One of the hottest questions in the aftermath of the 2016 election has been how to fight the plague of fake news. Facebook has alternately evaded and grappled with its role in the crisis. Fake-news writers have explained their motivations. And my Washington Post colleague David Ignatius has looked at the international implications of a wave of falsehoods.
As much as it’s important to push back on what’s not true, it’s also important to focus on what is trustworthy and to explain why outlets and reporters who continually do a good job amidst this onslaught are worth trusting. After this disorienting election, I reached out to a wide range of friends from all points on the political spectrum to ask what outlets and which writers they had confidence in and to explain the reasons for that confidence.
Many of the people who responded suggested that they trusted individual writers — or the judgment of individual people passing along stories — more than the trusted specific institutions.
“This will be unsatisfying, but I (increasingly) don’t trust organizations or outlets; I trust individual journalists and opinion leaders. This is partly because I think it’s harder (nowadays) for outlets to impose quality control, editing, fact checking, etc., and partly because Twitter is a primary means of consuming information,” wrote the Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis. “This is not to say that some outlets aren’t dramatically more trustworthy than others, but the brand name that I tend to trust is the one on the byline, not the masthead.”
“I’ve found myself gravitating to specific, individual trusted voices, not just as sources but as curators of other sources — e.g., trusted filters: (The Washington Post)’s own Dave Fahrenthold, Greg Sargent and Dave Weigel come to mind, as do MSNBC’s Joy Reid, CBS (and now (the New York Times’)) Sopan Deb, Slate’s Jamelle Bouie and Time’s James Poniewozik,” agreed Jeff Yang, vice president of cultural strategy for the research and branding firm Sparks and Honey, and a prominent advocate for inclusion and diversity in the entertainment industry. “Note that each of the publications these individuals work for also have sources I considered to be unreliable and in fact, truly problematic, as far as promoting trivia or spreading falsehood.”
“Does ‘My own personal Twitter feed’ count?” as a trusted source of news, Washington Free Beacon executive editor and Washington Post contributor Sonny Bunch wrote. “I mean, honestly, I trust people more than I trust institutions. And I’ve curated a feed that delivers quality news from discerning people.”
Other correspondents passed along more specific outlets or rules of thumb.
Dara Lind, a staff writer for Vox who covers immigration and criminal-justice issues and co-writes the Vox Sentences newsletter, wrote that she has been finding the Wall Street Journal useful because the way its coverage is framed can help her see big stories from a new perspective.
“Because its coverage of the business world and its foreign desks, for example, aren’t usually refracted through the lens of U.S. politics, I feel that the information I get from reading the (Wall Street Journal) is more useful in helping me understand a news story on its own terms—it might not help me win an argument, but it keeps me informed,” she explained.
“I tend to trust the outlets that run headlines at odds with their editorial point of view,” offered Ben Shapiro, who left Breitbart this year and now serves as editor in chief of the conservative site Daily Wire. “So, for example, National Review will run headlines that praise Trump even though the publication opposed Trump. (The Washington Post) will run anti-Hillary headlines. Breitbart will rarely run an anti-Trump headline.”
Nick Baumann, senior enterprise editor at the Huffington Post, wrote back with a lengthy list of basic tests for readers, among them checking how long the outlet has been around and what its leanings are, trying to figure out what else the author has written and seeing whether any other outlet has confirmed the story’s findings.
“Does the writer show her work by saying how and where she got her information? Or does she simply assert things?” he wrote. “Do the names in this story sound made up? Are experts cited? If you Google their names, are they real? ... Does this story being true require there having been a secret conspiracy to hide it? How many people would have to be involved in that conspiracy? The more people who would have had to be involved, the less likely the story is to be true. The main question is the classic one: Is this too good to be true?”
To Baumann’s suggestions, I’d add a few more quick checks. If there are numbers in the story, where do they come from? A recognized think tank or data-gathering government agency? If the writer quotes people, do they provide some indication of whether their sources’ statements are true? To Lewis’ point, does the publication employ editors, fact-checkers and copy editors, and do all of them look at every piece that’s published?
These ideas are only helpful, of course, if people want to verify that what they’re reading is real. For the rest of us, the fake-news epidemic demands of us that we do more than share good stories. We have to explain why we’re passing along the news, what we trust about it and why.
Hillary Clinton always said there was a vast right wing conspiracy against her. The election has proven that she was correct. She just did not know what the conspiracy was or how it worked. The time has come to explain it.
