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Trying To Make Sense Out of Nonsense

January 24, 2017



Regardless of one’s political bent, the proliferation of fake news is perplexing. It is hard enough to find an unbiased news source without having to vet news to determine if it is valid. How many times have you seen a post on Facebook or Twitter that goes viral, only to find it is not accurate. A great example of this was the news story about voter fraud in Ohio which was a fake news story created by Cameron Harris.

At the same time, to be accurately informed a person needs to get news from more than one source. This is probably the best defense against fake news or biased reporting. If you only  watch Fox news or only read the New York Times, the information you have will be leaning right or left, while the truth lies somewhere in between.

The media has not helped this problem. Often, a news headline will be nothing like the story that follows, or the story will not be as sensational as the headline promised. An example of this was a recent story that had headline – “Reverse mortgages cost some surviving spouses their homes”. The article then describes a woman who lost her partner and is now in danger of losing the home they shared. They were not married and the house was only in her partners name.  Our news sources have stepped away from the who, what, when, and why of solid journalism and have traded in-depth reporting for sound bites. Social media has not helped, as it has been training all of us to think in 140 character sentences or quick, short posts.

All of this has led to opinions that are uninformed or biased, or just not valid. Yet, we all have them and seem to not hesitate to express them. Again, social media has not helped, giving us not only a platform to express ourselves, but allowing us to express opinions virtually anonymously. This last factor has the negative impact of people posting some pretty vile comments. Pick a topic, post an opinion, and watch the responses. Those that agree with you will say so, and those that don’t will too. The scary thing to me is those that disagree can get mean and hateful to a degree that almost feels life-threatening.

The election of 2016 has brought all of this out in dramatic fashion. Trump supporters can’t wait to get Obama out. Clinton supporters can’t believe Trump will be our next president. Many people voted for the lessor of two evils, and many chose not to vote at all. There were Democrats and Republicans who voted for their party’s candidate reluctantly. Both sides asking, “Is this the best we can do?”

Now that Trump has actually become president things have gone from bad to worse. As if fake news was not bad enough, now we have alternate facts. Trump’s spoke-person, Conway, used this phrase in defending the new press secretary Spicer, who lied about the turnout on inauguration day. Pictures don’t lie, unless photo-shopped of course, but the ones on CNN were real. The theme of this presidency seems to be, if we don’t like the truth, we will make up alternate facts (insert lies) that keep us looking good.

David Brooks wrote a New York Times commentary and called Trump a bumbling Captain Chaos. He said, “We’ve never had a major national leader as professionally unprepared, morally compromised and temperamentally unfit as the man who took the oath on Friday”, (meaning 1/20/17). He ends by saying that “with Trump it’s not ideology, it’s the disorder.”

So with fake news, alternate facts, and an incoherent, ranting president, how do we make sense out of nonsense?  Now is the time for all of us to stay as informed as possible. Read! Question everything. Check several sources. Do as a newspaper would do and get at least two verifiable sources before believing information. Read and listen to opinions that differ from your own, try and understand where someone who disagrees with you might be coming from. Don’t retweet or repost anything without checking it out.

Challenge falsehoods, counter with facts. Hold our elected officials accountable. I find it interesting that with 100 senators and 435 representatives, we only hear from a few on any given issue. There is an old saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. We need to be squeaky wheels.

If we fail to keep the nonsense separated from sense we will fall into the trap that George Orwell spoke of in the novel 1984. (Interesting that January 21st was the anniversary of his death).

“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command….And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth.”

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