Politics & Policy

A Field Guide to Harvard’s Field Guide on ‘Fake News’

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The real fake-out is that the Left is capable of honestly policing fake news.

Last week, Harvard released a new research guide on “fake news.”

“Fake news,” of course, is the source of all evil, according to the Left. It’s only thanks to lies that Donald Trump was elected! Instead of targeting stories that are completely false, however, the Left applies the label of “fake news” to outlets that report factual stories but draw political conclusions from them — in other words, they call everything with which they disagree “fake news.”

Which means that their talk of “fake news” is actually fake news.

Of course, the largest “fake news” item of all is that “objective” news sources aren’t biased in their coverage. They obviously are, and it’s why conservatives have warmed to President Trump’s labeling left-leaning outlets such as CNN “fake news” even if CNN isn’t actually reporting anything factually false but merely drawing convenient leftist inferences from overblown coverage of core facts.

Nonetheless, the Harvard guide, written by “social justice” professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College, purports to compile a handy-dandy list of fake-news sites to avoid. The list provides ten different ways to label the stories on such sites:

‐proceed with caution (“sources that may be reliable but whose contents require further verification”)

Two other indicators are used for leftist sites that meet Zimdars’s politically correct standards:

‐credible (“sources that circulate news and information in a manner consistent with traditional and ethical practices in journalism”)

So, for example, AlterNet.org, a far-left site, is labeled “political” and “credible.” Here’s one of their top headlines as I write this, by one John Feffer: “The Trump Dystopian Nightmare: Nuclear War, Climate Change, and a Clash of Civilizations Are All on the Horizon.” National Review is labeled unknown. The website I run, the Daily Wire, is labeled with “extreme bias,” as is the Daily Signal, the website of the Heritage Foundation, as well as the Drudge Report, which is essentially a linker site. The Daily Caller is called “political,” “clickbait,” and “unreliable.” The Blaze is called “political” and “clickbait.” The list doesn’t mention Barack Obama’s favorite outlet, Vox; it doesn’t mention Slate or Salon, either.

Every outlet has its bias. We’re all better off admitting our bias openly rather than slathering facts in opinions and then conflating the two.

No wonder conservatives don’t trust the media — or the supposed media police. They’re too busy upholding the myth of mainstream-media objectivity to be concerned with the truth, which is that every outlet has its bias, and that we’re all better off admitting our bias openly rather than slathering facts in opinions and then conflating the two. I’ll proudly state that National Review and the Daily Wire are more honest than CNN; both outlets have an editorial point of view reflected in their content, but neither mistakes news for opinion or opinion for news. The supposedly objective outlets, by hiding behind the façade of that faux objectivity, constantly conflate their opinions with their news.

Here’s the reality: We’re not all going to be able to agree on narrative. But we should strive to find the facts we can discuss together.

So, how do we identify the facts? Here are a few tips for determining reliability of information — tips that we all (including me) fail to use consistently but that could prove handy:

1) Locate the information intersection. If we view news coverage from various sides of the aisle as lines on a grid, the point where they converge — the common point of coverage – gives us the facts. So long as an outlet reports those facts, it’s not fake news. It’s just opinion journalism, unless it obviously treats opinions as facts. So if Huffington Post and National Review report the same underlying facts but disagree about the ramifications, we can at least identify the underlying facts worth discussing. This does mean that you should survey the literature — and that you should move outside your Facebook feed from time to time.

2) Wait 24 hours to believe supremely controversial claims. The Twitter/Facebook news cycle favors the people who are the first on a story, but exclusivity and speed often trump reliability. That’s why veteran Twitter watchers almost never tweet out early reports from shooting scenes: The information from the ground evolves over time. Most of us on Twitter fall victim to this from time to time. “Too good to check” sometimes overrides better judgment.

3) Anonymous sources are anonymous sources. Don’t put tons of weight on anonymous sources unless an organization with a history of caution has a bunch of them claiming the same thing. This also means that when one anonymous source denies an allegation from another anonymous source, you shouldn’t just believe the anonymous source you like.

4) Outlets that make corrections are more reliable. If an outlet issues corrections, it is more likely to be more reliable than others. Outlets that double down after they’ve been proved wrong are either stubbornly right or — far more likely — stubbornly wrong. That doesn’t mean that outlets that constantly back down are better than those that don’t. It means that outlets that never back down are probably willing to fib to you.

5) Consider the ideology. Let’s say a site leans right but will print information that counters its prevailing orthodoxy or will tolerate voices of dissent within a band of the spectrum. It’s more likely that such a site will treat information with respect, since the ideology doesn’t trump the facts. It’s dangerous when a site decides to quash news or rewrite news based on the ramifications of the news.

6) Read the whole article. Don’t just read the headline. We all read the headlines for shorthand, but all too often the real point of an article is buried in paragraph 19, as all the mainstream outlets understand (which is why, as good little leftists, they bury all the exonerating information about Trump-Russia connections deep in their articles). More complexity in information makes it more difficult to digest and tempts us to filter out new or conflicting info, but it also makes our information more accurate.

All in all, don’t believe that everything the Left labels “fake news” is fake news. It’s far more likely that the real fake news is that the Left is capable of policing fake news honestly, rather than merely determining that sources they hate must be ruled out of the news realm entirely.

Mr. Shapiro is the host of the podcast The Ben Shapiro Show, the editor emeritus of The Daily Wire, and the author of How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps and The Right Side of History.


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