The ever-increasing number of media outlets has given a voice to nearly everyone. With the rise of so many alternative news sources and the questionable motives of the purse strings that control the mainstream media, it is becoming more important than ever to be an astute consumer of media. Intelligently analyzing what you read or see on TV and filtering out information that does not pass a litmus test of credibility is necessary for savvy people wishing to have well-informed opinions based on accurate reporting.
Consider the Media’s Voice
- Think about the person delivering the report and ask if they are considered an authority on the topic being discussed. Experts in one industry may not have the know-how to make informed commentary on industries outside of their area of expertise.
- Is the person delivering the story a person known for having a political slant or other bias?
- Does the story use loaded language?
- What is the tone of the language used?
- Are there ad hominem attacks in the opinion piece?
- If scientific opinion is given, how does it fit with the general consensus of the respective community or industry? If it differs from the accepted beliefs, compare and contrast research methods for validity.
Be Critical of the Source
- Is this the primary source or a secondary source? Secondary sources can often piecemeal parts from the primary source to suit their own agenda.
- Is this a “hard news” outlet or a “soft news” outlet? “Hard news,” at least, tries to be objective, while “soft news” encompasses all the talking heads delivering op-eds with very little vetting in regards to objectivity.
- Is the source beholden to special interests that could taint their objectivity? Consider if the news source is part of a large corporation and if they have any financial ties that could cloud their reporting.
- If you the source is a website like Daily Kos or Drudge Report, remember that the information presented could be factually accurate but these types of sources are known for lying by omission.
- Even if the information is from a primary source, do some research on who funds the think tank or research group and evaluate the possibility of ulterior motives. Consider any counterpoints to the data presented.
Evaluate the Validity of the Info
- Are you being presented with factor or opinions? If you are assessing opinions, are they backed up with empirical data and is that data sound?
- Is the evidence accurately presented?
- Is the information provided relevant to the contention made? You would be surprised how often you will find a “logical shell game” in articles/commentary from numerous media outlets. Information taken out of context is a tragic and common logical flaw.
- Is the data representative? Separate hearsay from claims that are backed by sound empirical evidence.
- Is the research methodology consistent with accepted academic norms?
- Evaluate the validity of the argument by looking for “formal” and “informal” logical fallacies. Also, look for vague language and false assumptions.
The contributor loves assessing the faulty logic used by many of today’s most popular “talking heads,” many of whom contribute to highly trafficked websites and viewership-leading television stations.