How to know what to trust in the age of fake news

With so much noise and misleading information out there, how can we make sure what we read is reliable?

In the era of Trump, journalism has become a fragile and imperiled enterprise. When we can’t tell “fake news” from actual events or “real news”from satire, the whole project of democracy is on shaky ground. But I haven’t caved to cynicism yet. As a media studies scholar once upon a time, I learned a thing or two about how to critique the news. And while that task has become exponentially more taxing in recent times, with the explosion of false stories going viral on social media and audiences willing to jettison critical thinking or a belief in facts, it’s still possible to vet a news story. I invite you to see how it’s done.

Here’s the backstory: I posted this article, a Jan. 9, 2017 story from the New York Times Science section entitled “Human-Driven Global Warming is Biggest Threat to Polar Bears, Report Says,” two days ago. Continue reading

Mystery Unraveled: How a white, moderate, married, churchgoing, middle-class, middle-aged woman could vote for Obama

‘We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.” – Anais Nin

If there’s one word that seemed to characterize Romney supporters’ immediate reaction to Obama’s victory, it’s “shock.”

A conservative Facebook friend posted this status: “For the first time in my life I am at a loss for words…absolutely baffled by the electorate and the election results, especially considering the current state the country is in.”

A radio reporter interviewed a woman at the Romney campaign party in Denver shortly after the election was called. Her response simmered with anger as she pondered the reality of how more than half the nation had voted: “What don’t they see?? It’s mind-boggling!”

What they don’t see are people like me.

I’m a 50-year-old white woman who lives in the swing state of Colorado. I’m married, I’m a mom, I have a PhD, and I’m a Christian. In Boulder. I can’t imagine trying to explain the world without faith and science. I’m upper middle class, but I come from blue-collar stock. I believe in capitalism, but I also believe its inevitable excesses must be tempered with regulations – you know, Genesis, original sin, the human propensity for greed and all. I’m pro-life in the fullest sense of the term. I’m happy for my gay friends who want to marry – I’m all for commitment when it comes to sustaining the social fabric. My evangelical grandmother, whom I treasured, was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. I’m a Democrat who likes hymns and red wine. Try squaring all that when it comes to putting me in a political box.

Like a great many voters who helped tip the election to Obama, I see social complexity that the poles refuse to acknowledge. I’m a reasonable centrist. And I think Republicans write us off at their own expense.

If one had spent the campaign watching only Fox News, following only conservative pundits and pollsters, it’s no wonder the election results seemed so inscrutable. Daniel Larion, doing some Wednesday morning quarterbacking in The American Conservative, observed that the entire Romney campaign was organized on “flawed assumptions.”

“Romney and his allies not only didn’t understand their opponent, but they went out of their way to make sure they misunderstood him, and in any kind of contest that is usually a recipe for failure.”

Likewise, Romney supporters misunderstand many of us who sent Obama back for four more years. Why on earth, given this economy, would tens of millions of Americans choose to do that?

The right-wing radio blowhards think they have it figured out: we’re dupes of the mainstream media, a giant liberal-elite faction engaged in a conspiratorial embrace with the Left; Hurricane Sandy and turncoat Chris Christie joined forces in an eleventh-hour PR move for the president; or – and this is emerging as the dominant narrative – we simply want more stuff that we don’t have to work for. We’re takers, not makers. Romney was right when he talked about the 47 percent, only it was 51 percent – apparently there were more slackers in the country than he counted on.

All of those explanations are as wrong as they are offensive.

I would like for my bewildered Republican friends to know how I could possibly have voted for Obama without being a far-left ideologue who is simultaneously blind, immoral and lacking in patriotism.

Here are five reasons. And I’m pretty sure I speak for the bulk of the moderates who broke for the president on Tuesday night.

1) I don’t believe Obama is a closet Muslim with a radical socialist agenda to undermine America. I don’t believe he has a false birth certificate and a fake Social Security card. I think he is a deeply sincere, smart, principled man who is far from perfect but deserves a chance to continue what he has tried to begin.

2) I’m more comfortable taking a risk on Obama’s economic agenda than Romney’s. The numbers are starting to look up. I’d rather hedge my bets with Keynes than Adam Smith. Mitt wants to cut spending and slash taxes, and give most of those tax breaks to the richest Americans. That doesn’t square with my sense of what’s rational or what’s just. We’ve tried that before, and that Kool-Aid does not trickle down for me.

