One of the real problems we have in the Information Era is that so much information is just, well, wrong. Back in the pre-Internet dark ages we used to be able to easily identify the folks who distributed craziness as news, and just as importantly, the people who accepted that craziness at face value. We simply looked around us while in line at the grocery store and if we saw someone reading the National Enquirer, or one of the other tabloids, and he wasn’t laughing then we knew that was someone who shouldn’t be trusted to walk and chew gum simultaneously. Now things have gotten a little more complicated.
Case in point is how a blogger/nut-job could post a completely unfounded story related to the Ferguson, MO protests and in short order it morphed into a story on a national “news” network (Fox):
In short order Hoft’s story spread throughout the right-wing blogosphere. The right-wing media machine was cranking up. Early in the afternoon of Aug. 19, the right-wing libertarian site Before It’s News cited Mark Dice’s YouTube report, which in turn cited Hoft’s story…
Soon the story had been picked up by pretty much all of the right-wing noise machine, including Matt Drudge, Breitbart, Right Wing News, the Washington Times and the New York Post.
Now that the story had broken into the wild and had been reported by numerous sources — all citing Jim Hoft’s original report as well as each other — Fox News decided it had enough cover to report on Hoft’s bogus story.
They ran the story every half-hour with a flashing “ALERT ALERT” image at the bottom of the screen and cited , yep, Jim Hoft’s report.
Say what you will about the “mainstream media” at least back in the day there was an effort made to be a reputable news source and to prove to readers/viewers/listeners that the news being reported was accurate and had been confirmed by multiple primary sources. There was actually angst about using unnamed sources, and it was done only when absolutely necessary. Were the news outlets perfect? No, but for the most part you could expect that behind whatever editorial slant an outlet might have they were at least supported by verifiable facts. Unfortunately those days seem to be gone.
This is not just a national story. Right here in the Piedmont Triad there’s an increasing level of concern about one local newspaper’s lack of diligence in policing its Letters to the Editor for at least a modicum of accuracy, and quite frankly the quickening demise of local newspapers is more frightening than anything because they have traditionally been the only source of coverage of local governments. Without them who’s going to be the Fourth Estate?
All this brings to mind something my kids learned when they were doing research projects in school. Times had changed from when I was in school. In my day we had to go to the library to review books, encyclopedias, magazines and articles on microfiche (if you’re under the age of 35 look that up and be amazed) for our research. You could be pretty confident your sources were solid because a librarian had vetted those materials, but still we were taught to use multiple sources to support our thesis. Then the internet happened and all of the sudden kids had the ability to do research from the comfort of their own homes, but without the protection of a librarian vetting their sources. So guess what? A big part of their lesson was in learning how to identify good sources of information, and subsequent to that, verifying that information by finding multiple sources. I’m thinking that should become a required course of study in our society, because without it our populace will be led around by its noses by a bunch of charlatans. It’s already happening and it will only get worse.