Fake News and Facebook Friends

Do you feel like you get a clear picture of what is going on when you check the news? Is Donald Trump right about much of it being “fake news,” and is it, as he accused, the true enemy of the people? 

Since changing cable news channels these days is like changing realities, trying to ascertain the facts and develop an informed opinion on an issue is a challenging process. Admittedly, a few unverified news stories have had to be retracted.  Yet, we have a president who has only a casual relationship with the facts, has pulled reporters credentials, expressed the desire to create a state-run media outlet, and regularly demeans his detractors. 

It’s not the news media, but misinformation, no matter what its source, that is an enemy of the people.  Our founders secured the right of the press to inform our citizenship and hold our officials accountable. But these journalists are people who have opinions and occasionally get over jealous. For the most part, they do a good job and without them we would have no protection against the fake news coming from the administration, which is perhaps the greater treat.

Since Walter Cronkite is no longer with us, the only way to develop a well-informed opinion is to get our news from multiple sources. Some people tell me they don’t watch television news. That’s too bad, because some it is very good, you just need to be discerning. 

I fear we have gown numb, getting our little bits of “news” from late night comedians, or opting out all-together. The uniformed opinion or the one informed by only one perspective, has become the norm. If rushing to judgement and partisanship were virtues, we are indeed excelling.

Conjuring up images of Peter Faulk’s Detective Columbo, I have just one more question. How are we going to discuss our differing opinions without someone getting unfriended?

We have all heard that it is unwise to talk about religion and politics. However, when you think about their far-reaching effect, it is unwise not to talk about religion and politics. We just need to learn how to do it without hating people or concluding they are crazy.

A Facebook friend once commented on a post, “Can we agree to disagree?” While I totally admire the sentiment, I didn’t express a single opinion in post, just historical facts. Facts are AWOL in much of our debate and we jump straight to opinion. If only we could remember to first attempt to establish the facts.

Most of the time that I have made personal contact with someone who held a vastly different perspective than me, I learned something. I learned that we were not so different. I learned that her position has some merit. Usually, I learned that she had a perspective that I needed to hear. At the very least, I understood her better.

Black and white is a nice mode for artsy photographs, but reality is not black and white. There are colors, hues, and shades. That is what we usually lack in understanding an issue, the nuance. And there are always nuances, exceptions, unintended consequences, sustainability issues, etc. That’s why it’s good to keep an open mind and to continually evaluate and update our positions, as warranted.

This last day of the year, is a good opportunity to prepare ourselves for the year ahead. But that is difficult because things will happen in the world and in our personal lives that we can not foresee. Almost certainly, learning how to have a civil conversation about challenging issues will be helpful mindset and skill set to take with us into the year ahead. 

Lastly, the end of the year is also the end of my time of almost five years as a regular columnist. Thank you for reading, and for thinking and feeling your way through all of the stuff that has trickled from my head and heart to find their way into newsprint. 

Throughout 2019, may we each know and treasure peace, love, and joy in our hearts, and share the same with others.

This is my last column in The Kenosha News, appearing in print today.

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