Reading the News: How to Counteract Fake News and Bias In What you Read

In last week’s blog I talked about the trend in fake news aimed at the left. Much to my chagrin some of the sites that have been egregious in disseminating fake news are sites that I read regularly.  Sigh!  So this week I want to talk about some ways of spotting fake news and what to do to get more balanced and fact based news coverage.

The first thing is to know your news sources and how they skew on the bias scale. There are many ways to figure this out, but I found that this chart by Otero a good place to start. It’s not perfect but it helps you see what you are taking in and where that lands on the scale of bias on the horizontal axis and also rates the analytical quotient in the vertical axis. What news do you read and where does it land on the chart?

So I subscribe to the Post and the weekend New York Times and we get the Economist.  I watch CNN at home and listen to NPR whenever I am in the car. So far my choices are minimally biased, although I could probably do better than CNN which tends toward “sensational” in its analysis.  It is my Facebook feed though that is more problematic. I love the articles in The Atlantic which skews liberal although analytical, but since I also read The Economist maybe these two balance each other out.  But Occupy Democrats, the Palmer Report and others which are not listed but which I am sure fall into the same category, like Mother Jones, are clearly only confirming my own bias rather than opening me up to new insights.

Snopes’ Managing Editor, Brooke Binkowski  told BBC News in an interview that  you need to be aware of your emotions as you read any news article.  “If you are a newsreader or someone who likes reading news but you don’t know immediately what may or may not be fake, ask yourself by reading the headline, what emotions do I feel? Am I really angry, scared, frustrated, do I want to share this to tell everybody what’s going on? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then check your sources.”

So how do you check to see if a news source is biased? Go to Media Bias/Fact Check.  They seem to be amassing a alrge data base of various new sites and will let you know what their bias is.  For example Mother Jones is considered a left leaning news site but their factual reporting is rated “high” and considered fairly reliable where as the Palmer Report ,which is rated almost to the extreme left, is rated “mixed” as far as reliability and accuracy. There are continuous updates to this site so that you can see when a news site has published something fake.

Once you have an idea of where your bias is then you can take some other steps. One of the biggest issues in fake news is how fast it spreads. The example I gave in last week’s blok about Senator Markey is a case in point. The fake news that a New York grand jury had begun to investigate Trump’s Russian connections had gone viral in just a very short amount of time.  So I have decided that I will not share on FB any material from sites that are very biased and or have been proven to be unreliable. This means no sharing of the Palmer Report for me. I just feel like I need to be part of the solution with regard to fake news, and this is an easy way for me to do that.

Additionally, I want to where possible share from the original source, especially on big news items. So when The New York Times broke the story of Don Jr.s meeting with the Russian lawyer, there were many different sites that were sharing it too. But most of them cited the NYT as their source and usually linked their story to theirs. I noticed that many of the more liberal sites had much more sensational headlines and conclusions that were stretching things quite a bit. So now I am trying to be more careful and go to the original reporting and share it instead.

These are small steps, but I want to do my part in stopping fake news. I hope you have found this helpful in coming up with your own strategies to stop fake news.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading the News: How Biased Am I?

Surprise! No book review today. Instead I wanted to talk about what I have been reading in the news and I want to particularly point out an alarming upward trend of fake news stories aimed at the political left.

Like many of you, ever since the election I have been reading news stories in the Washington Post, New York Times, The Economist and from many other sources,  a lot of which I find in my Facebook feed.

I live in the suburbs of Washington DC, so when Pizzagate happened it hit really close to home.  Pizzagate seemed to define the insanity of right wing conspiracy news. Who would  seriously think that Hillary Clinton would be trafficking children out of a pizza restaurant in DC? Evidently, a lot of people. And one person in particular who was taking matters into his own hands and came to DC to free the children armed with a rifle!

I confess to feeling a bit smug about all this never thinking that those on the left could fall for this kind of crazy stuff, but I have been a bit shocked by some of the things that end up in my news feed on FB and what friends tell me is on Twitter. Not only are people on the political left reading this kind of stuff, they are actually falling for it just like people on the political right did. In February The Atlantic did a piece on this very issue.  Their conclusion was that, ‘[g]iven the choice, democratic citizens will not seek out news that challenges their beliefs;  instead, they will opt for content that confirms their suspicions.” To me this is a shocking statement. I pride myself on being a reader of a pretty wide spectrum sources of information.

