I really don’t want to get too political here (regular readers know I try to avoid that as a matter of principle), but I have a strong suspicion that the intent behind these signs was that the media is all corrupt and biased and should be considered “Enemies of the People.” While I disagree with such a broad generalization, the idea of suggesting that one should avoid just taking information at face value without considering the source strikes me as a pretty good idea.
Of course, that poses the problem of verification. A single individual can’t be everywhere, and/or have unlimited contacts, sources, access, etc. That means that one is forced to rely on other people to do the basic research and make the facts available. “Truth,” actual, factual TRUTH is rarely as simple as just accepting whatever you are told.
I was taught in the basic research class I took early in Grad. School, that one of the most basic aspects of attempting to obtain the best information is to consider the agenda of the source. Thus, a minister (priest, rabbi, imam, etc.) may not be the best source for discovering answers to some questions relating to religion (for example), whereas an individual who has devoted time and effort into the study of how a variety of religions have dealt with finding answers to some question may be better equipped to provide insight into the variety of possible answers, without any bias towards a particular one.
I also learned that one should first look for the FACTS. What do the best possible sources actually say? Not what does so and so SAY they say, what is revealed by the actual documents. We all know that many people claim that The Bible is “the revealed word of God.” Okay, but evidence suggests that something like 3000 books were considered for inclusion in just the New Testament, but only twenty some were finally selected. At some point, ALL of those 3000 books were considered by some to be “the revealed word of God.” One can accept the idea of “divine intervention” in the final selection, but there doesn’t seem to be independent, documentary evidence of that, and “faith” doesn’t appear to be a good substitute for fact.
In much the same way, there are some people who insist that William Shakespeare of Stratford Upon Avon (the actor) was not the individual who wrote the plays credited to him. Again, it’s hard to prove this assertion one way or the other, but I have not heard of strong documentary evidence which disputes his authorship, and I distrust the often-expressed opinion that “He was just a poorly educated country lad, who couldn’t possibly have written literary masterpieces, so they MUST have been written by someone else.”
Recently, the most popular of the 70 some possible candidates who have been proposed as the “real” author, has been Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. There is much about him which is attractive to such an attribution despite his death in 1604, a number of years prior to the appearance of several of “Shakespeare’s” plays, but the documentary evidence to support this idea seems to be pretty thin and based, largely, on opinion and conjecture. This fact leads me to conclude that, if Oxford WAS “Shakespeare,” we are dealing with the most successful conspiracy in history. After all, others from the period, including Shakespeare’ colleagues in the Lord Chamberlain’s/King’ Men, had to have suspicions that Will really wasn’t up to the task, but NOBODY expressed such an idea at the time. Yet, the conspiracy, the argument goes, has survived for over 400 years. Personally, I find that implausible. Especially when Shakespeare’s authorship wasn’t actually challenged until the mid-19thCentury.
So, to get back to the point of verifying the media. I’d like to do that, but I wonder how it can be accomplished. We, unfortunately, can’t really take political leaders as sources of absolute truth since they each have their own agendas, of course. Besides which, many sources report that at least some of those leaders say different things to different audiences, yet those “leaders” insist that their position has never changed, in spite of the fact that we have audio/video recordings of what they actually said on various occasions which demonstrate that their position has changed. We also have numerous examples of some “leaders” suggesting that “everyone” or “many people” have told them something, as if that makes it a fact. After all, at one time “everyone” said the world was flat, but that doesn’t seem to be the case based on further evidence.
So, it seems to me that we are left with a situation where we must rely on evidence as the best source of the best information. That suggests that we should look to people’s actions, rather than what they say, for insights into what they actually believe. And we should make serious efforts to distinguish between what they actually do and how others interpret what they say and/or do. I think this may be the major failing of much so-called “news” reporting. A great deal of what I encounter, especially from cable and internet “news,” is, in fact, interpretation based on the opinions of “expert” or “informed” sources. I think a recent B.C. comic strip expresses it quite well.
So, how can we “verify the media?”
First, and probably foremost, we probably shouldn’t accept anything from any source at face value. Always consider the source cited and consider whether what is being told to us is fact, or interpretation. Where did the reporter (and/or commentator) get their information and have they presented it accurately? When possible, always consider engaging in your own research as to what was actually said and/or done, not just what someone says was said and/or done and what it means. In this day and age, it’s often possible to discover the facts for oneself and to draw ones’ own conclusions as to what it means.
One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to find out a good deal of what the law says, although laws are frequently subject to interpretation as to exactly what they mean. That interpretation is why we have courts. The Constitution says that the function of the courts is to make those decisions. I know many people get upset at the idea of “activist” judges defining the law, especially when they don’t like the result. That is the function of the courts, however. When the law isn’t clear, it’s the job of the courts to decide the meaning.
Our job, as citizens, is to hold our elected leaders responsible for creating laws which are clear, understandable and which support the basic principles of the Constitution and its Amendments. That’s what elections are really all about.
What all this boils down to is the idea that we should always be skeptical and attempt to make judgements based not on emotion but the facts available. That’s not always easy, but it is our job as citizens. We should not always expect that we will agree with everything which our political process achieves. Politics is based on compromise, after all. It is the art of the possible, not the process of “winning.” The popularity of something, does not make it right. What makes it right is that the basic principle of fairness to all is upheld. That means that our, personal, desires may not always be satisfied, but that the essential idea of morality is upheld for all. My values may not be identical to yours, but my right to disagree is supposed to be upheld even if I am in the minority. Religious freedom, as a case in point, means that I shouldn’t have the right to force my beliefs on you anymore than you should have the right to force yours on me. That’s what freedom of religion is all about.
I firmly believe in the idea of skepticism as a cornerstone of democracy. Zealots and demagogues, whatever they say, are not desirable. I don’t care if they are on the Left or the Right, their appeal is usually to emotion, not fact, and they tend to lead to unfortunate results.
That seems to be a major lesson of history. Leaders who have a firm grasp of facts and rely on the use of logic and reason based on those facts are much more likely to achieve results which are more acceptable to all concerned. I believe that looking for those sorts of people to serve as our leaders is more likely to move our political process in desirable directions.
Therefore, consider the sources of your information; keep yourself skeptical; look for the factual basis of any positions; consider what serves the good of all; that is the American way as I understand it. I think these ideas might help to heal the divisions which seem to be present in our society today, and I think that would be desirable.