Monday, November 28, 2016

Just say no to fake news

November is a dark month for baseball fans. It’s too early to talk about spring training and the hot stove isn’t even warm — there’s just not that much to say right now. Rather than just making stuff up (about Ortiz wanting to return one more season but worried about the “Trump effect”), I’m not even going to write about baseball this week.

So who’s to blame? TRUMP!  Yes, let’s blame him. It’s definitely his fault. Now share this with everyone you know on Facebook and say “Here’s the proof: it’s Trump’s fault that Ortiz is not coming back!” I’ve saved you the trouble of having to think for yourself or even read a short sentence. Now that you’ve saved all your friends and neighbors from the truth, go back to playing Candy Crush.

All kidding aside, we’re all a bit to blame. In the age of the 24 hour news cycle, information reduced to 140 characters and a language down to letters (ICYMI: TTYL), we’ve dumbed ourselves down so far that we’ve actually lowered our own IQs. In the last 10 years, circulation for the Providence Sunday Journal has dropped by more than half and many of us are getting our news from online sources — not journalists — but sources who make money from advertisers based on the number of clicks that their stories receive. So my “Ortiz considers return for second farewell season” story could be a goldmine and the real story — that there’s little to report on our retired hero — gets as many views as the ProJo classifieds.

During the presidential campaign, fake news was abundant and supporters on both sides were (and are) guilty of sharing and promoting untruth all over social media. I was hoping it would die down a bit but a quick look at my Facebook feed and I can see that Steve Bannon is both Satan and a populist. While I hope social media goes back to being a safe place to view cat videos and share common stain fighting techniques, it’s incumbent on all of us to push back on the wave of fake news.

Start by being a bit skeptical. Are you clicking on things that are tempting but sound crazy (lose 20 pounds watching TV!) or are you getting our online news from a reliable source? When you read a newspaper or watch the news do you think about the sources they cite or the perspectives that the reporter sought? There are no unbiased sources of information since the people putting the stories together are (presumably) human and produce their pieces from their perspective, but paid journalists have reputations to maintain and aren’t just looking for a quick click.

Be careful what you share. Don’t circulate clickbait, block it from your page and “unlike” anything that isn’t legitimate. In the pay-per-click world, your “likes” are gold. And of course, share your newfound discipline with your children. If I could count the number of conversations that started, “Hey Mom - I saw this thing on Tumblr…” and ended with the equivalent of “ okay, so Grant IS buried in Grant’s tomb,” I’d have my very own media empire.

If in doubt, just remember what Nancy Reagan said, “just say no” to fake news. OMG. JSN.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A new team takes the field

Regardless of how you feel about the outcome of the election, we have a new President of the United States. You might find him repugnant, you may find to be a breath of fresh air. As of January 20, 2017, he is the President of the United States.

You can complain about the electoral college system or you may wish you lived in a swing state, so your vote would “matter.”  President-elect Trump still won in a fair election under the process set out by the U.S. Constitution.

You might blame others for voting for Trump — or not choosing to vote at all — we each have the right to make the choice that’s best for us. You may feel “robbed” because the first woman President has yet to be elected or you may feel relieved that she wasn’t. The new President can choose who he wants to run his administration.

You can say he’s not your President, but as long as you are a U.S. citizen, he actually is.

You have options of course. You can threaten to leave the country, share fake stories on Facebook, and criticize every move he makes. It’s a beautiful thing to live in a country where you can despise and mock your leader and have no fear of repercussions. You can also choose to go down a more meaningful and productive route for your anger.

One of my friends had a “Think globally, act locally” poster in her room throughout our college years. At the time I didn’t think too much about what it meant, but it resonates today. Individuals that might be frustrated by who we’ve elected at any level of government have the option to put their energies to work in any number of ways from volunteering and advocacy work to running for office or managing a political campaign. Here in Rhode Island we have amazing organizations that always need support — from the Institute for the Study and Prevention of Nonviolence to the East Bay Food Pantry — and something for every other need in our community. Your commitment can be huge or it can be minimal and the choices are literally endless: be a mentor, walk a shelter dog, pick up litter, volunteer in a school, thank a veteran, shovel a sidewalk. There’s really no limit to the ways people can contribute locally.

