Select wholesome messages over junk
From a young age, we seek to teach children the importance of eating nutritious, balanced meals in order for them to mature into strong and healthy adults. We warn that if you choose junk foods with sugar and empty calories, they will get sick and feel miserable. As the saying goes: “You are what you eat!” The same applies to message consumption.
It is vital that consumers be able to distinguish substantial “healthy news” produced by legitimate journalists from sugary “junk news” distributed by partisans or self-interested organizations. Fortunately, just like the nutritional information on the food you buy at the grocery store, there are easy ways to check the nutritional content of the news sources you read, watch, listen to on the radio, or browse on social media.
Two useful, objective websites are MediaBiasFactCheck.com and AdFontesMedia.com. Both sites are a quick way to find out where a news source falls on the political spectrum and how high the facts are. As long as a news source is somewhere between center-left and center-right and scoring high scores for factual coverage, you are consuming the news equivalent of healthy eating. Some particularly nutritious examples are Economist magazine, National Public Radio (NPR), PBS NewsHour, and The Associated Press combined with the news sections of local newspapers like The Oklahoman.
The cable news networks – Fox, CNN, and MSNBC – largely fall outside of this safe zone, as their programming combines reporting with news commentary. While a healthy news comment can inform the consumer at its best with responsible analysis and historical perspective, in the worst case it turns into junk news when it is misrepresented, misinformed, and especially outraged.
Thanks to social media, there is no shortage of misleading, ill-sourced, or downright fictional stories and memes put forward by partisans and political arsonists. The best advice is to think twice before drinking or sharing these insidiously intoxicating beers. There are a number of quality online resources such as FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com, and Snopes.com that can be used to review certain messages and fix disinformation hangovers.
With more information readily available than ever before, it only takes the willpower to give up the bad habit of consuming junk news impulsively. The health of our democracy depends on an informed and enlightened citizenry, which means we owe it to our country and each other to have a nutritious news diet.
Berrong, of Weatherford, was an employee of former US Representative Dan Boren and a member of the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s board of directors.