The President of the United States recently declared that the mainstream media—NY Times, NBC, CBS, ABC, and CNN—are enemies of the American people. He routinely calls them “fake news.” Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President, introduced the concept of “alternative facts.” Stephen Miller, Trump’s 31-year-old senior adviser, insisted on national television that “this issue is widely known by anyone who has worked in New Hampshire politics,” speaking of the claim that thousands of people were bused from Massachusetts to NH to vote against Trump, which explains why Trump lost that state.
The reason why these kinds of dialogues are in our national discourse is because many of us have abandoned a reasonable approach to determine whether something is true or not. People have bought into certain ideological frames so that news from a particular “liberal” source, like the N.Y. Times, or news from a particular “conservative” source, like Fox News, are automatically deemed false. Suddenly, every news outlet is on par with a supermarket tabloid, like the National Enquirer, that routinely prints baseless stories.
In the day of supposed fake news, how can we know something is true?
The answer is easy in theory but hard in practice. We know something is true if objective research (that looks at all sides and all pertinent evidence in an unbiased manner) reveals it to be a fact. We know something is false or probably not true if that same research reveals it has no concrete evidence or is highly unlikely to have occurred based on known facts.
Is ABC and NBC fake news? If it is, then why does “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” and “Meet the Press with Chuck Todd” regularly have Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller, and many other Trump supporters on the show? If they were fake news, why would they have guests from both sides of an issue share their views? How do we know which guests are spouting fake news? For President Trump, with his egotistical and narcissistic personality, it’s obvious he thinks the fake news comes from ones who are sharing news that makes him look bad, the same way that commentators on Fox News that made Clinton look bad during the campaign, were at least spinning the news, according to most Clinton supporters.
Were thousands of people bused from Massachusetts to NH to vote against Trump and does everyone in NH politics know this? If yes, then why did the former NH Attorney General, Republican Thomas Rath, say these claims are “baseless,” “fantasies,” and “not connected to reality”? Why did the former chair of the NH Republican Party, Fergus Cullen, call Miller’s statement “completely preposterous” and “absolutely delusional”? If yes, then where is the evidence? (Miller gave none despite given a chance by “fake news” interviewers). In this case, Miller’s claim that “the fact” that voters were bused to NH is “widely known by anyone in NH politics” is easily shown to be false, that is, Trump’s senior adviser spouted fake news!
I have written much about how we can know something is true in regards to claims made by modern American Christians, particularly evangelical and fundamentalist claims. The answer is to look objectively at history and see if modern religious claims fit the historical and “biblical” record. You might be surprised that many things (and possibly most of everything) your church teaches you about the Bible, church, original sin, salvation, the Good News, sexuality, the end times, and the afterlife is fake news! It’s not true or at least should be deemed highly improbable.
I’m appalled, but not altogether surprised, that 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. Per my research, that’s because most evangelicals have (1) bought into the notion that almost every secular or liberal/progressive Christian view is “fake news” and can’t be trusted and (2) God is more concerned about issues like getting a conservative Supreme Court, religious liberty for Christians opposed to gay rights, scoring politically on abortion, and winning the culture wars, more than having a fair-minded, respectable, and moral leader who is seriously committed to follow the way of Christ.
Thankfully, there are a minority of evangelicals who follow the criteria I described above (that look at all sides and all pertinent evidence in an unbiased manner) and have concluded that Trump is actually against the path of Christ and “his is a spirit of fear and emptiness, that seeks only to fill his bottomless insecurity with worldly affirmations and idols.” I submit these things are obvious when my criteria for what is true is followed.
So, what do you think? How can Americans in our day get back to the harder work of determining what is true based on objective research rather than solely on one’s ideological frame? We have to figure this out whether it’s regarding political or religious claims. Knowing what’s true, false, probable, or improbable depends on it.