From an early age, we try to teach children the importance of eating nutritious, balanced meals so they mature to be strong and healthy adults. We warn that if they choose to gorge themselves on junk food filled with sugar and empty calories, they will instead become sick and feel miserable. As the saying goes, “You are what you eat!” The same is true when it comes to news consumption.
It is vitally important that consumers be able to distinguish substantive “healthy news” produced by legitimate journalists from sugary “junk news” spread by partisan or self-interested organizations. Luckily, just like with the Nutrition Facts labels on the food you buy at the grocery store, there are easy ways to verify the nutritional content of the news sources you are reading, watching, listening to on the radio, or scrolling through on social media.
Two useful, objective websites are MediaBiasFactCheck.com and AdFontesMedia.com. Both sites quickly let you know where a news source falls on the political spectrum and how high it scores on the facts. As long as a news source falls somewhere between center left and center right and scores high for factual reporting, you are consuming the news equivalent of healthy food. Some particularly nutritious examples are The Economist magazine, National Public Radio (NPR), PBS NewsHour, and The Associated Press combined with the news divisions of local newspapers.
The cable news networks – Fox, CNN, and MSNBC – largely fall outside this safe zone because their programming conflates news reporting with news commentary. While healthy news commentary at its best can inform the consumer with responsible analysis and historical perspective, at its worst it becomes junk news when designed to misrepresent, misinform, and, especially, to outrage.
Thanks to social media and the internet, there is no shortage of misleading, poorly sourced, or outright fictitious stories and memes advanced by partisans and political arsonists. The best advice is to think before you drink or share these insidiously intoxicating brews with others. There are a number of quality online resources, such as FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com, and Snopes.com, that exist to verify specific news stories and cure disinformation hangovers.
With more information than ever before easily available at our fingertips, all it takes is the willpower to kick the bad habit of impulsively consuming junk news. The health of our democracy depends upon an informed and enlightened citizenry, which means we owe it to our country and to each other to be on a nutritious news diet.
Jeff Berrong of Weatherford is co-owner of the Ed Berrong Insurance Agency. He is a former staffer for former U.S. Rep. Dan Boren and serves on OK Policy’s Board of Directors.