Only The Facts

In Issue:

Newspaper Stack

How do you know you can trust what you read? Start by recognizing that there is no such thing as completely unbiased news. No one can report any news story without encapsulating complicated events, deciding what’s really important, leaving out what the reporter thinks are insignificant details, and adopting a point of view that makes it possible to stitch together all the elements and tell a story. Therefore no two people will ever report any news story the same way. So there is no such thing as a single objective telling of a news event. That said, the following tactics will bring you closer to the objective truth.

1. Triangulate from less biased sources. Fox News has a clearly conservative slant; MSNBC has a liberal one. Whatever news source you begin with, think about how hard that source tries to be unbiased.

2. Separate news from opinion. Always ask yourself whether what you’re getting is reporting or commentary. In newspapers the distinction is usually pretty clear. There’s news on the front page and commentary on the editorial page. On television and on the Internet, it’s often less clear. Sites like Drudge Report on the right and Talking Points Memo on the left report news, but from a definite point of view and with a lot of opinion mixed in.

3. Be suspicious. Always have your antennae out for anything that sounds untrue. If something you hear or read seems questionable, a simple Google or Google News search can often ferret out the truth. Factcheck.org, politifact.com, and snopes.com are good nonpartisan sites devoted to separating truth from fiction.

4. Balance your news diet. Try to get at least some of your news from the other side. Even if you feel strongly about an issue or a news event yourself, it’s vital to take in opposing positions. Somewhere between one extreme and the other usually lies the truth. But above all …

5. Recognize your own biases. The multiplicity of voices available to us today allows people to find news sources that consistently present the news the way they like it. This tends to strengthen people’s prejudices and make all of us even more polarized than ever. Try always to stay aware of this tendency in yourself. It’s there in all of us.

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