Beware of fake news and biased reporting

In December 2016, a screenwriter named Edgar Welch read online that Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria in Washington D.C., was harboring young children as part of a child abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton. Welch believed the false conspiracy theory and took it upon himself to visit Comet Ping Pong, unleashing an AR-15 rifle on the workers there. By some miracle, no one was hurt and the police arrested him. He was snookered by fake news.

In the U.K. a post on Facebook purported that places of worship are exempt from council tax—but only if the worshippers are Muslim. The post claims followers of Islam who use their living areas as a place to pray do not need to pay council tax. The image attached to the post shows a copy of the petition dated 2013. The fake story was finally expunged in 2018 when the House of Commons officially stated, “It is not possible for owners of domestic property to avoid council tax by claiming that their property, or part of it, is used for religious purposes.”

Fake news is completely false information, photos, or videos purposefully created and spread to confuse or misinform. Not surprisingly, Facebook and Twitter are the two main conduits for the spread of fake news. Fake news is not a new nemesis (consider supermarket tabloids that have been published for decades), but the internet has allowed it to increase exponentially.

I think most of my readers are astute enough to recognize and reject fake news, but many of us may be inordinately swayed by biased reporting in which a news source does report facts (or selected facts) but presents them in a biased way such that the reader is intentionally manipulated toward a certain persuasion. 

That’s why I never watch FOX or MSNBC news channels. Though they may not promulgate fake news, I find their biased reporting to be misleading. If you get a steady diet of either source, you’ll eventually be swayed to an extreme position. CNN and NBC are slightly left of center but are more careful about the stories they choose to report and how they present them. 

Here’s a good article on how to recognize a fake news story.

Here’s a graphic showing the ideological leaning of familiar news sources.

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Don’t get caught without a pencil

Capture good thoughts, even if you’re not sure how they might help in the future. —Andrew Hargadon

“The novelist Paul Auster tells a story about growing up as an eight-year-old in New York City and being obsessed with baseball, particularly the New York Giants. The only thing he remembers about attending his first major league baseball game at the Polo Grounds with his parents and friends is that he saw his idol, Willie Mays, outside the players’ locker room after the game. The young Auster screwed up his courage and approached the great centerfielder. ‘Mr. Mays,’ he said, ‘could I please have your autograph?’

“‘Sure, kid, sure,’ the obliging Mays replied. ‘You got a pencil?’“

Auster didn’t have a pencil on him, neither did his father or his mother or anyone else in his group.

“Mays waited patiently, but when it became obvious that no one present had anything to write with, he shrugged and said, ‘Sorry, kid. Ain’t got no pencil, can’t give no autograph.’

“From that day on, Auster made it a habit to never leave the house without a pencil in his pocket.” [From The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, pg. 29]

Several years ago I wrote a blog post on how significant thoughts can positively affect your life. A meaningful thought can change the trajectory of your life, so always be looking for them. You might find one while reading the newspaper, or talking to a friend, or listening to the radio, or (and these are the best kind) you might have an original thought that is worth archiving.

But when you come across a significant thought, you must write it down because short-term memory is unreliable.

So always carry a pen and paper. You never know when you’re going to encounter a significant thought, and if you don’t write it down, you’ll lose it. Don’t miss out on a notable statement just because you “ain’t got no pencil.”

Obviously, the emphasis of this post is on recognizing, valuing, and recording important thoughts, not on writing utensils, but sometimes the smallest things trip us up, like not having a pencil when we need one.

For instance, several days ago I read this sentence by Thomas Huxley—Try to learn something about everything and everything about something. It caught my attention, so I wrote it down, thought about it, talked to some friends about it, and now it’s part of my life. But this bit of wisdom would have been lost to me if I had not written it down.

Get into the habit of writing down interesting and helpful thoughts. [I transfer my hand-written notes into an app called Evernote.]

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.