Editorial: Media literacy — Bone up, get smart, be savvy
In today’s cable news era, Americans will need to become more media savvy to understand the ways facts can be spun and to distinguish between “fake” and “real” news.
In a general sense, fake news has no basis in fact. Trump spread fake news challenging the origin of Obama’s birthplace, for example, to discredit the president’s legitimacy. Trump knew it was blatantly false and thoroughly debunked, but he also knew that wouldn’t matter to his supporters who wanted to believe otherwise.
Trump also uses fake news to distract the public’s attention from one story to another. When faced with mounting criticism about his own campaign’s connection to Russia’s meddling in the presidential election (which all 17 intelligence agencies in the U.S. have confirmed that there is enough evidence to pursue), Trump tossed out an unsubstantiated tweet that President Obama illegally wiretapped his hotel. No one seriously believed him, but the charges were so outlandish the media jumped all over the story, which served Trump’s short-term objective (distraction) while further damaging his credibility. Still, if John and Jane Doe only watch Fox News or other conservative outlets, their “spin” gives Trump the benefit of the doubt and serves to exonerate Trump in his supporters’ eyes.
Often the distortions are subtle. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced last Friday that 235,000 jobs had been created in February, Trump re-tweeted the conservative Drudge Report that gave Trump full credit for the positive news. “Great Again: +235,000 jobs!” Not so fast. We all know job growth doesn’t happen within the first few weeks of any presidency. The fact is that job growth has exceeded 235,000 per month for 9 out of the previous 16 months and in 30 of the months during Obama’s presidency; and that job growth had been steady under Obama for 70 consecutive months (the past 6 years) — one of the strongest job-growth streaks in recent times.
But what’s interesting is how the Drudge Report had slanted even larger job gains during Obama’s presidency. Last June, for example, the Drudge Report wrote: “Unemployment rate rises to 4.9 percent in June… 287,000 + jobs, 94,517,000 Americans not in the labor force.” So, the fact that 287,000 jobs were created was muted by two negatives, rather than declaring it “Great Again!”
Trump used the same bias during the campaign, ignoring the number of jobs added during Obama’s presidency, while tweeting the number of Americans not at work: “Terrible, 94 million Americans not at work. Sad. Bad leadership.” The number of Americans not working, of course, includes teens, students in college, seniors in retirement, etc. It’s a well-known fact and beside the point, unless you want to negate a positive. To wit: Trump’s report card in February written as a tweet from that perspective? “235,000 job gained, below Obama’s 6-year average; 94 million Americans not working. Bad leader.”
Don’t fall for it. We are in an era of fake news and alternative realities. Bone up, get smart; be real.
Angelo S. Lynn
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