into chaos. But I was there. One block away, people had no idea anything was going on, or that there probably more journalists than rioters at “the riot.”
Your best way to the truth is usually to talk to a variety of voices and hear them all out, mixing that in with your own boots-on-the-ground inquiries. Do that, and I promise you’ll struggle, but you’ll be a little closer to the truth than when you started.
You’ll also find that, on all sides, people are trying really, really hard to manipulate you. And it works really well. They are good at it. They are professionals. You are busy trying to live your life, raise your children, pay your taxes, stay safe. They spend billions of dollars on marketing and media relations. There are FIVE PR workers for every one journalist now. Think about that. So, any time you hear something from a journalist, or a politician, or a company, ask yourself: Which direction the money is flowing?
Most critically, ask yourself: Why someone is trying to get you to hate someone else? Don’t say “libtard” unless you are OK with being someone’s tool. Or for that matter, don’t say, “Shut your face, white male.” You, also, are a tool. (That is how I spent my Friday night, with a woman telling me that repeatedly as we tried to discuss the Inauguration.)
Focusing blame on a group of others is, quite literally, the oldest trick in the book. Encouraging rivalries comes right out of Machivelli’s The Prince. So, by the way, is making a newly conquered people poor so they have no strength to rise up and fight.
And this is my main point today. While throw rocks at each other, call names or otherwise tell someone else to shut up, our standard of living has indeed slipped away. Americans haven’t gotten a raise since we put a man on the Moon. Sure, there’s been progress. But on the big issue, a shocking amount of America’s wealth has been sucked away by a tiny group of elite, while we all argue with each other over who deserves to be able to go to a doctor. Again, tools.
I’m one who thinks Donald Trump is in a position to work towards correcting this, and he might. Lord knows the Democrats and Republicans have not. I will give him a chance. It’s obvious to me, particularly from the Bernie Sanders candidacy, that Americans are searching for some way to fix this thing they know is badly broken, but they don’t quite know why or how. Perhaps Trump will at least do things differently. He might really be able to spend $1 billion on infrastructure in a way that a Democratic or Republican president could never do, for example. I’ll cheer that if it happens.
But it’s my job — and all of your jobs — to look deeply and sincerely at the reality of what is actually happening now that Trump is president. To decide, day by day, if he is draining the swamp. If he is fixing health care. If he is fighting for regular people, or just another politician helping the rich.
That means checking your own confirmation bias at the door. When you see a picture showing obviously small(er) crowds at the inauguration than in previous years, just say, “OK, so what? DC is full of Democrats, so of course Obama’s crowds were bigger. It doesn’t mean anything. ” Don’t twist and turn to make facts fit your reality. That’s not devotion to the truth. To me, that just sounds like a crazy person who’s obsessed with TV ratings. And a bunch of tools falling for it.
But please, jump on in. Become a fact checker. Be a journalist. Fight for the truth, wherever it takes you. Here’s just one example: the Keeping Tabs on Trump page, set up by computer scientist Christopher Ambler. He is rating Trump statements as “Wrong,” or “Fake News” or “Short Term Memory” and so on. Ambler’s trying to employ the scientific method, as much as possible, to Trump’s Tweets.
“The fact that he uses twitter (communicate) is the main motivation to have a view of the tweets from a critical angle – and categorize them accordingly,” Ambler said. “I take it as a good thing that, these days, most facts CAN be checked, and easily. Personally, I check both biased sides for their take, do my own research, and draw my own conclusion. I’m not always right in my analysis, but I try to be 100% correct in my facts, and will correct them if shown wrong. Like science, we do the best we can and adjust as we go, in light of new evidence. And I get flak from the left, as well, for saying things aren’t conclusive when they’re not. And giving the benefit of the doubt when it’s appropriate.”
Within a few days, he’d already reached 10,000 followers. Pretty soon, his audience will be as big as a major media outlet. So, no crying about biased media. All points of view are out there. The truth is out there. But only if you have the courage to seek it, wherever it takes you.
For now, I fear, too many people are falling into the traps set for them by their respective “teams” — the red hat bots, the rainbow bots. And that’s why, on Jan. 22, 2017, our national political discussion is dominated by the size of crowds and not topics like the Trump administration’s decision on day one to make it a little harder for people with small down payments to get a mortgage. (Don’t worry, I’ll have a report on that tomorrow. And you can decide for yourself if it’s a gift to the banking industry, or a sensible step to steer people away from buying homes or towards private mortgage insurance).
Join me in a hard-headed quest for the truth. Let’s finish our beers, turn the lights on, go get a good night’s sleep, and wake up Monday morning ready to do the hard work of figuring out what’s really best for our country. And saving the Truth, because without it, there will be no Justice, and no American Way.
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