In 2019, Nick Sandmann, a Catholic high school teenager in a MAGA hat from Covington, Kentucky was filmed allegedly showing the teen confronting an elderly Native American man after a big pro-life rally in Washington, D.C.
The tape was shown on mainstream media outlets and the young man and his classmates were then vilified in the media.
Later, a longer version of the video instead showed that it was the Native American man who confronted the teen, chanting and banging a drum in his face.
But by July 2020, after Mr. Sandmann sued several news outlets for defamation, both CNN and the Washington Post settled the cases for undisclosed amounts.
The rush to judgment by so many of the mainstream media over such an arguably small but politically potent news item was eventually exposed as “fake news”.
What caused this and how can we tell the difference between trustworthy news and so-called “fake news”?
An advanced practice nurse friend of mine recently revealed that she had studied journalism in college for three years before dropping out in 1990s. She felt that her professors were enforcing their viewpoints on students’ writings rather than promoting non-biased news reporting. She is happy now that she changed her major to nursing but said she is sad and appalled to see the biased state of journalism now.
Getting trustworthy information from news outlets can be a daunting and time-consuming effort now with the great political and cultural divide that has been occurring in the US, especially in the last few years. Even worse, we now see the rise of an Orwellian-like “cancel culture” that is enforcing new speech codes and concepts with the threat of silencing other views and even people.
WILL THE NEWS LITERACY PROJECT HELP OR HURT?
Recently, I read about the News Literacy Project (NLP) that states it is:
“a nonpartisan national education nonprofit, provides programs and resources for educators and the public to teach, learn and share the abilities needed to be smart, active consumers of news and information and equal and engaged participants in a democracy. ” It declares that “The lack of news literacy is a threat to our democracy“. (Emphasis added)
NLP says it plans to build:
“By 2022, a community of 20,000 news literacy practitioners who, using NLP and resources, will teach news literacy skills to 3 million middle and high school students each year. NLP will also lead efforts to increase public awareness of news literacy and to equip people of all ages with the ability to discern fact from fiction.” (emphasis added)
NLP also has a “Theory of Change” with four pillars that will:
“Pillar One: Increase the use and the measurable student impact of NLP programs and resources (Change educator behaviors),
Pillar Two: Develop a national community of news literacy practitioners as advocates of systemic change (Change general will),
Pillar Three: Raise awareness of NLP and increase news literacy among the general public. (Change public mindsets),
Pillar Four: Build the infrastructure and fiscal sustainability to realize this plan in the short term and our vision in the longer term.” (Emphasis added)
NLP also states that since its start in 2008 , “More than 30 news organizations across the United States, from local outlets to internationally known print and digital publications, support NLP in a variety of ways “. NLP also states that it “has a role to play assisting others around the world who are working to expand news literacy in their countries“.
This was news to me and rather concerning because so many of these same news organizations have been involved in “fake news” stories like Nick Sandmann’s. If the NLP so concerned about this, why doesn’t it also work to enforce the standard of accurate, non-biased reporting with its own news outlets instead of trying to teach children and the public how to differentiate between trustworthy news and “fake news”?
MY JOURNEY AND WHY I AM SO CONCERNED
I grew up in a mixed political family. My mother was a passionate Democrat, and my father was an equally passionate Republican. Their arguments were epic, but they spurred my interest in understanding local and national news, even as a child.
I wanted to know what was true and spent lots of time reading different viewpoints in magazines, newspapers and our local library. Back in the 1960s, there was no internet.
Not surprisingly, I wound up as an independent.
My parents and teachers wanted me to go into journalism, but I chose nursing and never regretted it.
However, I began writing again when my late first husband asked me to help him write his medical research papers. I learned a lot but was shocked by the politics of publishing medical research. Certain projects and results were taboo. I learned to have a degree of skepticism when evaluating medical research and I am no longer surprised when many papers are retracted after publication.
After my daughter Karen was born with Down Syndrome and a severe heart defect, I started researching and writing again, first in a journal and then eventually for other publications including a national newspaper.
My newspaper editor was superb, and he enforced strict journalistic principles such as reporting different viewpoints without bias and with meticulous sourcing.
I found I was not immune from occasional mistakes, but I was expected to correct them as soon as possible. Accuracy was paramount. I doubt any journalism school back then could have been better than my experience writing for that newspaper.
Today, I become immediately skeptical when I read or hear sensational news items or intense personal attacks, especially on social media sites.
And with the NLP teaching millions of students every year, I am also concerned about the power of schools and how they educate our children.
Years ago, when my children were in public high school, mandatory school sex education with the promotion of “safe sex” was a concern for many of us parents but dismissed by the school. Now, Planned Parenthood boasts it is the single largest provider of sex education in the United States.
We must and should be able to have a high amount of trust in our media, especially with the current Covid 19 pandemic, but now polls show the public’s trust in media has “hit a new low”.
“Fake news” can take many forms from bias and distortions to ignoring major news stories for political reasons. This kind of manipulation is very harmful and even dangerous to achieving a safe and well-informed society. I personally have eliminated most social media.
I also recommend keeping an open mind rather than just reading or watching news outlets with which you agree. Take the time to really try to understand and use critical thinking about contentious issues. Be skeptical when reading shocking news items and check the sources and other verification.
And just as important, we still need to stand up for what we believe and explain our positions without hostility towards those who disagree and without fear of reprisals for our convictions.