2017/04/29

Fake News and the sites I use


I posted a link to a Daily Kos piece that praised the NY Times for doing a really good job with a piece that examined Syria’s actions in the chemical attack that President Trump felt obliged to respond to with an attack by 59 drones. Then, I posted a piece from Crooks and Liars that took the NY Times to task as the paper was now supporting a climate change denier. A commenter said: “The NY Times does not promote climate denial.“ and “Do not believe everything you read, especially if the source is a sleazy tabloid like this one.”
I read the piece that C&L criticized and am unimpressed. The author starts off by suggesting that the Hillary Clinton campaign somehow misread or didn’t fully grasp the poll numbers and so was blindsided by the 2016 election results.
But that’s not true. Clinton was maintaining a small, but steady lead over Trump. Trump was trying very hard, but couldn’t bridge that gap. The real problem was that FBI Director Comey came out of the blue with supposedly new emails that he hadn’t yet examined himself. That threw a giant monkey wrench into the campaign and pushed Trump over the top.
From there our author goes on to call into question the authority of climate science and suggests that we should be much more cautious about claims that sound too certain.
My own view on certainty is that if you feel someone is wrong, it’s up to you to show where and how the person is wrong. If you’re simply saying “don’t be too certain,” then you’re just trying to create doubt and confusion and yes, you count as a denier. And yes, back in late 2002, early 2003, the NY Times ran some editorials that were skeptical of the Iraq War, but they also published Judith Miller’s “OMG! Saddam Hussein’s got WMDs!!!” stories on their front pages. So yes, on balance, their promotion of the Judith Miller pieces outweighed their cautious editorials and they promoted the war.

Okay, so how do we properly judge news sources? I regularly check a number of sources that have weird names, Balloon Juice, Hullabaloo, Informed Comment and Talking Points Memo. I once told a right-winger that some information I was presenting came from the magazine called Mother Jones. He thought that was a stupid name and so therefore, my information must not have been any good.
If we say that we can’t tell how good or bad the reporting on a blog is by the name of the blog, in other words, if a quickie, surface examination is insufficient, how are we to tell how reliable a source is?
One major criteria of mine is whether the blog gives you a way to verify what they say. If the blog regularly provides links to their sources and quotes their sources accurately, that’s a very good start. If the blog sometimes just quotes the terribly provocative thing that was said without even bothering to add editorial comments, even better. Media Matters is especially good on this. They’ll frequently just allow the provocative comment to stand by itself without any further editorial comments from them.
Modest editorial language is a plus, but sometimes the provocation really calls for some serious cussing. If a blog generally shows restraint, but occasionally lets loose (Balloon Juice does this) with Not Safe For Work (NSFW) language, then that’s a pretty good sign their information is reliable.
And of course, there’s the matter of track record. Dean Baker was an economist that I became familiar with in the late 1990s. He decided in 2002 that the US had a housing bubble (the bubble had actually started in the late 1990s, it took Baker a while to figure it out). The NY Times columnist Paul Krugman agreed with him. These two became rather tiresome with their constant warnings that when the bubble burst, it was going to be awful. Well, sure enough. It burst in late 2007 and the result was indeed awful. So yeah, I give these two lots and lots of credibility.

There’s no such thing as a source that’s always right. So developing a list of reliable sources is a waste of time. Even the lefty sources that I like and regularly check can be wrong. There are many tests that one can apply to news stories to see whether they’re credible or not. The NY Times is often right, but they can be wrong as well and we can run tests to see whether they’re right or not. I’ve mentioned a few such tests. I’m sure that I regularly apply a few others that I can’t recall at the moment.