But people on the left fall for the silly stuff too, like the “fake news” that Queen Elizabeth ll  had claimed she could kill Trump with a sword if he ever visited Buckingham Palace. While most of us probably did not fall for that one, there has been a more disturbing trend where nuance and context have been removed causing the story to be more lopsided and outrageous than it really was. The recent kerfuffle over the dress code in the Speaker’s lobby on the Hill is a case in point. The rules governing women’s and mens attire has been in place for a long time. CBS, who was pretty even handed in their coverage stated that the rules were rather vague and unclear but that the same rules that are in effect now were in effect under Nancy Pelosi when she was Speaker. Additionally, they noted that there has been some variance in enforcement among members on the House side while it is not enforced at all on the Senate side. The reporter in question was  stopped as she was trying to cross the lobby. The patrol who stopped her offered to find her a sweater just like they often offer to provide a tie or suit coat for men who are caught without. So when Speaker Ryan suggested that “Members should periodically rededicate themselves to the core principles of proper parliamentary practice that are so essential to maintaining order and deliberacy here in the House,” and “[m]embers should wear appropriate business attire during all sittings of the House however brief their appearance on the floor may be,” he was not trying to impose new and stricter rules rather just trying to remind members of what was already there.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not a fan of the current dress code. I think it should be reviewed and revised. But what I am talking about is that even though this was a fairly straight up news story, coverage from many liberal sites was not very factual like this Tweet  that pictured Ryan in an unflattering pose and implying that he was imposing new rules that were more draconian or this tweet from Mediate that implied Ryan was establishing a new “no sleeveless” policy. Admittedly these are just tweets and not “news” per se, but it is troubling that people are spreading misleading and even false stories as if they were true.

I think the most shocking incident, however was when Democratic Senator Ed Markey stated during an interview with CNN that a grand jury had been impaneled in New York to investigate the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. It wasn’t true! He was just repeating something he had seen in his FB news feed.

This rumor had been all over social media and had been written about in the Palmer Report, a liberal blog know for its conspiracy theories and by Twitter star for the left, Louise Mensch. Markey had to retract his statement and The Atlantic wrote a sobering article about the event, entitled, How the Left Lost Its Mind.  One of the things that struck me in that article is that in the final weeks leading up to the 2016 election 20% of the stories posted on Occupy Democrats, The Other 98% and Addicting Info, “…were either partly or mostly false.”

Occupy Democrats is one of the sources on my FB news feed that I read regularly. I also read the Palmer Report and Seth Abrahamson’s breathless tweet sagas about the legal ramifications of the latest Trump scandal and it made me realize that I had fallen into the trap of reading not what would challenge my beliefs but what would confirm my suspicions. So now what do I do?

Tune in next week as I share the steps I am taking to wean myself from fake news aimed at the left.

 

 

 

 

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The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Two strangers, a man and a woman, meet in an airport bar and begin a conversation. When their flight is called they realize they are on the same flight and adjust their seating assignments so they can sit together on the plane. They begin playing a game of truth, sharing intimate details of their lives with each other. Soon the man, Ted Severson reveals that he is convinced that his wife Miranda is cheating on him.  He tells his companion, Lily Kintner, that he wishes he could kill his wife for cheating on him.  Lilly replies calmly, “I’d like to help.” After all, some people are the kind worth killing, like a lying, stinking, cheating spouse.”

And so Ted and Lily begin to plan to kill Ted’s wife, Miranda while the questions about what they are planning swirl.  Ted begins to wonder if he can actually go through with it. Does he really want to kill Miranda or is this just some kind of sick revenge fantasy that he will regret once it is over. Why does Lily want to be a part of this? What is in it for her? Neither of them seems to be attracted to each other and Lily is not getting any financial benefit for helping, so why is she willing to do this for him? And then there is Miranda and her lover, what are their plans? Will it be so easy to kill Miranda without raising her lover’s suspicions?

This was a compulsive cat and mouse mystery which kept you guessing until the very last page! Swanson creates very real characters with complicated motivations and plenty of back story to make them believable. Told from varying points of view, the tension keeps building with each successive revelation and ending in a very unexpected climax that is very satisfying. Billed as the next Girl on a Train this is a book that will keep you way past your bed time just so you can finish it!

Brenda’s Rating: ****( 4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian Lauren and Keith (Is this dangerous?)

Book Study worthy? Sure why not!

Read in ebook format!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

When Luisa Brant became the newly elected state’s attorney she thought she had reached the pinnacle of her dreams. Her father had been state’s attorney for the same suburban district of Maryland, which included the planned utopian community of Columbia where Luisa had grown up. So for Luisa to now achieve the same position as her father, whom she idolizes, and to be the first woman to do so is a significant accomplishment.

Just as she is settling into her new office, a new murder case comes in and Luisa decides to take it hoping that a clear win right from the start of her tenure will consolidate her power in her new role. But from the beginning there is something off about the case. A disturbed homeless man is accused of killing a single woman in her own apartment with particular viciousness.  Even though he is homeless and his parents are barely surviving themselves, they hire a well known (and expensive) former state’s attorney for his defense.  The forensics place the man at the scene and it seems like an air tight case, and yet the accused pleads not guilty. The more Luisa gets into the case the more connections she sees to a case involving  the death of one of her brother’s high school classmates.

