I had an epiphany the other day.
I was lecturing to my students about checking their sources. In the professional writing course I teach, we talk a great deal about checking the accuracy, authenticity, objectivity, credibility and currency of sources, especially those that come from the Internet. In an effort to exemplify the objectivity I was describing, I used “The Daily Show” as an example. “If you don’t pay attention, if you don’t realize that it’s a satire rather than a real news show,” I explained, “you could be taken in and end up getting your facts all wrong. You have to know your source.”
At that point, one of my students raised his hand and said, “So how do professional journalists screw up so often? Don’t they check their sources? Those idiots at Fox News must really not be paying attention. They make so many mistakes.” This comment got quite a laugh and stirred up some discussion about the erroneous Barack Obama story perpetuated by that network.
And then it hit me.
I’ve been complaining on this blog for some time about my conservative friends’ and family members’ baiting me over my liberal views. They make these wild claims and then accuse me of being too young and naive to realize how wrong I am. And these folks are quoting bad sources, biased sources, uncorroborated sources.
My friend’s grandmother – the woman who gave me the anti-Muslim rant and insisted Obama is a terrorist – she was quoting a Fox News story that was later recanted (very subtly recanted, I might add).
My uncle – who insisted that our forces DID find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – he was quoting Fox as well. As a matter of fact, I can’t find any reliable source that confirms Iraq’s possession of WMD’s. They had some nasty stuff, but most of it was old and none of it was deliverable to the United States. Fox News, however, neglected to give the complete details. Of course.
Even my very sweet and well-meaning mother – who had decided to hate the Colts because “they” were selling Super Bowl tickets for $15,000 each – she had not checked her source either. The Colts were most definitely NOT selling Super Bowl tickets for that much. The story had come off the Internet, and it was an eBay seller who had jacked the price so high, not the Colts organization.
So who’s naive? I may be young, but I in this world of instant news, web bloggers and 24-hours cable news networks, my relative youth is an advantage: I don’t trust everything I read or see on TV. Unlike my older friends and relatives, who grew up believing every word spoken by trustworthy journalists such as Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, I have spent most of my life in the electronic age. I know that e-mail is not to be trusted because people just forward stuff without even checking it. I know that no cable news show is completely reliable because they’re in such a hurry to break the story before everyone else that they publish first and check later.
My sincere hope is that, as the Baby Boomers leave us, the more techno-savvy and source-cynical younger generations will grow weary of this slipshod reporting, and Fox News will die a painful death. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?