Two things recently caught my eye. The first was syndicated columnist and political commentator Charles Krauthammer’s heartbreaking announcement that his life will soon be coming to an end due to an aggressive cancer.
Charles’s unique blend of high intellect and precision writing skills made for brilliant columns and commentary that average Joe’s like myself could understand and appreciate, even if I didn’t always agree with his conclusions, which was rare. He’ll be remembered best for this, but what’s always impressed me most was his persistence in creating a life of purpose and meaning after a diving accident in college left him a quadriplegic with severe depression. He is such an inspiration.
The other comes from today’s Wall Street Journal in the opinion piece, “Skepticism Beats Snopes as an Antidote to Fake News” by Amar Bhidé, discussing the difficulties of quality fact checking in today’s digital age. Some excerpts for those who find themselves blocked by a pay wall:
“Technology made this model (old style print) hard to sustain. Google and Facebook sucked away the advertising that supported news reporting—and the fact checking. More competition for fewer readers and advertisers tempted traditionally staid news outlets toward tabloid sensationalism and fantasy, albeit in a more political and (usually) less salacious vein. And what is now called “fact checking” is a competitive gotcha effort, not an exercise in controlling the reliability of a news organization’s own product.”
“Technology has also brought into the fray ideological amateurs who have no reporting costs—or reputations to worry about. Anyone with a mobile phone—that is to say, anyone—can tweet or post on Facebook and with modestly more effort hold forth on a blog.”
“And while some freelancers may expose media falsehoods rather than produce their own, how are we to know which ones? Independent policing of the news has a natural appeal, but it raises the question posed in Juvenal’s Satires: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?“Who will guard the guards themselves?”
As a blogger who frequently write about politics, I certainly appreciate social media’s ability to deliver information straight to the people. It’s been a major advancement for everyday people to form their own opinions about events instead of being told what to think by behemoth media corporations with an agenda. .
A lot of crap has come with that good however. Blatant propaganda is frequently shared throughout the internet as “fact”, leaving people uninformed and at each others throats because so much of the narrative is about demonizing the others side.
What can we do? According to Bhidé,
“Rather than obsess about ferreting out falsehoods and punishing liars, we can avoid much harm by asking: What if widely reported facts are wrong? Better to acknowledge how little we know than to persist in believing what just ain’t so.”
Charle’s Krauthammer also points a way forward, as his style of writing and speaking was so anathema to the tabloidy clickbait that surrounds us . Love or hate the guy, the man did his research and conveyed strong opinions but always kept both his and his opponents dignity at the forefront. He understood the importance of getting truth out there, but that sacrificing facts and grace for popularity was not the way to go.
I’ll close with his words, “I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.”
We are grateful as well Charles, Godspeed.