Her brother had been at the party where the young man died.  Her brother and a few others who had been at the party were questioned but never charged. Luisa was very young then, and her memories of that event are hazy at best.  But as Luisa digs deeper into her current case, the connections to that incident and death of her brother’s classmate keep coming up and Luisa begins to realize that what she thinks she remembers may not be true at all.

Lippman is a great author and the fact that this book is set in and around Columbia, MD which is so close to where I live, is an extra bonus. Luisa is a strong and complicated character: competitive, self-sufficient, nurturing to those she loves and ruthless with those that get in her way. Lippman, however, does not skimp on the other characters, allowing her brother and her father who play strong supporting roles in this story come to life as well. Told alternating between the present and Luisa’s memories of growing up in Columbia, the book’s strangely bifurcated viewpoint, helps us understand Luisa’s own confusion and dread as the connections between the two cases begin to merge and you know you are in the hands of a master storyteller!

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Lauren, Marian. and Keith

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format.

 

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Legal Procedural, Mystery, Psychological Mystery, Suspense | 2 Comments

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

It is rather risky to recommend a book that you have not read so I am greatly relieved and can now say without any reservations that Ivey’s, To the Bright Edge of the World is a wonderful book and I would gladly recommend it to anyone, not just to those of us who are going on an Alaskan cruise this summer!

Lieutenant-Colonel Allen Forrester has received his orders to lead a reconnaissance mission into the Territory of Alaska. in January of 1885. His mission-to travel up the Wolverine River, which has never been mapped and to proceed through uncharted  territory assessing the climate, terrain, the native tribes and any other information that might be necessary in ascertaining how a military force might be sustained in the region. After mapping as much of the region as possible they would eventually reach the known and well charted area of the Yukon River and then eventually reach the coast and take a ship back to Vancouver Barracks from which they had started. The mission would start while it was still winter, while the Wolverine River was still covered in ice, to make traveling easier.

Forrester has been waiting for these orders for quite a while. He and his new wife Sophie have been living in the Vancouver Barracks, while making ready for the expedition. Sophie, an amateur naturalist, is planning to go, at least as far as Sitka with the team and anticipates the new birds and animals that she will be able to record in her field notes. But as the final preparations are made, Sophie finds that she is pregnant, and is forced to remain behind in Vancouver and to endure the stifling expectations of the other Barracks wives and challenge the limits imposed on her gender.

Allen and his team begin their journey but from the very beginning they are are confronted with difficult terrain, wild rivers, and the loss of much of their gear and food. The sledges that were supposed to help them skim over the ice are not light enough to traverse the many ice dams and fissures that cover the river and because of their late start the ice is beginning to melt and if they do not get out of the river valley with its sharp walls on either side, they will soon be swept down the river with the ice floes.

But it is not only the natural elements that they must negotiate, there is also the strange one legged native guide who seems to mock the white men and who disappears and appears in them most disconcerting ways. And then there are the encounters with the trappers and the native tribes, some of whom are friendly and some who still remember the brutal massacre of their people by Russian traders and will have nothing to do with any white man.

Told from the different perspectives of Allen and Sophie’s journal entries, and the correspondence between the curator of a small Alaskan museum located in the Wolverine River Valley and an aging descendant of the Forrester’s who donated their diaries and papers to the museum, it is at once a very intimate recounting of one particular moment in the lives of Allen and Sophie, as well as a broader more historic and contextual understanding of what Alaska was and what it has now become. Ivey’s portrayal of Sophie’s insistent but gentle resistance to doing or becoming what is expected of a lady during that time period is realistic and you cannot help but cheer for her as she comes into her own power. Ivey masterfully portrays the difficulties that Allen and his men endured, and the confrontation between the science of the West and the native cultural’ spiritual understanding of their environment. With themes similar to Neil Gaiman’s American God’s, Ivey uses this conflict to raise our awareness to the things that so often remain unseen and thus unknown when we do no account for the mysteriousness of life that surrounds us. Intriguing, haunting and beautifully written, this book is definitely one of the best books I have read in quite awhile!

Brenda Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Keith, Ken,Lauren, Marian and Sharon

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Books to Read for an Alsakan Cruise, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Prize Winner, Romance | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Half a King and Half the World (The Shattered Sea Series) by Joe Abercrombie

I have been looking for a new fantasy series to fill the time until George R.R. Martin finally finally gets around to releasing the next book in the Game of Thrones series. It is amazing how difficult this has been! Of course it doesn’t help that Martin is taking an inordinately long time to release his next book.  So I read Robin Hobb” Liveship Traders Trilogy and other related books, which were all great, but still needed something else. I remembered Joe Abercrombie had written the First Law series which I had really enjoyed and so I began looking at what he had been writing recently and found the YA Shatterred Sea series and was hooked from the very beginning.

