Savvy citizens get their facts straight by being savvy news consumers. Work in the world of facts, and you are a powerful, effective advocate for the cause you care about. Work in the world of rumor and innuendo, and you lose credibility and respect.
For example: A local blogger recently blasted Whatcom County Councilwoman Kathy Kershner for voting in FAVOR of sexual assault and domestic violence. Sounds outrageous, right? If I didn't already know that she is a compassionate person who supports women's and children's issues, I'd be shocked. Instead, I got curious.
What really happened? I emailed her and asked. She said she did vote against a sexual assault and domestic violence services contract, "because we can't afford it."
"You see, last fall, the majority of the council voted to pass a budget that was not balanced and is not sustainable. I voted against that budget. People know that we can't spend more than we are taking in. The council voted to take money from the General Fund and put it back into the Conservation Futures Fund. The domestic violence contract was funded from the General Fund. We can't keep spending money that we don't have."
Call it spin, manipulation, or outright lying: it's everywhere. You've got to be careful not get tangled in its web. You must find reliable sources, and cross-check to keep those sources honest and accountable.
- Read source documents. Many documents are online at all levels of government. Take questions directly to elected officials or their staff, by phone or email.
- Don't rely on just one blog, one news story, one email, or any Wikipedia article. (Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, making its value sketchy.)
- If it sounds outrageous, too good to be true, or if it smells like a rumor, slow down and check facts before you share it. Is it true? Is it necessary?
- Find the info in more than one place, and get different views. Make sure your cross-references aren't just recirculating the same story, by the same author.
- Resist the temptation to spread juicy rumors that seem to support what you believe. Without facts backing you up, you lose credibility and could harm your cause.
- Speak out to defend the truth. A rumor left unattended can fester and grow.
Be aware that every source has its bias. Reporters are just people. Some are better than others at separating their beliefs from their work. Others publish only what their readers will want to hear. Think about where you enjoy getting your news, and why that might be.
This Sound Politics blog profiles newspaper readers of various types, in a non-politically-correct fashion: "Here' s how to keep all that political 'news' in perspective..."
See anyone you know? :)