**disclaimer: Most of the sources cited in this post were made for entertainment, not educational, purposes.
Several months ago, a friend messaged me inquiring about my opinion about the presidential candidates. Considering, that we shared similar conservative beliefs in high school, he was, understandably, surprised when my response was much kinder to Clinton than it was to Trump. A few days later, we were messaging while watching the debate; the candidates were asked about the 2nd amendment and gun control.
I interpreted Clinton’s response to mean “I support regulating guns because I find the recent incidents of gun violence to be unacceptable and I want Americans to feel safe.”
Based on my friend’s response, he probably interpreted the exact same words as “I don’t respect the rights of Americans to own guns.”
That the two of us came to completely different conclusions from the exact same things should be surprising, but this happens all of the time because of bias (a good explanation of what bias is and how the different kinds of bias influence how we interpret information can be found here ). My friend and I respectfully agreed to disagree, but since tensions are currently much greater between our current president and several media outlets, we need to figure out how to sort the truth out from the mess.
First, we need to recognize that “unbiased” news does not exist. Bias plays a huge roll in the process news outlets use to determine what to cover and what to cut. Truth can instead be found in the “mutually verifiable” or what can be objectively confirmed by multiple people. This is why studies and experiments are often performed multiple times to verify results. Take for example the famous study that linked autism with vaccines. After the study was made available to the public, several other studies took place that failed to replicate the results, ultimately resulting in discrediting the original study. I recently saw a video from NowThis in which Trump says that he doesn’t want Muslims in America. The original footage from when he allegedly said that is available online, and what he actually said is that he doesn’t want “radical Islamic terrorists” who “enslave women and kill gays” in our country (this example was discovered by someone else in the first 1:30 of this video). We can argue for hours what Trump actually meant by those words or weather or not he believes that all or most Muslims are terrorists, but the actual words that came out of his mouth were that he does not want “radical Islamic terrorists” here.
Before we accept any piece of news as truth, we must first ask what organization is presenting this news? I can safely assume that Brietbart will report different news than NPR because their target audiences, agendas, general opinions of the people in charge, and their sources all differ, and before you assume anything you’ve seen online is true, you must be aware of all of those things and how that will influence how the information is presented.
We must also watch out for news that is overly sensationalist or obviously cherry picked. No one should be surprised to find out that news organizations often run pieces that are sensationalized because that is how they keep our attention, so they can continue to make money. News outlets may also cherry pick examples or cut footage in a way that more heavily support their agendas. The aforementioned NowThis story is a good example of both of these behaviors.
While we need to have a healthy skepticism of what we see in the news, we should be careful to not assume that all news, especially the news that doesn’t conform to our beliefs, is “fake” or that we should look only to Trump and his supporters for the truth about what is actually happening in our country (several examples of Trump disagreeing with the mutually verifiable can be found here, here and here). We need respectable news outlets to keep the powerful honest and everyone informed, but because there is no way to ensure what we see is true, we also have the responsibility to keep our minds open and verify our news before we like and share it.