In this “information age” we have access to up-to-the-minute news distributed via television, radio, websites and numerous social media outlets, but we also are confronted with the challenge of determining truth from misinformation.
Recently we have seen the spreading of misinformation by leaders claiming that the 2020 election was rigged, and that Donald Trump was the winner. There is no evidence that the election was not carried out fairly and accurately, and the news media who follow journalistic ethics have labelled this claim the “big lie.”
A U.S. senator recently made questionable statements that were challenged by a news reporter. In the August 19, 2021, Topeka Capital-Journal, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) was quoted by reporter Jason Tidd: “‘I’m against mandates,’ Marshall said last week during an interview with Newsmax. ‘I mean, really, no one has convinced me that masks really work, especially for people that have already had the vaccine or natural immunity. The masks might give a little bit of protection to my parents, but I just think that we’re kidding ourselves if we think kids wearing masks helps. It probably even makes it worse.’”
Tidd pointed out that Marshall is an obstetrician and gynecologist, but he is not a pediatrician or an epidemiologist. Tidd then quoted a Children’s Mercy Hospital infectious disease specialist who confirmed that children wearing masks helps to prevent COVID-19; he also cited an infectious disease specialist at University of Kansas, who referred to a Center for Disease Control report that supported children wearing masks in schools. Tidd also cited statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics and from the Kansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, both supporting the mandate to require children wearing masks in schools.
Tidd then disputed Marshall’s sources and provided additional evidence from scientific sources that supported the use of masks in schools.
The Capital-Journal reporter presents an example of recognizing misinformation and locating sources that provide scientific evidence to dispute the misinformation.
Some people base their beliefs on unqualified statements from friends or family members or on Facebook posts, emails, or some other forms of social media that spread information that is not based on verifiable information. Sometimes a decision not to get vaccinated is a fear of the unknown and the information available to the person is not reliable information. Fear can be a factor that feeds a decision not to get vaccinated — a fear based on false information.
How do we identify incorrect or inaccurate information? One way is to assess the source — the qualifications of the individual, the organization’s purpose and reputation and the news source.
In assessing an individual making a statement, what is evidence that the person is knowledgeable? What knowledge and experience does the person have in the subject area being considered? What position does the person hold? If speaking about the pandemic, does this person have credentials in medicine or the healthcare field? Is the source speaking for a legitimate U.S. or state government agency? Is the source’s organization one that is unbiased or is it known to support certain points of view?
If the source of information is a newspaper, television or radio station, or electronic publication, is it known to support and disseminate a political viewpoint? Most news sources employ journalism professionals who are schooled in and adhere to standards for their profession. Local news sources — The Emporia Gazette and KVOE Radio — employ such professionals who seek to report news objectively, and articles or reports that express opinion are labeled so.
National news sources vary in their efforts to report news objectively. For example, the following news sources are generally considered unbiased: ABC, Associated Press, BBC (British Broadcasting), CBS, The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, National Public Radio, NBC, News Nation, Newsy, Reuters, United Press International, USA Today, US News and World Report.
Leaning right or partisan right: Christianity Today, Fox News, National Review, New York Post, Newsmax, Wall Street Journal.
Leaning left or partisan left: The Atlantic, CNN, Huffington Post, MSNBC, NBC, New York Times, Public Broadcasting System, Washington Post.
Among those sources considered least trustworthy for news: National Enquirer, InfoWars, Natural.News, WorldTruth.TV.
The above list of news sources is not intended to be comprehensive and is based on both the authors’ knowledge and verified by “The Media Bias Chart” published by Ad Fontes Media, which is a researched assessment of print and electronic media accessible at https://www.adfontesmedia.com.
How can we recognize misinformation? We should engage in fact-checking by investigating credentials of the information source, whether a person, agency, or mass media; maintain a healthy skepticism; and tell people, especially those close to us, if they are spreading misinformation.
We elect our representatives at local, state, and national levels. We must monitor their statements. If they are spreading misinformation, they should be challenged when they spread misinformation. But to do so, we must be alert to those news sources that we can depend on to provide factual information — not misinformation.