October 22, 2017

Fake news. We have to get better at weeding it out and identifying it. Because it is damaging our political landscape. This NYTimes piece is worth reading because it reminds us that our own biases bolster and energize fake news. If I already believe that Trump is a Nazi sympathizer, I am likely to read a headline that supports my viewpoint and widely share it with others. Taking a step back and assessing accuracy is not only hard to do because we have our viewpoints baked in the cake, so to speak, but finding accurate and reliable sources of information has gotten more biased as well. I trust Media Matters to tell me the truth, for example. But Trump voters don’t. They trust Fox News to tell them the truth. I think that is ridiculous. Recently, when Politifact ventured into Trump country to hold a meeting at a library to discuss how they fact check information, they were met with great skepticism by the locals. These mostly older, white Americans from the heartland assumed the left-wing media is always tilting the news against dear leader.

People cling to their viewpoints. Trump voters have no trouble believing that Harvey Weinstein is a sexual pervert but those same voters do not believe that Trump is also. Is the same bias true of us on the left who cannot stand to listen to Trump’s voice on TV at this point? (Almost everyone I know mutes the TV when he speaks). Are there instances where we are jumping to conclusions?

Think about this idea- Trump’s tone-deaf comments to the wife of La David Johnson (“he knew what he was signing up for) has set off a firestorm of anger and a volley of insults back and forth by forces representing one side and the other. Those of us on the left are ready to believe immediately that Trump was insulting to the wife of this fallen soldier. But maybe, just maybe Trump was doing his level best to be caring and thoughtful in that call but because he is truly inept at that and lacks empathy, his words came across as mean-spirited. Those same words uttered by a truly compassionate person, would have conveyed care and compassion. Imagine Barack Obama saying the same thing to that wife. I bet Obama saying the same thing would have sounded supportive.

Could Trump have had good intentions there? Maybe so. In fact, I will give him the benefit of the doubt here. And I will do a deeper dive into Trump’s psyche. It is likely that he messes up in his delivery because he is a man who was raised utterly without empathy and without a role model for being a caring person. Without an internalized sense of compassion, Trump comes across over and over as man who has the compassion and empathy of a newt.

I am not making excuses for him. Even if we posit that Trump had good but inept intentions when he spoke with the wife of La David Johnson, his follow up instincts, his thin-skinned responses and tweets after that and his evident insistence that Kelly appear and provide him cover, reinforce our view of Trump as a rat and everyone associated with him as part of a colony of rats that have invaded the dumpster that has become the White House.

I am not sure how to convince myself that even Trump is not always bad in every way especially when Trump really is bad in almost every way. I struggle with this idea and maybe you do too. I don’t think the right-wing struggles with this very much. Being open minded should be required of everyone, not just the left wing progressive side of the political spectrum.

However, when it comes to fake news and our biases, there is no doubt that we have these ideas baked in and to combat our preconceived ideas is very hard especially in the era of Trump. Nonetheless, we probably need to keep trying to keep an open mind and, more importantly, keep funding sources that combat fake news. Oh, and get Fox News off the air. That would solve a lot of problems right there. Just sayin’.

How Fiction Becomes Fact on Social Media

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter offer up memes designed to feel real, if only for an instant — long enough for our minds to make a false connection.