I get it if it all seems like too much work — especially since hitting the “share” button on Facebook requires no thought and even less effort — but if you REALLY care, use this election as a reason to engage locally and make a real difference in your community in a way that matters to you. One President can’t ruin a country or make it great again, only the people can do that.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Even the umpires couldn’t fix this game

We’ve all watched a game where an umpire makes a terrible call and it changes the outcome. In the post-mortem of the 2016 election, one can make the case that the results were inevitable before the final teams were chosen. Despite the best efforts of the umpires — the media elites — the odds were never in her favor.

I’m certain that brings no comfort to her or her supporters, but the 2016 presidential race was going to be a “change” election. For more than a year, national polls asking their version of  “do you think the country is on the right track or the wrong track” were getting a very firm “wrong track” with most polls showing that between sixty and seventy percent of Americans believed that the country was headed in the wrong direction. When that many likely voters agreed on the “directional” question, there’s little doubt that President Obama would not get a so-called third term with the election of someone who pledged to continue to govern along the same ideological path. Voters were determined to make a change.

I am not sure how that giant red flag was missed by so many — perhaps her own pollsters had nightmares about this simple number — and with good reason. I can’t imagine they ignored it, but instead they probably reasoned with it: if you are up against a candidate that is perceived as racist, sexist and bigoted, surely people won’t vote for him if they have been informed of the horrible things he has said. Perhaps they assumed (or hoped) that the change people were looking for would be satisfied by a woman president or even by flipping the Senate. Either way, the narrative developed by her campaign highlighting her experience and contrasting it with his shortcomings completely backfired, motivating dissatisfied Democrats to vote Trump and inspiring people who wanted change to turn out and vote, bigly.

I have to believe that the big red flag of change was also missed because of the smoke coming from the media elites. I have a tremendous amount of respect for reporters — it’s a thankless job and can be a dangerous one — but I have to wonder about the producers and editors who could see these poll numbers and glossed over that directional question, instead choosing to highlight President Obama’s healthy job approval number. Or how about those whose coverage of a Trump rally included only Trump’s offensive comments rather than note that 10,000 people in the audience were clapping and that they had waited three hours to get in? While they hoped to help her get elected, the smokescreen effect was so thick that everyone missed the story. Everyone bought into the narrative that America couldn’t possibly elect Donald Trump, so the shock was huge — uuge.

I don’t know that President-elect Trump was destined to be our agent of change, but the role seemed to be written for him. With a country is screaming for something different, he was outsider with sky-high name recognition in a primary field chock full of governors and senators who were shocked by his bad manners and could barely defend themselves.  Most could only stand there and elaborate on their weakness: they had been part of the government that voters were hell-bent on rejecting. The media elites were so tickled by his candidacy since he was someone that Clinton could surely beat that they practically ignored the others and followed him around with his own camera pool. They went to mock him and highlight his lack of depth on the issues and instead they raised him up as a legitimate candidate with hours of free media. They gave him a satellite uplink while the others shouted into Styrofoam cups with strings attached. 

Many Bernie Sanders supporters are wondering if his brand of change would have won the election. Certainly Sanders had attracted huge crowds of the very voters that ended up voting for Trump — and Clinton did not inspire women or minorities to vote — but would an aging socialist have embodied the kind of change people were looking for? We’ll never know.

In the days and weeks to come, there will surely be a very thorough post-mortem by the Clinton campaign, the Democratic party and the national media. My ultra curious mind would like to know if Wikileaks has any more juicy e-mails to share that show whether there was a voice of truth inside the campaign or if everyone was too consumed reciting the narrative they’d been given to think for themselves. While looking back will be instructive — and will perhaps highlight a “never again” moment for many — looking ahead is the only thing most of us should do. There’s a new team on the field and it’s time to watch what they will do.