Tempering the impact of “alternative facts,” a month later
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The day after President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, stated in a briefing that the crowd in Washington was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.” Both photography analysis and television viewership statistics disproved Spicer’s assertion, but Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said on NBC the next day that Spicer had merely given “alternative facts.”
An isolated incident of governmental misstatement might not be dissatisfactory on its own, but the Trump administration’s trend towards publicly voicing untruths has continued to now, more than a month after the inauguration.
In a press conference on Thursday, for example, President Trump claimed that his win was the “biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan”; that Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent in the election, gave Russia 20 percent of the U.S.’s uranium and that the overturn rate for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a record high—all provably false.
At a time when many citizens are not sure which organizations to trust, the tendency of the new administration towards disseminating even accidental falsehoods speaks towards an alarming direction in the control and spread of information.
Some governmental employees have acknowledged their untruths, but if others on the administration continue a trend of unwillingness to admit their mistakes as readily, we as citizens need to take action to combat the Trump administration’s misstatements, because so much otherwise unverifiable information comes from the government. Supporting the news media is one of the ways to work towards this end.
While it is true that some recent news stories demonstrate a tendency in the industry to try to scoop the competition rather than wait to see if the facts are true and provable, the news media’s job is still to report information; and in the coming weeks and years, it has the potential to serve as a powerful check on any further misstatements from the Trump administration if we let it.
With that in mind, make sure that you share verified stories from trusted sources. If you would feel hesitant using a news website as a source for a research paper or history essay, reconsider posting a link to that website. Learning about breaking news is important, but so is keeping an eye on relevant, credible news sources that have reputations for independence and parity and that cite their own evidence.
Read the headlines you see with a critical eye—do trust, but also verify and corroborate—and alert people who spread inaccuracies. Like the scientists saving governmental data about climate change collected during the Obama administration, archive web pages or other information that might change. Speak out not only against misstatements made by government officials but also at falsehoods in the news and in your social media feeds. Keep yourself abreast of the truth so that you can inform others and dispel rumors. Above all, be skeptical: avoid the unthinking acceptance of information you see or hear. It is the administration’s duty to provide real, substantiated facts—and if the government doesn’t, it’s on us.