In the news: sifting through facts

For a while now, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been pretty excited about a vague path I see for myself which brings together my legal and political background with my long spiritual journey.  And part of that, since “fake news” became a massive problem, has involved a LOT of fact checking.

Between the history major, research when I worked on my PhD and loads of legal research, I have a lot of research experience and I’ve learned to navigate more easily since the internet makes a lot of those tools available without having to go to a library and stand around at the card catalog.

Recently it occurred to me that some of the stuff I’ve been doing might be useful to other folks trying to navigate the world of fact and fiction in the news.  Not suggesting other people don’t know how, just not everyone does and not everyone is aware of all the resources I am.

First up is figuring out which media outlets and fact checkers are trustworthy.  I separate media bias as an issue from media reporting falsified info.  These days you can search the name of a newspaper or website and “Is it legit?” and there are some pretty good sites that come up. Politifact has a good list but it’s old.

Media Bias Fact Check is pretty good but I have found some places that haven’t been updated to reflect a change of ownership that has impacted both bias and veracity (Patheos, for instance, has changed hands so the middle of the road and wide representation in writers has changed to purely evangelical and a biased point of view; no info on truth or fiction).

I’ve memorized some places that come up often for me that don’t measure up when checked, so I automatically am skeptical of anything from Occupy Democrats or Breitbart, to name two.  Fake news and truth stretching happens on both sides, so it’s good to be vigilant whatever your persuasion.

Some of the venerated places like the New York Times or Washington Post  (CNN, CBS, NBC, et al) generally do a pretty good job, but they do have a big liberal bias and sometimes present more of the info that supports the bias.  However, I don’t find they actually make anything up and one nice thing about the better news outlets is they often give you info on sources.

It’s easy to do some fact checking because they often reference studies made by Homeland Security or the Department of State, etc. and I have tracked down enough studies to see if the news story accurately reflected it to feel confident they report real info and are not making stuff up.

Fox, on the other hand, not only makes stuff up but rarely provides a serious study or report — or indeed any evidence at all — so they make it a little harder.  But generally if something is in the news you can use a search engine and some key words from the story to track down whether there is any supporting evidence for their claims. I’ve researched enough of their stories to feel confident they routinely make up news and ignore studies, facts, etc.

I know many on the right have vilified Snopes and Politifact, but I’ve researched facts on both sides of many issues and I find they’re just as willing to debunk Democrats and liberals as the GOP and conservatives.  To the extent I’ve followed some of their source trails, I’ve found both do a good job of fact checking and I trust their results.

All these sources are the ways to get an easy fix.  But if you really feel unsure about what’s true, there are a few places you can go.  As mentioned, there are often studies cited that were carried out by departments of government and use statistics they collect.

For instance, you can look at lots of data collected by the State Department, Homeland Security, the DEA and various state and federal law enforcement agencies to find the following info about the flow of drugs, immigrants in general, and immigrants from Central America and Mexico in particular:

  1. more drugs come in from Canada than Mexico
  2. most drugs enter through ports, not across southern border
  3. immigrants actually commit far fewer crimes than citizens
  4. there are more illegal immigrants who came in on legal visas and stayed after the visa expired than there are immigrants who came across any border illegally
  5. the largest number of those illegally here on expired visas are from Canada

You get the idea.  A huge amount of stuff being floated by the President, the GOP and Fox news is a complete fabrication and there are facts you can check.  There are many topics for which the government collects data and prepares studies, so you can often go straight to the source to find out what’s true.

Another source on line is to check on bills at government sites.  At the federal level the Congressional Record has every bill that’s been proposed and you can follow the stages of it and find out who voted which way.  At the state level, every state I’ve looked in on (by no means all) has had an on line government site where you can track bills and votes.

To find out about court cases, you can order a transcript on line but you have to pay.  If you just want to track proceedings and the basics of what happened, you can get a lot of info on line.  Just look up the court, i.e. federal district court or local county court or a state supreme court, etc. and somewhere in their tabs you’ll find info on court cases.

Most major universities have lots of grants to do studies and publish loads of material on every subject.  When you run a search to find data on many issues, look for studies by, say, Stanford or Northwestern or the University of Michigan, for example, and read some of their research.  Multitudes of studies are available on line for free.  Even universities have crackpots, so you might also do a check on the professor(s) who ran the research 🙂

Those are enough basics you should be able to negotiate sorting fact from fiction in most cases.  Hope it helps.

One thought on “In the news: sifting through facts

  1. We live far from NYC, but this is our second year of subscribing to the New York Times. I don’t have the bandwidth to research everything I read, so I am grateful to people like you who do!

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