3) I’m willing to take a chance on Obamacare. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than a system that excludes millions and is dedicated to lining the pockets of insurance companies whose primary mission is not to cover care but to deny it. The Affordable Care Act is not “socialized medicine” in which the government dictates my health care. It’s a hybrid system that worked in Massachusetts; I’m ready to see how it goes in the rest of the U.S.

4) I care deeply about protecting this planet, our home. How could we elect a president who is so cavalier about God’s creation that he wants to dismantle the EPA? Really? The clean air and clean water acts established under Richard Nixon aren’t important to keep for our kids? I can’t imagine a world leader not grappling with the problem of global climate change. Solyndra was a debacle, but to suggest that we ought not to pursue green energy isn’t just short-sighted, it’s grave foolishness.

5) I believe a graduated tax system is the most moral means of structuring an economy. I think that rich folks who benefited so disproportionately from a wildly deregulated Wall Street need to return to shouldering more of our shared burden. Luke 12:48 says, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Now, plenty of wealthy business owners are going to argue, ‘This wasn’t given to me, I built it.’ Yes, you did, with a public infrastructure supporting you. But until we have genuine equality of opportunity in this country – including equal pay for equal work – some people can build a lot more than others.

There are parents who hire me for $50 an hour here in wealthy Boulder to coach their kids on college application essays. They fly to visit schools so their kids can interview in person. You think that teenager of a single-mom Wal-Mart clerk struggling to pay her rent has the same crack at a premier college education and the connections that come with it? Where is the equal opportunity?

And don’t tell me that working woman is a sponger. Don’t tell me that Diego who painted my house or Beatriz who sometimes cleans it is a freeloader. As a Christian, I am told to care for the least of these. When I vote, their self-interest should be as important as my own. “Sink or swim,” or “Go home even though you’ve lived here since you were two” is no more a path to economic autonomy than a government check is.

The fact is, we are all in this country together, and we have different needs and means, and we have a lot in common when it comes to teaching kids, fighting fires, cleaning up after storms or caring for our national parks. Those who have more need to do more, as we work to give the rest not a handout, but a hand up. As for me, I went to college on Pell grants, work-study, scholarships and summer jobs. That combination of my own hard work and a little help from a society that supported my potential is what got me a college degree. That powerful model – public and private in synergy – remains most compelling to me and is the most fundamental reason I voted for President Obama.

Clearly, the Right and Left perceive the role of government differently. We may ultimately be captives of a postmodernist analysis that says there is no way outside our own subjectivity to view the world through another’s eyes. If that is so, then empathy is a casualty and our divisions rigidify.

I refuse to concede that. I’d rather share the prophetic words of Abraham Lincoln, speaking to a deeply divided America in his 1861 Inaugural Address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

May we each appeal to the better angels in one another as we start healing the wounds of this election season.

Poem in My Pocket: Ode to the Lemon

I love the idea of a poem in my pocket.  As I searched for something to post for today’s feature, I found myself moving from poem to poem, nourishing places inside me long neglected amidst the practical rationality of my daily life.  I wonder how different my days might feel if I began each of them with a poem. I couldn’t possibly choose a single favorite, though I can identify many favorite poets. Among them is Pablo Neruda. I love the sensory immediacy of his language, the way his words embody the rich physicality of being. Although his love poems are those that move me most, here’s a delightful paean to what one might think of as an otherwise ordinary object:

Ode To The Lemon
by Pablo Neruda
Continue reading

Mean parents unite: make kids ride the school bus

I drove my son to school this morning, and I felt guilty about it.

Hardly an event worthy to dissect on a blog devoted largely to weightier matters of politics and economics, right? There are, however, definite political and economic dimensions to how my child – or anyone else’s – gets to school.

Our community, like most, is served by school buses. Last year my son, then a freshman, rode it each day to his high school, 5.5 miles away. He left the house at 6:40 a.m. to walk a third of a mile to the street corner where he caught the bus 10 minutes later. The driver would pull ahead a few yards to meet him where he climbed through a fence on a shortcut across the pasture behind our house. Such customized service is the norm when you are one of two kids who regularly rides – or used to ride – this route. Continue reading

What to do about the Mid-Wife Crisis?

Today one of my good friends will stand before a judge in the company of her husband and dissolve her marriage. It is in one respect a common act, though rarely uneventful: it happens thousands of times a day in courtrooms across the country. But more and more, it seems to be the initiative of women who have been wives and mothers for years – in this case, 26 years, a figure I can relate to, on the brink of observing my own 26th anniversary later this month.

