The rise of fact-checking

“We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom.”

I saw that quotation on a friend’s Facebook post recently. I thought it was really applicable to the world of information we have at our fingertips today and the fact that while we are literally drowning in it, wisdom is sadly lacking in many ways.

I have a passion for knowing what is going on in the world around us. While it may just be for my own information, it certainly helps in having a better understanding of the type of world we live in. It also helps me to appreciate global events in their context.

In gathering this information, I have found that one source or just the mainstream sources that we have become so accustomed to, cannot give the whole truth. Such news and information will always be tainted by the lens through which reporters and their news organizations wish their audience to see and hear.

I have maintained that seekers of information must go beyond the stereotypical headlines and probe deeper into news, stories, accounts and information that impact on this world in a significant way.  It is not just about having the information as there is plenty to go around, but having the wisdom to decipher it and recognize fact from fiction.

To do so, one must move beyond the popular media for getting information and search other sources, oftentimes hidden among the morass of existing accounts.

It is interesting to note that in the recent American elections, two words became popular: ‘fact checking’. After every major speech, debate, press conference and comment by the candidates, the news media found it necessary to do fact checking.  Would you believe that there is even a website called “factcheck.org”?

They describe themselves as “a non-partisan, non-profit consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in US politics. “We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major US political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding,” the website said.

I guess because deception has become the norm and an accepted characteristic of persons in the political arena, there is a need for a group of people who will literally have to fact check everything. Such norms and practices do not augur well for us who are fed information or rather misinformation from politicians.

We have to be able to believe that our leaders will do the best for us. We have to be ready to trust, put our hope in and follow our leaders. If we cannot do that, then we are like passengers on a ship in which there is no one steering the vessel. We are basically adrift hoping that the ship won’t hit something and cause it to sink.

As I watched over the last months the elections in the US and then the coming to office of Donald Trump, I could not help but think that the new norm is to say and do whatever you like to get elected. I am not naïve to know that it hasn’t happened in the past but I believe that such deliberate misrepresentation of the facts and exaggeration of lies have reached a new high and also a new level of acceptance.

It seems from all accounts and reporting that fact-checking will become even more necessary post-election with President Trump in office. Indeed, a new phrase has popped up since the inauguration. Trump advisor Kelly-Ann Conway told the media that the new White House Press Secretary presented “alternative facts” when he used false information in his first Press briefing.

A meme that I saw posted recently aptly describes this situation. Three Presidents of the United States with three captions: George Washington: “I cannot tell a lie.”  Richard Nixon: “I cannot tell the truth.” Donald Trump: “I cannot tell the difference.”

My friend Adrian Green, writing in another section of the press, made an important observation:  “America is not run by a person. It is run by a system. Change the president but keep the system intact and all is well with the status quo.”

The system will therefore be expected to keep the President in check. Interesting, except that Donald Trump ran on the premise and promise to change the status quo. He decimated Washington’s political elites with his fiery tongue.

Former President Obama came in on the premise of hope and had the highest favourable rating as an outgoing President. President Trump, on the other hand, comes with the lowest approval rating of any incoming President before. President Obama got both the popular votes and the Electoral College votes in both his elections. Trump got only the Electoral College votes and fell way short in the popular votes over his opponent.

The system is flawed but it is America’s system. Noteworthy is the analysis given of the electoral-college system.  New York Times writes: “The Electoral College, which is written into the Constitution, is more than just a vestige of the founding era; it is a living symbol of America’s original sin . . .”

It added: “When slavery was the law of the land, a direct popular vote would have disadvantaged the Southern states, with their large disenfranchised populations. Counting those men and women as three-fifths of a white person, as the Constitution originally did, gave the slave states more electoral votes.”

The system made sure that President Obama was stifled in getting his agenda of hope fully realized. Trump’s nominees for Cabinet positions and other roles in his administration thus far are no indication of his changing anything about the status quo.  In reality, it points to a reversal of all that Obama tried to achieve and a return to the real status quo.  A status quo that was upset for the eight years of Obama’s Presidency.

But we shouldn’t underestimate the power of struggle. The signs are there that the people will unite in their opposition to bigotry, racism and arrogance. Thousands more in protest than were at the inauguration. This alone should send a message to the new rulers in town that all is not well. And ‘alternative facts’ are not what the people want to hear.

(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: suleimanbulbulia@hotmail.com)

5 Responses to The rise of fact-checking

  1. jrsmith January 25, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    What amazes me , how much non Americans know about the politics in America , but cannot get ourselves together..
    All the stupid talk about Donald Trump by so call educated educators , who have failed should just shut up go and hide themselves under a rock some where….
    This is the same man , who we would be lining up waiting to help save our asses…

    Reply
  2. Hal Austin January 27, 2017 at 5:13 am

    What amazes me is how every week the chaplain could avoid any topic that involves Radical Islam and what it means for Barbados.
    We know that militant Islam has reached Trinidad and Guyana, but Barbadians prefer to bury their head in the sand and pretend it cannot happen here.
    Dream on.

    Reply
  3. Suleiman Bulbulia January 28, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    Hal…this is the militancy that has reached the Guyanese people which we should be concerned:

    http://www.inewsguyana.com/trump-influenced-hate-crime-reaches-home-as-guyanese-muslim-mother-assaulted-at-jfk-airport/

    Reply
  4. Hal Austin January 28, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    Suleiman,

    We should be concerned about all hate crime, that driven by racial and anti-Muslim prejudice, and that driven by hate of so-called infidels.

    Reply
  5. Suleiman Bulbulia January 30, 2017 at 6:19 am

    Hal, now we are on the same page.
    Peace be with you.

    Reply

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