Darrell Berkheimer: The search for accurate information
My recent commentary, “Discerning truth is each citizen’s obligation,” has prompted one of my readers to request a list of reliable sources for accurate information.
Reader Jennifer Kelley wrote: “Throughout the run-up to the latest election, I worried about the vast amount of misinformation and outright lies cascading from many directions. For many people, the task of finding the truth is often skipped. It is easier to believe what one wishes to be so.
“I wonder if you would write a follow-up article explaining in more detail which sources are to be trusted and how to find them. Perhaps you might suggest reliable publications or list agencies that have accurate information.”
Jennifer’s request prompted me to recall a Media Bias Chart provided by one of the fellows at a morning men’s meeting a couple years ago. It is copyright material, but it’s available royalty-free at firstname.lastname@example.org
Listed at the top center of the chart as the most objective or least biased sources are The Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg, NPR, BBC, ABC and CBS. They are cited for reporting the facts.
For worldwide coverage, Reuters gets my five-star rating. But Reuters, with headquarters in London, does not provide as much U.S. news as The Associated Press or Bloomberg. And the broadcast networks seldom provide the in-depth reporting that print media offers – with the exception of special programming such as “60 Minutes.”
Print sources listed as slightly leaning left are The New York Times and The Washington Post. And those leaning just a bit to the right are The Hill and The Wall Street Journal. But all four are listed among the most reliable sources.
The chart cites local newspapers for doing a good job of reporting the facts. It observes they tend to skew only a little to the liberal or conservative side as they reflect the attitudes of the community or city where they are located.
Sources listed with a strong bias on the right include Fox News, New York Post and Newsmax. And those with a strong left bias include New Republic, Daily KOS and Alternet.
With the exception of Fox News, I’m really not that familiar with the heavily biased sources. Fox News, however, is known for its half-truths, occasional outright lies, and far-right opinions. It is listed toward the bottom of the chart for its “propaganda,” and “misleading information.”
Conservatives seem to have a similar opinion of MSNBC. But I’ve observed that MSNBC generally adheres to the facts while providing a lot of strong liberal opinions and conclusions. It is listed in the middle of the chart for “opinion, fair persuasion” and “overall quality.”
The Media Bias Chart also lists some of the best analytical sources. Leaning a bit to the left are The New Yorker, The Atlantic and The Week. Leaning to the right are the National Review, The Weekly Standard and Reason.com.
About three dozen other media are scattered throughout the middle categories that range from “complex analysis” to “selective or incomplete story” and “unfair persuasion.”
As noted in my earlier commentary, I consider print media to be more cautious and accurate than broadcast — partly because I think print media is held to a higher standard in the courts. I believe most people, including those serving on juries, realize that writers will spend a little time thinking about the wording they want to use — rather than blurt something out the way we might do in oral conversation.
Unfortunately, I think too many folks spend more time with broadcast and internet social media than they do with analytical books and articles. Until this COVID pandemic, book purchases had been declining, and many local bookstores were closing.
Social media, however, are the worst sources for truth and accuracy. Social media, which are not listed on the chart, provide an abundance of generalities, half-truths, lies and conspiracy theories. I would not accept anything from social media as truthful and accurate without verification from at least one other source that has a trustworthy reputation.
Any discussion on the search for accuracy stirs my memories of Journalism 101 — when we were told to always consider the source. What does the source have to gain or lose by advocating one position over another? And does the source have the proper credentials?
For example, we know that various corporations have been considerably less than fully transparent as they minimized their air and water pollution. The expense of controlling emissions cuts into their profits. So an appropriate science or government agency usually is the proper source.
In addition, we must consider the credentials of someone claiming to be an authority on a subject beyond their area of expertise.
For instance, a friend brought to my attention how a highly acclaimed weather forecaster is a climate change denier. As a meteorologist, he is very knowledgeable on weather patterns since detailed record-keeping began in the 1800s. But he lacks the expertise that geologists have in prehistoric weather occurrences. A geologist can provide more accurate climate change information.
So proper credentials are important.
With all that’s available through the internet, I frequently will seek truth and accuracy by topic rather than source. Quite often, in the search space of my PC, I simply type in a question requesting the exact information that I want. The list of items usually will include at least two or three appropriate sources that will have the information I seek. It’s an easy and quick method.
The Pew Research Center often is one of the sources listed in response to my questions because of its wide variety of reports. Sometimes, I check the Pew Center first.
And finally, when all else fails, a phone call to the local library might result in learning the best source for particular information. It’s amazing how much resource knowledge librarians accumulate as a result of their work.
Librarians are conscientious. They would prefer people get accurate information rather than spread falsehoods.
Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has eight books available through Amazon. His sixth, Essays from The Golden Throne, includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen western travel and photo essays. Contact him at email@example.com.
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Parents are becoming aware of the use of critical race theory in their children’s instruction, particularly as distance learning has given them a window into their classrooms.