My friend, like me, married young – at least by today’s standards. We are in our late forties. And our generation seems to be one in which women are making this decision in droves, turning the old stereotype of the male midlife crisis on its head, leaving behind hurt and often clueless husbands who are incredulous that this is happening to them.

It didn’t strike me till recently that eight of the ten divorces I’ve been aware of among my circle of friends and colleagues in the last five years have been initiated by women. In every case, these have been women with children who have been devoted to their families for years. None is wealthy, none is leaving on a caprice after which they reinvent themselves with cosmetic surgery and a convertible. And none is a pop-culture cougar, pursuing her own youth via a younger man in a new version of the classic life upheaval. Continue reading

Take a tea partier to bed to save American democracy

Never thought I’d invite a member of the Tea Party to join political forces with me. But it’s going to take an odd and broad coalition of folks who comprise “We the People” to fight back against today’s U.S. Supreme Court action granting stunning new power to corporate America to buy our government. The Court, in a 5-4 decision, rolled back all limits on the rights of organizations to spend money to influence the outcome of federal elections.

Overturning key provisions of McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and flouting a century of precedent, the decision opens the floodgates to a torrent of spending by banks, insurance companies, energy companies, automakers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, chemical producers, agribusiness giants and media oligopolies — both domestic and foreign – to sway races by buying candidates. And to trash American democracy in the process. Continue reading

Holiday gifts that make a difference: help a child in need through World Vision or Compassion International

Before I sat down to write this post, I wrote two letters. In many respects the recipients could not be more different from me: George is 14 and Monica is 10. They live in rural villages in Tanzania. They have never left their region, while I’ve traveled all over the world. But the biggest difference is the fact that their families live on less than $1 a day. In fact, a billion of the world’s people are in a similar plight, and fully half the planet subsists on less than $2 a day. I, on the other hand, reside in one of the wealthier communities in the wealthiest nation in the world. But my plenty is making a major difference in the lives of George and Monica, and so can yours this holiday season, for children in similar situations.

While our family sponsors George and Monica on an ongoing monthly basis through Compassion International, organizations that care for the world’s poorest children also benefit from single donations that aid children without sponsors or which support community projects where they live. It can be a delight to give your own holiday gift recipients the chance to choose a gift in their name for a child in desperate need.

World Vision’s online gift catalog is a great portal. This relief, development and advocacy organization works with the world’s most vulnerable children, families and communities in more than 100 countries, to overcome poverty and injustice. Continue reading

Gore says ‘tipping point’ close for public push on climate change

Tom & Gore SEJ
SEJ member Tom Yulsman
asks a question of Vice
President Gore in Madison.
Photo: Anne Minard.

The fate of the earth could end up determined by which tipping point is reached first: a physical shift that ushers in abrupt climate change with catastrophic consequences, or a social one, in which public attitudes rapidly coalesce around a mandate to address climate change. Or, neither could materialize, at least not imminently.

Al Gore believes the U.S. is on the brink of a political tipping point on the climate issue. Speaking to the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference in Madison, Wisc., last Friday, the former vice president said, “The potential for change can build up without noticeable effect until it reaches a critical mass. I think that we are very close to that tipping point.” Continue reading

Wise up, 21st-century women: it's still either work or family

Well, I didn’t expect my return to Scroguedom after six months would be in the form of a personal screed, and on domestic topics no less (as in “household”). However, as the feminist mantra of the 1970s claimed, “the personal is political,” a statement as salient today as it was then.

I’d like to be writing about clean energy or debating health care policy. I wish I could add something astute to the discussion about the future of democracy in Iran. But to do so would mean investing the time to follow these issues closely enough to have something worthwhile to add. And then there’s the time needed to actually write something. I’ve already got four or five unfinished posts languishing on my laptop.

Yet, in the words of my 14-year-old son this morning, who is angry at my asking him to pitch in around the house prior to the arrival of weekend guests, and who can’t understand why I won’t just drop everything to pick him up from the lake with his friends later today, I don’t have a “real job” — so why can’t I be like a good stay-at-home mom and craft my life exclusively around his? Continue reading

May I wish you a, um, Merry Christmas?

Merry Christmas to the readers of Scholars & Rogues! This is a personal greeting – and I thus hereby issue a disclaimer that it does not speak on behalf of nor represent the intentions or persuasions of all of my blogger colleagues here at our joint endeavor.

