A Crash Course in Bias, Part Two: Recognizing and Fighting Bias in the News
In the last post, we talked about how bias might affect you personally. For this post, we’ll move on to how you can work through bias when it comes from others, or more specifically, when it comes from the news. Following current events important to your ability to be an engaged and productive citizen of the world, but sometimes it can feel like you’re being lied to or misled. This might lead you to want to stop reading or listening to the news at all, but believe it or not, it’s incredibly simple to see through or avoid any bias or ‘fake news’ you might come across. There’s just a few key steps you’ll want to keep in mind, and you’ll be golden!
1. Check the original material
This is the first, last, and most important step I’ll give you today. Any time you read a story that you’re unsure about, check the source it came from whenever possible. Reading source material can be boring at times, I know, but there’s no better way to gain an understanding of a subject, and see through any misleading stories. Unfortunately, sometimes the source material on a story isn’t available. A story may be based on anonymous sources, classified material, or it could be personal accounts of an event happening halfway across the world. But worry not! If you can’t see the original material, there are other steps to take.
2. Build up trust with specific journalists and media outlets
I have a list of journalists and outlets that I know I can count on to tell me the news truthfully and as it is, with little to no bias involved. I listen to what they say, knowing that if at some point they bring me a story that ends up being untrue or misleading, something has gone terribly wrong. Good journalists are up front when this happens, and not only apologize, but make sure the record is corrected. But rather than just give you MY list, I think it’s important for you to build up trust with outlets of your own. Look around newspapers, TV news, radio, wherever works best for you, and find that first journalist that you connect with. Then let that journalist lead you to sources and outlets that THEY trust, and you’ll build up a comprehensive web in no time!
3. Watch out for inflammatory language
This is the number 1 indicator that the story you’re reading is either heavily biased or out-and-out false. If a headline makes you angry, incredulous, or even smug, take that with a heavy grain of salt, and look into it further. Most times you can just use your common sense. “Buzz Aldrin Reveals Truth About Aliens in Lie Detector Test” is probably not a story you want to waste your time on. Other times you’ll follow the story to an outlet that is known to be untrustworthy, and that will be that. Sometimes you’ll have to look further, especially if you’re not familiar with the source. Sometimes the story will even turn out to be true! For me this happened recently, with the story about a schoolteacher who was fired for running a white supremacist podcast. I saw the headline and was dubious, and I wasn’t familiar with the source it came from. So what do you do from there? Most times, it’s as easy as Google. I read enough of the story to get the name and the basic details, and then I looked it up. It turns out it WAS true, but the initial article had a heavy bias, and had trumped up the headline to get more clicks.
4. Get more variety
Use the internet to your advantage! You have the whole world’s news outlets literally at your fingertips. Don’t be afraid to read the same story multiple times to get different points of view on the matter. You can read about an event in an article with heavy liberal bias, and then read about that same event in a story with a heavy conservative bias. Mash the two together, and you may come out with something bordering on the truth. Okay, maybe that’s an extreme way to do it, but you see the purpose.
5. Use fact-checking sites
They exist for precisely this purpose! Politifact, FactCheck, and Snopes are some of the best ones out there, but there are many more. If you’re not sure about a story that you come across, run it to a fact-checker site. If it’s a popular story that’s already been proven false, it’s probably already there!
When in doubt, check it out
Ohhhhh that’s such a corny line, forgive me. But it really does all boil down to that. The days when it was okay to take a headline at face value and run with it are OVER. It was never really a good idea to begin with, but now that any regular Joe can start a news website and publish whatever they want, sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to get to the truth. Remember that if someone publishes a story that’s biased or false, it’s on them, but if you take it as truth and spread it around, it’s going to be on YOU. It’s kind of like spreading rumors in high school. Even if you’re not the one who started it, telling people things that turn out not to be true damages your credibility, too.