Prince Yarvi is the youngest son of the king, but born with a deformed hand he cannot carry a shield or swing an ax, and so in his father’s eyes he is a nothing. Luckily, his older brother is fulfilling the role of heir to the throne very well and Yarvi has found other ways to become strong by using his mind. Then in a strange double cross, his father, the king and his brother are killed during what was supposed to be a peace negotiation and suddenly Yarvi is thrust on the throne. With his uncle and mother as his advisers, Yarvi must lead his country which is now under the threat of war.  Although, Yarvi tries to lead his country he is constantly undermined by his uncle and soon he begins to suspect that there was more to the death of his father and brother. Swearing an oath to find and bring their killer to justice, Yarvi faces bitter betrayal, capture and chains and the numbing uncertainty of whether he can live long enough to fulfill his vow and find the traitor which is threatening his life and his country.

In Half the World, the story continues this time with two new characters Brand and Thorn, two warriors that have been recruited by Yarvi to be his secret weapons. But his weapons are flawed. Brand is a great warrior who hates to kill and Thorn is a girl who is so undisciplined and distrusting that she just kills anyone who gets in her way. Together they are quite a pair, and yet it somehow works. With Yarvi behind the scenes pulling the strings, Brand and Thorn put into motion a plan to bring down the powers that threaten the country.

Abercrombie is very creative and gives life to his world with wonderful details. He deftly creates his characters and their motivations and allows them to grow, mature and change based on the challenges they face. This is especially visible in Brand and Thorn, but Yarvi also benefits from the various challenges he faces as well and grows wiser, and more ruthless as time goes on. What is really refreshing and satisfying, is how Thorn is portrayed not as some weak maiden, or a calculating, manipulative crone, but rather as strong and powerful. Thorn blasts through all the stereotypes of wowmen in fantasy books and is uniquely her own type; physically powerful, skilled in the arts of war, but lacking in subtlety. patience and empathy. Brand on the other hand, although equally powerful, has an overactive empathy component, which makes him always look for an alternative to violence.

I am looking forward to reading the next book in the sereis, Half a War and find out what is next in the lives of these characters!

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian and Lauren

Book Study Worthy: Yes!

Read in ebook format

 

 

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery, Prize Winner, Series, Suspense, Thriller | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Trespasser by Tana French

If you have not yet read Tana French you are missing out on something quite amazing. Considered by the Washington Post to be “one of the most important crime novelists to emerge in the last ten years,” French’s novels are tough, intelligent and always have unusually gripping plots.

The Trespasser is no exception. When Dublin Murder Squad Detective Antoinette Conway and her partner Stephen Moran are asked to look into the suspicious death of Aislinn Murray, it looks like just another lovers’ quarrel gone bad.  Except for one thing.  Antoinette is sure she has seen Aislinn before, she just can’t remember when or where. As Stephen and Antoinette pursue different leads, they begin to feel increasing pressure from inside the department to close the case and arrest Aislinn’s lover for the murder. Antoinette, who already feels burned out by the constant harassment that she receives from the other members of the Murder Squad, can’t tell whether this is just one more example of their vendetta against her or whether there is some deeper more ugly motive to their efforts to get the case closed as soon as possible. As Stephen and Antoinette resist the efforts to end the investigation, and Antoinette finally remembers where she first met Aislinn, they become immersed in a much deeper and darker secret that threatens not only themselves but justice itself.

Tautly written with the suspense rising with each revelation, this is one of French’s most gripping books yet! Antoinette is someone you can identify with as a woman, facing enormous challenges in a work environment that is hostile to her gender. Yet this hostility is balanced by the supportive relationship that she has with her partner Stephen, who despite her efforts to push him away remains loyal and stalwart in his belief in her and her abilities. In fact, I think it is rather unique in fiction to show such a strong relationship between a man and woman that is not romantic in nature. French includes personal story lines about Antoinette’s childhood, and Stephen’s own life that help to round out their characters so that their motivations become more complex and interesting. French also uses the Irish vernacular and accents to good effect, allowing the way each person speaks to reveal the differences in their class and education.

If, as I am coming to feel more strongly all the time, detective fiction can also be considered literary fiction, than French is one of those authors that has crossed that arbitrary line with strength and grace, inviting us deeper into the complex world of murder, detection and justice while giving us deeper insights into the dark underside of humanity and the people who try to bring order into that chaos.

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian and Keith

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format.

Posted in Detective novel, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Psychological Mystery, Suspense, Thriller | Tagged , , | Leave a comment