The Republicans wanted to defeat Hillary with all their hearts, but they knew Jeb Bush, Romney, Cruz, Kasich, Huckabee, Carson and the others were no match for Hillary. They knew the public was tired of the Bush family and a lot of voters were opposed to the “insiders.” The conspirators found the ultimate outsider in Donald Trump. They made an agreement that if he would run, the party would run at least a dozen other candidates in the primaries to divide up the vote, so Trump would win the nomination. They agreed that Trump could say horrible things against the other candidates and that the other candidates would say horrible things about Trump. Everything would be forgiven when the November election was over. Everyone played their roles impeccably. Trump won the nomination.
To continue the charade, Bushes, Romney, and other major Republican players refused to support the Republican nominee. Some continued to make derogatory comments about his temperament, competence and his treatment of women. Following the script, Trump continue to make outrageous statements about party leaders and his former opponents. That convinced voters that Trump would clean house.
The conspiracy worked. Trump was elected president. Republicans who had refused to support Trump went through the motions of showing their dismay. When the dust had cleared, Trump invited his Republican detractors to meet to discuss roles for them in the new government. They readily obliged. The Academy Award will go to Mitt Romney. He played his role so well he may become secretary of State.
Wikileaks declined to publish hacked emails among the conspirators. Wikileaks thought the conspiracy was so preposterous that publication of the emails would hurt its credibility.
Yes Hillary, there was a vast, right-wing conspiracy, but it was just too sophisticated for you to comprehend.
Donald J. Chisholm
Rumor has it that Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is on President-elect Donald Trump’s shortlist to become the next Interior secretary. We think it’s a smart pick.
Otter is qualified: Remember, Otter served in the U.S. House from 2001 to 2007, so he has previous federal experience. And he’s become a leader in the Western Governors Association, which has been discussing land-management problems in detail in recent years. Plus, he’s a thrice elected governor with experience leading a big bureaucracy, and he served as the state’s No. 2 throughout the ‘90s as the state’s longest-serving lieutenant governor, including one term under a Democrat.
He knows the good and bad: Scoop up some Idaho soil, and there’s a more-than-likely chance it belongs to the federal government. In fact, 63 percent of Idaho land belongs to the feds. That’s forced Otter to work extremely close with federal land managers. More than most, he knows what’s working and what’s not.
He’s a moderate: Idaho Democrats’ worst fear is that the GOP aims to seize control of federal lands and sell them off to the highest bidder, closing down the access every Idahoan holds dear. Otter isn’t in that camp. Instead, he’s advocated for better partnerships with the feds, where states could handle some of the management while the United States still retains ownership. He’s right when he points out that states like Idaho have done a better job managing some public lands, especially when it comes to warding off invasive flora and fauna. And he supports public-private partnerships that bring stakeholders to the table, not the top-down approach to land management that’s sparked the ire of many Idahoans.
Otter won’t be Trump’s puppet: Otter may be best known nationally as being one of only three Republicans in the House to buck their party and vote against the Patriot Act in 2001. So he’s not afraid to stand up for what he believes, even if it goes against the party. We suspect he’d take a similar approach with Trump.
There’s precedent: New presidents love Idahoans leading Interior. Two former Idaho governors have been appointed to the position just in Otter’s professional tenure: Cecil D. Andrus and Dirk Kempthorne.
He’s not super rich: That’s worth noting as Trump fills out his cabinet. So far, his picks have included several billionaires and a bunch of multimillionaires. So much for draining the swamp in Washington, D.C. Otter isn’t starving, but he’d bring a tinge of an “every man” vibe to Trump’s inner circle. Washington could use a little more Idaho thinking.
It’s good for Idaho politics: Otter still has two years left in his term, and Lt. Gov. Brad Little is already campaigning to be the next governor. So is Russ Fulcher, who narrowly lost to Otter in the last election. Idaho wonks are waiting to see whether U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador makes a run, too; he’s expected to announce early next year. Little is the moderate in the field. Giving him experience — and a whole lot of headlines — in the governor’s chair over the next year would almost certainly make Little an early favorite.
It’s good for Idaho: For all the criticism lodged by Idaho at the federal government, what better way to fix the problems than have an Idahoan working for us on the inside? Especially in a Republican presidential administration.
Nobody can predict a Trump move — as we’ve all learned by now — but picking Otter would be one heck of a Christmas gift to Idaho and our federal lands.