But I’d like to offer this wish of seasonal cheer, no strings attached. No agenda, no proselytizing, no offense. Just the outpouring of a full and warm heart on the 25th of December.

It is Christmas Day, and my heart’s naïve hope is that it could stand for what it is ought to be in the broadest cultural sense – an occasion to wish peace on earth and good will to all. Whether or not one believes in the incarnation of Jesus Christ as God come into human history, the nativity myth is filled with simple beauty, and the ancient yuletide traditions it has become associated with have for centuries celebrated the triumph of light over darkness in a bleak world. To say “Merry Christmas” is, for me, to affirm that light and share its spirit with others, whether or not we embrace the same religious practices or none at all. Continue reading

Seven simple steps to save Appalachia

“Clean” Coal’s Dirtiest Secret: Part IV – final in a series

Coal River Mountain from Kayford Mountain
Coal River Mountain from Kayford

Coal River Mountain is one of the highest and wildest peaks in West Virginia. Unlike much of the surrounding region, it is unscarred by surface mining. But Massey Energy and WV Governor Joe Manchin are out to change that. Subsidiaries of Massey propose to blow away 6,600 acres of Coal River Mountain — nearly 10 square miles — and the governor’s office has issued the permits. If the operation goes forward, one of the last remaining summits in the Coal River Valley will be leveled.

Despite an acclaimed local campaign to build a wind farm atop Coal River Mountain that would provide green jobs, tax revenues and sustainable energy for up to 150,000 homes for decades to come, state politicians know who lines their campaign coffers. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has rejected the public input of a majority of state citizens who support the wind project, in favor of Massey’s plans to begin imminent blasting.  But opponents are not giving up.  If anything, the fight for Coal River Mountain has only heightened attention and galvanized action. Continue reading

Poor affected most as Environmental Destruction Agency blasts away barrier to expand mountaintop removal mining

“Clean” coal’s dirtiest secret: Part III

This article, third in a series on mountaintop removal coal mining, was originally titled “The poor are always downstream.” It must now be amended to add “when there is still a stream to be down from.”

In an act that puts a grossly ironic twist on its name, the Environmental Protection Agency has approved a repeal of the 25-year-old stream buffer zone rule, which prohibits surface coal mining within 100 feet of a flowing stream. The change, proposed by Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM), was finalized when it received written sanction from EPA on Tuesday.

The controversial move comes amid extensive opposition, one more last-minute effort by the Bush Administration to further erode a host of environmental regulations before its imminent departure.  This one promises disproportionate harm to some of the nation’s poorest citizens, if it’s allowed to stand. Continue reading

What, Africa isn't a country?

Over at Daily Kos, Kagro X has joined the cacophony of incredulous voices — including mine –commenting on the apparent fact that Sarah Palin did not understand that Africa is a continent and not a country:

“Think about what this means, and what almost happened to this country. Frankly, the people who knew this about her and were still directly responsible for ‘vetting’ her, putting her on the ticket, attempting to foist this idiot on the American people, and protecting her while there was still a chance (however theoretical) that she could become Vice President and possibly President of the United States ought to be arrested and tried for treason.”

While it is remarkable, indeed surreal, that a vice-presidential candidate could have been selected lacking knowledge of the world’s most basic political geography, it is also a testament to how grave the inadequacies of our education system are. Palin might be an anomaly as a governor, but as a citizen she most surely is not. Continue reading

Molly Ivins is cheering alongside Barack’s grandmother

New month, new president, new era, new Scrogue on the banner. If only Molly Ivins could have lived another 22 months. The proudly liberal Texas commentator, who died of cancer on Jan. 31, 2007 at 62, would have added so much irreverent wit to the punditsphere during an election season that took fodder to a whole new level — I can’t help but think of the fun she would have had with a moose-hunting, former beauty queen governor. She would also have had the rather twisted pleasure of seeing Shrub shrivel up in an ignominious end to one of the most debased presidencies of all time.

Ivins – populist wisecracker, incorrigible riler of conservatives, feisty foe of George Dubya Bush – was an ardent defender of democracy. And surely with the historic election of an African-American president outside the conventional boxes, she would have concurred that we were witnessing the democracy she cherished struggling back onto its wounded feet. Continue reading

The people's politics: earnest and messy and gratifying

It’s 7 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, the polls have closed here in Colorado, and I’ve just come home from a final neighborhood canvass — part of the Obama campaign’s last-ditch effort to round up any stragglers and make sure they get to the polls.

