Editorial: Nurture skepticism, not cynicism, to combate 'fake news'

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted12/31/2017 1:00 AM

It is a confusing world we live in, made all the more so by a much broader spectrum of information sources these days.

That's not to suggest we favor a state-run news agency as your sole source of news. Or that it's a good idea to watch exclusively MSNBC or Fox News or CNN.


Or even that you get all of your information from this newspaper.

But the "information" landscape today is so fraught with opinion, illogical assertions, ideology, conspiracy theories, satire, rumor, unsubstantiated claims and propaganda that it is difficult to divine news from opinion and fact from fiction.

It's enough to make you want to curl up in a ball in front of whatever cable news station gives you comfort and just let it wash over you.

But that's the easy way out. Accepting unquestioningly whatever someone tells you is what has gotten this world in trouble many times. Doing so solves nothing and only adds to the decline of our civilization.

That brings us to the issue of skepticism versus cynicism.

A skeptic is someone who is inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinion.

Embrace the 3-year-old in you and ask "why" until you're blue in the face.

A cynic is someone who believes that people are motivated purely by self-interest -- and, hence, believes essentially nothing.

Skepticism is the cornerstone of science. If not for skepticism, we'd probably still believe the world is flat.

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We, in what we like to refer as the principled press, question just about everything. Sometimes to an annoying degree. But it's all in search of the truth.

We report the news and do our best to illustrate how we come upon our conclusions. We try to show you our homework. Skepticism is what we do.

The old City News Bureau maxim "If your mother says she loves you, check it out" is as relevant today as it ever was.

To discard everything The Washington Post, New York Times or Associated Press publishes as "fake news" -- because they use anonymous sources -- is cynical.

Sources are vetted and cross-checked against each other to ensure their validity. It is a painstaking process.

If not for unnamed sources, precious little would be reported in Washington because people in the know fear for their jobs.


Because reporters and editors are skeptical news consumers, too, we use unnamed sources sparingly -- only when there is an overriding concern for someone's safety or job security and there is no other way to obtain an important piece of information.

When we write stories, we work to provide balance and context and give people on various sides of an issue an opportunity to offer their perspectives or evidence.

Oftentimes, non-mainstream "news" outlets trade in opinion, advocacy journalism, whataboutism, conspiracy theories and worse.

We in the principled press adhere to a set of journalistic standards.

We keep our opinions to the editorial page and, yes, the sports pages.

To discard a news source because it made a mistake is cynical. Everyone makes mistakes. Good news sources own up to them.

To discard everything the debunking website Snopes.com brings to the table based on the assertion that it employs Democrats is cynical.

If you look objectively at what Snopes does, you'll see that it shows you the evidence it has collected to prove or disprove something. It deals in facts, not opinions.

In the modern world, if you want the truth you need to work at it.

The truth sometimes is ugly. It might challenge how you've always thought about things.

Would you buy a horse without checking its teeth? Would you buy a car without giving it a test drive or having a trusted mechanic give it a once-over? No, of course not. So why would you buy someone's assertions without benefit of evidence?

The truth is out there. You just need to work to find it.

Facts matter. Support a free press.

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