As someone who knows how to market a product or frame a debate on his terms, there is probably no one better than President Donald Trump. After all, isn’t he the one who started the “fake news” craze? Wasn’t he the one who separated himself from a crowded field of Republican candidates (16) by poking fun at them?
Perhaps this isn’t how politics should work but it’s how it’s working right now and Trump knows that.
But was it any different in the 1960’s or 1970’s? Of course, we didn’t live in the 24/7 news cycle where breaking news now could be a politician’s hangnail. Wasn’t there fake news concerning the Vietnam War and the bombing of Cambodia? Watergate? Hasn’t it always been this way? Maybe it’s a bit more intense because of the number of news outlets and the changing face of the industry but at its core, isn’t it pretty much the same?
I’m asking these questions because hopefully the questions will illustrate a point. We’ve always had fake news i.e. distractions, obfuscations to throw us off the trail. What’s needed now as it was back then are critical thinkers who don’t take any news, regardless of the source at face value. A critical thinker looks at the facts as objectively as possible, weighs both sides to the argument and makes an informed decision. Maybe part of the reason fake news is perceived to be such a problem today is that we have a dearth of folks willing to engage (or capable) in critical thinking.
Critical thinking, an ability to consider the other side, and a reasonable approach to issues are essential elements of a good citizen.
Just before the holidays, the Chicago Tribune ran an article addressing this problem in the context of fake news. Here’s an excerpt from that article:
“Sixty-seven percent of U.S. adults say they’ve improved their ability to reflect and use evidence, logic and analysis to make decisions since graduating from high school, according to a new survey by the Reboot Foundation, a Paris-based nonprofit that is pushing the teaching of evidence-based reasoning skills.
Yet almost 50 percent of respondents said they don’t typically plan where they’ll get their information before engaging in research — the very practice that suggests they are weak critical thinkers. About one-third of respondents said they will usually use only one source of information when making a decision.”
Critical thinking, like being successful in the contemporary work environment, takes some skill, lots of discipline and hard work, and the critical thinking tools learned in school or through talking to others who have opposing views. If you’re concerned with fake news, work on your critical thinking skills instead.