Most already had. And in more than one case, the person answering the door was not too happy to see me. One woman had gotten six phone calls today, and I was the third Obama volunteer to come to her door. Another man opened the door, looked at me and said, “Please do not ask my anything about voting,” and quietly shut the door in my face. Continue reading

Financially strapped? McCain says you're lazy!

I got this cartoon today from a Republican friend of mine in bright-red Orange County:

I know, I know, it’s supposed to be a bit of Halloween humor, and I’m not supposed to take it so seriously. But ever since John McCain seized on Barack Obama’s comment about spreading the wealth around, there has been a barrage of such sentiments that I find ugly.

Implicit in this “joke” is the assumption that any income redistribution through progressive taxation gives undeserved benefits to people who don’t work hard or make a contribution to society. The flip side to this pretentious smugness is a suggestion that rich people got that way through greater effort or superior character.  Frankly, I find that offensive.  And usually inaccurate. Continue reading

"Clean" coal's dirtiest secret: Part II

Vivian Stockman, courtesy of SouthWings Air
Mountaintop removal coal mining at Kayford Mountain, Boone County,
W. Va. Photo: Vivian Stockman, courtesy of SouthWings Air

Part II: Almost Heaven Level: The Mechanics of Moving Mountains

In the heart of Appalachia, knobs, gaps and hollers define the undulating green landscape. Life is old, travel is slow, and it’s a daunting job to get a bus full of journalists up the steep, rutted dirt road through Cabin Creek Hollow to Larry Gibson’s cabin on Kayford Mountain. But no photos or descriptions of the devastation we are about to witness can do justice to a close-up look at a mountaintop removal mining operation. That is why we are here. That is what Larry wants to provide for reporters on this Society of Environmental Journalists field trip to the coalfields of southern West Virginia in October 2008, in hopes that we will be a conduit for the story he spends his life telling. Continue reading

"Clean" coal's dirtiest secret

Part I: An Ugly Overview

A few days ago I stood on the rim of what was once Kayford Mountain in southern West Virginia. Razed, stripped and gutted, the mountain is now a 7,500-acre blast zone devoid of vegetation, a massive gray scar that looks like the surface of the moon.

Journalists survey the Samples Mine at Kayford Mountain, West VirginiaJournalists survey a mountaintop removal mine operation at Kayford Mountain, WV. Photo: Dennis Dimick

Some 470 mountaintops in central Appalachia look like Kayford.Once blanketed in hardwood forest, their ancient slopes laced with clear streams and inhabited by more species than any place outside the tropics, nearly a million acres of these mountains have become casualties of America’s addiction to cheap energy. Continue reading

Dobson's election strategy: Focus on the Family Fear

2 Timothy 1:7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

James Dobson and the Christian Right activists at Focus on the Family seem to have forgotten that scriptural promise.  Then again, there is a great deal of the Bible they seem to have forgotten, or chosen to blatantly ignore.  Their real “focus” is on scare tactics to frighten conservative evangelicals away from any flirtation with voting for Barack Obama, who may as well be the devil incarnate masquerading beneath a veneer of seductive charisma.

The latest instrument in this campaign of emotional intimidation is a “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America,” [download PDF at website] produced by Focus on the Family Action, the PAC arm of Dobson’s organization.  Continue reading

Palin: It doesn't matter what's causing climate change

In yet another incredible interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric Tuesday evening, Sarah Palin tackled a response to Couric’s question as to whether climate change is “man-made.”

In a manner imitable only by Tina Fey, Palin gave this response after Couric pressed the question:

“You know, there are man’s activities that can be contributed to the issues that we’re dealing with, with these impacts.  I’m not going to solely blame all of man’s activities on changes in climate because the world’s weather patterns are cyclical, and over history we’ve seen changes there.”

It was what Palin said next that made me hit replay twice to make sure I heard her correctly:

“But it kind of doesn’t matter at this point as we debate what caused it.  The point is, it’s real, we need to do something about it.”

Well, at least the governor of Alaska sees that imperative as her state’s permafrost is melting, glaciers are galloping backward, and polar bears are drowning – though the latter is no motivator for Palin, who opposes listing them as an endangered species so they’ll pose no impediment to accelerating oil and gas development. But to suggest that the cause of the unprecedented heating-up of our planet is irrelevant? Continue reading